Skip to Main Content
Filter By +
Topic +

6 Steps to Design a Workforce Planning Model

10 Minutes to Read

Topics covered


    A workforce planning model gives organizations a structure to assess employees and adapt to reach business needs and goals. However, workforce planning isn’t a static practice, but one that must evolve with the needs of talent and your company. Read how workforce planning works and six steps to develop your approach.

    Businesses don’t get anywhere standing still.

    True, your organization likely has at least one physical location. But it’s made of a workforce that requires constant understanding, assessment and development to remain competitive and thriving. You may have several self-sufficient employees, though even the most creative and seemingly independent contributors need direction.

    Workforce planning provides it by allowing businesses to:

    • forecast their needs
    • acquire and grow talent
    • close skill gaps
    • ultimately achieve strategic goals

    And every plan needs a reliable model from which to operate and evolve. Let’s explore what makes a solid workforce planning model, how it functions in everyday scenarios and how to enhance your workforce planning in six simple steps.

    What is a workforce planning model?

    A workforce planning model gives organizations a structure to assess their current staff and adjust for future employment needs. Ideally, workforce planning models help employers create a renewable strategy they can lean on year after year.

    At the same time, these models need to be fluid and adaptable enough to account for new trends and employee expectations. For example, if a local fashion retailer picks up enough steam to open locations in malls across the country, the organization will need to consider:

    • the staffing requirements of each store
    • local and state laws that cover its new shops
    • talent acquisition and retention in the markets it enters
    • and more

    Without workforce planning, even momentarily successful organizations won’t have the means to address new challenges or even maintain their momentum.

    Examples of workforce planning activities

    Workforce planning isn’t a linear, singular task. Instead, it’s a combination of activities — some possibly unique to certain companies or industries — that aim to future-proof an organization. Here are just four common examples of workforce planning in action.

    Align hiring with projected scheduling needs

    The root of workforce planning involves strategically placing the right people in the right roles at the right time. This requires HR to know:

    • what kind of talent would excel in a given job
    • how many workers a business needs to reach a specific goal
    • imminent or possible needs that require adapting a team, a department or an entire workforce

    Think about a security agency that primarily serves a prominent sports stadium. For the first time in years, one of the pro teams that plays there made it to the playoffs. The agency may understandably expect this to trigger higher and more frequent attendance for the next few months.

    This may cause the HR team to review past playoff data from that specific arena or another venue in a similar market. Based on those attendance figures, HR could then develop a guard-to-patron ratio to help determine how many employees the agency needs to schedule during upcoming home games and talent they need to hire.

    Plan for succession

    If a business is truly built to last, it should persist beyond any individual employee’s career. The same applies to C-level staff and executives. Through succession planning, HR can facilitate a new generation of leaders and employees without significant disruptions or challenges.

    For example, the HR professionals at a large bank examine the average age of their senior directors and officers. The team realizes over half of their company’s executives will achieve full retirement eligibility within the next five years. This may trigger HR to meet with these executives to inventory their skills, then analyze the current workforce to find possible successors. After identifying several top prospects, HR may then pivot to focus on developing these employees to close skill gaps, improve their experience and take targeted steps to retain them.

    Proactively engage a future workforce

    Most companies need dedicated talent to grow and maintain success. Keeping a workforce engaged requires understanding what employees want and building strategies to provide it. For example, exit interviews may reveal certain workers felt their former employer’s training program was lackluster and left them ill-equipped for the work they routinely performed. In turn, HR should use this data, along with surveys of current employees, to adapt their training program into something that doesn’t just prepare staff but inspires them.

    Take action to retain top performers

    When it comes to effective workforce planning, it’s just as important to focus on keeping great employees as it is to recruit new hires. In fact, it may be even more crucial, depending on your organization’s needs. At a bare minimum, keeping high-quality workers can offset the steep costs of talent acquisition.

    HR may conduct stay interviews and administer frequent requests for feedback to ensure employees have what they need to stay engaged and satisfied. This includes technology that makes it easy for them to access the important data they need when they need it. Additionally, HR may identify sources of attrition, toxicity and any other factors that could drive employees away. This may also involve observing the retention rates of similar companies and pinpointing where those employers fail and succeed.

    6 steps for effective workforce planning

    You just read some common applications of workforce planning. Of course, no business could complete any of these tasks without a solid foundation. Use these six steps to build your workforce planning model or pivot a preexisting strategy.

    1. Identify your company’s strategic goals

    If the aim of workforce planning is to reach and exceed overarching goals, those targets should inform your entire model. Start by identifying those goals, then consider actionable and measurable ways to reach them. Some organizational goals may include:

    • acquiring 100,000 new customers within the next three years
    • opening four new stores by next year’s holiday season
    • doubling the size of a product development team by the end of next quarter

    Whatever the goal may be, it should be possible to reach with enough qualified employees, even if you still need to hire them.

    2. Conduct a needs assessment

    After you establish your strategic goals, you need to determine what resources (including employees) you’ll need to reach them. Your needs assessment should include an evaluation of required head count, challenges, logistics and any other factors that could impact your company’s progress.

