The demystification of workforce analytics and planning

12 November 2015

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!


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.