The demystification of workforce analytics and planning

12 November 2015 4 min. read

In a series of four articles on, Angel Hoover, EMEA Regional Practice Leader Talent Management & Organizational Alignment at Towers Watson, reflects on key trends and developments in the human capital space. In her first article Hoover discussed some fallacies around performance management, while the second article explored the more practical side of the debate – what to do with all of these insights, and how should they impact technology and systems. In this article she looks into the concrete benefits of workforce analytics and planning.

Why is there so much mystification regarding workforce analytics and planning? Dare I add the words confusion, frustration and misperception? I think it is probably fair to say that the majority of HR practitioners out there are not confident in their understanding of workforce analytics and planning (WAP) or where to practically apply it to achieve meaningful results. I’m here to tell you that it is a very powerful tool, but to get to that, let’s confirm understanding.

workforce analytics

Recently, I have described WAP using the following easy-to-understand terminology: 

  • Workforce analytics = data about your employees (e.g., performance data, regrettable turnover, skills and capabilities),
  • Workforce planning: the activities you have identified to address opportunities or challenges  identified when evaluating your data.

To illustrate this concept, I’ll tell a practical story about a utility company that requires an influx of seasonal workers to accommodate storm seasons – deep winter and early spring. For many years, leaders and HR have partnered together to understand historical workforce analytics data for the number of staff onboarded for storm season, the skills and capabilities required and the actual number of staff deployed to a particular geography. In addition, they assessed the storm conditions and patterns experienced to understand how effectively the staffing solution met this expanded business need. They then conducted a workforce planning exercise to predict the number, skills and location of workers that would be required to meet storm season business needs in the upcoming year. That’s basic workforce planning!

Today, our WAP tools have become much more sophisticated and can accommodate more business assumptions, more variables and deliver deep/broader insights to support talent and HR decisions. Remember all of those times HR activity has been referenced as the “soft stuff”? WAP tools provide the data we need as HR professionals to prove there is data, facts and evidence that can be used as the business case for critical moves in talent and HR – just like every other function in an organisation.

There are many practical ways that WAP tools can be used. The critical success factor of using it effectively is “focus.” One example begins with conducting an exercise to identify the roles that deliver the most competitive advantage in your organisation. Hint:  Look further than your leadership team – this group is important to the long-term sustainability of the organisation, but are not likely the ones who are getting customers to come back time after time to your business. Confirm how you are competing in the market. Once you confirm that, you can determine the roles most actively delivering against this market proposition.

Workforce analytics and planning can add value to decision-making

Now, your tools really become useful in taking a lot of data and turning it into something meaningful that leads to very specific action. Use WAP tools to evaluate the talent pipeline for the key roles you have identified. Assess the number, performance, skills and capabilities required, time to full productivity after onboarding, location of people (internal or external) with the desired skills, estimated time to retirement, etc., of people in the roles today. Add in your business assumptions – are you growing? Sustaining? Specific markets you are breaking into?

Let’s say that the results show you have a limited pipeline of talent for these key roles and many of them are either close to retirement or close to progressing into a new role. The quantitative workforce data generated leads to the specific plan of action you will take to address this evidence-based need. We have confirmed through hard, quantitative data what the gap is and formulated a plan to address it. And that’s workforce planning!