Need to know: workforce structure

How many people work for the company as a whole? How has the figure changed in the past year?

Any HR person worth their salt will already know this information. You are likely to know not only the figures, but also the business reasons behind the change and whether it is significant.

The real challenge here is using this information, not to look back at what has already happened, but forward at what is likely to happen in the coming year to three years. It is then useful to identify whether you have the right processes in place to manage the changes you predict, and the right skills to implement initiatives and projects that might be required as a result.

Look at your processes for predicting changes in workforce structure, skills and volume – how formal are they, and is their formality appropriate to the size of organisation you work in? In a smaller organisation, the processes often take the form of a conversation, whereas in large organisations you may need to conduct proper analysis and planning: not just identifying what you need internally, but whether those skills are available in the market and in the places that you need them.

Often, businesses are good at determining the numbers of people they want, but less so at identifying the skills and competency base they are going to need to fulfil their strategic goals. So are you conducting workforce or resource planning? If not, would it be helpful? Are you clear about how it links in with talent planning and your recruitment strategy?

In the same way you think about the skills and competencies that might be needed by the business, think about your own skills and areas of expertise. Workforce planning, for example, used to be a key skill item in an HR person’s toolkit, but over the years it has drifted away as a discipline. It is now making a comeback, so is this an area in which you might need to update yourself?

As the economy changes, your business model might well change as a result, so try to look at whether different demands will be made on HR in those situations. For example, in companies where the business model is changing, organisational design often plays a more important role in HR strategy than at other times.

Jan Hills, partner, Orion Partners

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