Strategies for Mapping the Future Workforce

Connex Staff |

As COVID continues to drain the global economy and threaten the viability of hundreds of thousands of American businesses, we are still faced with far more questions than answers. Throughout the crisis, Human Capital Management professionals have found themselves at the nexus of bottom-line considerations and employee anxieties, an incredibly difficult balancing act to maintain while working to preserve unit cohesion. Even as promising medical advancements emerge, it is impossible to predict the medium-term impact on consumer confidence and overall economic health. Given the persistent uncertainty, it is critical for organizations to begin the hard task of planning for multiple possible scenarios and accounting for the potential impacts on performance and profitability. There is an easy argument that HR has never held clearer strategic value than it does right now, and leaders should seize the opportunity to outline a compelling business case and secure their place at the table. Robust workforce planning is absolutely critical in this moment, but many organizations struggle to execute effectively.

Future Proofing, 101

Fortunately, there are a number of steps that HR leaders can take to create a more sophisticated foundation for workforce planning, projection, and modeling.

  • Build a Winning Team: Before anything can happen, you must build a team you can rely on. Most effective teams at the enterprise level pull from multiple aspects of the business. To the extent that this is practical, make sure that you’re surrounded by motivated, intelligent people with diverse perspectives and a willingness to be accountable and hold others to account.
  • Know Yourself: Take the time to engage with leaders, managers, and stakeholders across the business. Without a clear understanding of the individual components of your workforce, how each department and business unit interacts, transitions information, and facilitates performance, you cannot begin planning for the future. Even in smaller organizations, the workforce is varied and complex, so understanding it will take time. Make sure your roadmap budgets enough time for this process to avoid unintended consequences down the road.
  • Get Smart: Effective planning hinges on the ability to project multiple eventualities, account for a range of variables, and model potential second and third order consequences that could arise from a given course of action. In today’s rapidly changing marketplaces, achieving this level of granularity and scope requires powerful software. While some organizations have the skills to develop solutions internally, most will need to engage with a third party. For every business, identifying the right technology is a must.
  • Determine where you want to go: Develop or implement assessment tools and/or processes that are designed to uncover gaps, strengths, and areas of opportunity based on your context, business goals, and growth projections. Once you know what you’re good at and where you come up short, you can start factoring in the market, the competition, environmental factors, and potential disruptive influences.
  • Create a workforce that can take you there: Identify the skills, traits, and competencies that are necessary to drive your business forward based on your analysis and expectations. Reskill, redeploy, and rebalance your existing workforce accordingly. What roles can be done on a remote basis? What repeatable or low-level tasks could be automated, outsourced, or streamlined to reduce waste and spend? The world is accelerating towards increased digitization every day, and COVID-19 has only accelerated that reality. It is unlikely that we will ever return to normal as we knew it – what does that mean for the way you prioritize, source, and develop talent?


Taking a methodical, measured approach to workforce planning is a potentially confounding challenge given the incredible pressure exerted on bottom lines and growth projections by the pandemic. However, committing to thoughtful, honest analysis is the only way to ensure a sustainable way forward. It has become something of an industry cliché at this point, but collaboration is a baseline necessity, both in terms of a achieving a complete picture of the organization and with respect to securing the buy-in necessary to execute on a unified vision. Eventually, effective workforce planning initiatives will require effective change management strategies to execute, and HR leaders who have already built a coalition of support have a stronger base for communicating why change is necessary, how it promotes success for the entire business, and how it impacts the roles and responsibilities of individual employees. While it is always important for good leaders to think ahead, the extraordinary impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced even the most established organizations to reevaluate the long-term viability of the status quo. Those who fail to take the lead risk getting left behind entirely.

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