    One popular approach to assessing needs is the PESTLE analysis, which stands for:

    • political
    • economic
    • social
    • technological
    • legal
    • environmental

    This considers several dimensions that could affect your business and should provide enough perspective to help HR develop a strategy (aka a “workforce plan”).

    3. Develop your workforce plan

    So you’ve identified your goals and what you’ll need to reach them. Now it’s time to generate the process needed to move forward. It’s vital to clearly articulate the kind of individuals you need in each role and equip them with the right tools and software to simplify their work. You should also consider initiatives that address:

    • recruitment
    • training and development
    • employee engagement and retention

    Depending on your organizational goals, this may also be an appropriate time to consider which current employees can help satisfy a specific initiative. If none quite fit the bill, you may need to reevaluate your training programs to ensure they can adequately upskill a current employee to address business needs. In fact, a subsection of your workforce plan should include a strategy for advancement and leadership development as necessary.

    4. Implement your workforce plan

    Once your workforce plan receives the necessary buy-in and approval, you need to enact it. First, discuss with HR how you’ll roll out and communicate this plan to the organization at large. Everyone in the company should understand the goal your plan works toward. And objectives and anticipated results should be made abundantly clear to your entire organization.

    Consider investing in technology that makes it easy to broadcast overarching plans and changes. While your workforce may only need to understand the big picture, the team helping you implement your workforce plan should be intimately familiar with the steps that should be taken to help your strategy succeed.

    5. Monitor progress toward key results

    A workforce plan can’t succeed without regular maintenance and upkeep. Your team should regularly monitor the progress and results of your plan with an open mind. You can also help ensure consistency by:

    • conducting regular check-ins with relevant teams and individuals
    • analyzing relevant data and developing takeaways
    • identifying unexpected changes and challenges
    • accepting when a portion of your plan fails and adjusting accordingly

    It’s unlikely your plan will unfold without a hitch. But that’s okay. Workforce planning is an evolving process that welcomes adjustments.

    6. Review outcomes and continuously improve

    Once you have results, prepare to share and act upon them even if they don’t reflect what you expected. After all, workforce planning should be designed to help your business learn and actualize itself, neither of which can happen overnight or in one take.

    Document what you’ve learned and discuss improvements with your team. (Spoiler alert: There will always be something you could do better, even if your plan was a runaway success.)

    And don’t consider coming up short as failure. Like our personal growth, workforce planning is about taking changes, learning from mistakes and pushing on toward something better.

    Workforce planning model best practices

    Knowing how a workforce plan should unfold gives you a great platform to kick-start your own strategy. However, you should consider what you can do throughout the process to give your initiative a fighting chance. Keep these three best practices in mind as you introduce, maintain and enhance your workforce plan.

    Obtain buy-in from key stakeholders

    While this is important during the first phases of your workforce plan, you should always have the support of company leadership and other stakeholders throughout your strategy’s life cycle. Every piece of your plan should identify contributors who fit into a RACI chart — an explanation of those who are:

    • responsible
    • accountable
    • consulted
    • informed

    This doesn’t mean everything you do needs to be bottlenecked by constant approvals. However, you should have enough backing to confidently proceed with your plan and get the green light for any needed adjustments.

    Use the right technology

    You can only work as effectively as the tools you have at your disposal. Invest in easy-to-use software that helps you adjust and study your workforce, including how they engage with their own tech and make progress toward development goals.

    For peace of mind and reliable reporting, ensure the tools you use exist in a truly single software. This will ensure any changes you or employees make automatically populate throughout your tools in real time. This also significantly cuts back on manual data entry, needless errors and the time-consuming tasks required of both.

    Keep an open mind

    Workforce planning requires us to roll with the punches. Sure, it feels great when things go exactly as planned. But you shouldn’t expect them to. Regardless of how your plan unfolds, you need to go where your data takes you.

    If something isn’t working, learn to let go and adjust as needed. Even reliable, long-standing strategies have an expiration date. When it’s time to make a change, embrace it. Doing so will make you a strong and more versatile workforce planner.

    Workforce planning: FAQ

    Can workforce planning increase profitability?

    Yes! Workforce planning involves optimizing your company’s use of resources — including employees — to keep more people and ideally reduce labor costs associated with high turnover and emergency recruiting.

    Why should company leaders be involved in workforce planning?

    Workforce planning depends on clear organizational goals. Chances are, these will come from executive leadership. Additionally, since your C-suite signs off on funding and allocation of resources, they should be informed of how you plan to use their most valuable resource: employees.

    Are there any tools that help with workforce planning?

    Yes! Paycom’s intuitive talent management tools are available in a single software. This tech suite provides in-depth development tools and insightful reporting to help businesses engage, retain and develop their workforces.

    Who conducts workforce planning?

    Since workforce planning involves managing and strategizing around a company’s human resources, HR is the ideal department to implement a workforce planning model.

    What kind of data is needed for workforce planning?

    While the exact data you need may depend on your company’s specific needs, workforce planning generally requires an assessment of:

    • organization goals
    • current head count
    • compliance requirements
    • preexisting and needed resources

    Explore Paycom’s resources to learn about workforce planning, talent management and more.

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.