Breakthrough Headcount Planning Strategies to Balance a Volatile World

Workforce planning

Discover three unique headcount planning strategies to sustainably increase performance in 2023, under volatile industry conditions.

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Priyaanka Arora
December 2, 2022

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Breakthrough Headcount Planning Strategies to Balance a Volatile World


Recent developments in the current business landscape have resulted in substantial changes in organizational structure.

The last year has been characterized by a series of layoffs that have been instrumental in helping businesses stay afloat in trying times. Studies indicate that there were upwards of 80k tech layoffs in the United States in the year 2022.

Volatile industry conditions have resulted in the need for modern businesses to pivot under difficult circumstances to avoid the risk of failure. Therefore, while layoffs can significantly impact the lives of both employees and employers, they may ultimately be necessary to support and drive long-term survival. 

Research conducted for the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report has revealed that nearly 73% of leaders have experienced talent shortfalls due to missed business goals and objectives; as a result of the poor workforce and headcount planning.

Therefore, refreshed and carefully refined headcount planning strategies can be vital for helping your business facilitate sustainable development and increased performance to drive the attainment of key organizational objectives. 

Effective headcount planning strategies can help ensure that your business employs the right number of people with relevant skills and competencies to help fulfill short term and long term organizational objectives.

Furthermore, headcount planning strategies can be extremely beneficial for determining recruitment targets, developing upskilling plans for employees, reducing turnover and ensuring that organizational goals and objectives are being achieved appropriately. 

The Need For A Refreshed Headcount Planning Strategy

As industry standards continue to progress at a much faster rate than ever before, your business’s headcount planning strategy must also evolve accordingly.

Your current approach to headcount planning may not have evolved adequately to take advantage of recent technological advancements and advanced data analysis tools. Furthermore, as the amount of data that your business is able to collect and analyze continues to exponentially increase over time, your business’s existing headcount planning strategy may no longer be as productive and refined as possible. 

With increasing competition across numerous different industries, your business’s chosen workforce must be as meticulous and precise as possible.

As financial and human resources continue to become crucial determinants for a business’s continued success, a bloated workforce could potentially hold your organization back from achieving its goals.

Therefore, a refreshed headcount planning strategy can help identify specific skill shortages that are limiting productivity as well as competencies that may help accelerate the fulfillment of organizational goals and objectives. 

With constantly evolving employee expectations and industry standards, it is now harder than ever before to hire and retain the right talent to fulfill your business’s overall strategies. Refreshed headcount planning strategies can also help optimize and streamline business processes and workflows to accelerate the achievement of overall strategic targets. 

3 Breakthrough Headcount Planning Strategies

While there are numerous different emerging headcount planning strategies that your business may choose to integrate to effectively map out your organizational structure and workforce planning, there are three specific breakthrough strategies that we think may prove to be the most effective, efficient and productive. 

These strategies have been specifically developed in accordance with current industry standards. Furthermore, they categorically address various headcount planning issues that many businesses are currently facing such as continued layoffs that limit potential growth and expansion.

Following these breakthrough headcount planning strategies can prove to be extremely transformative for helping your business facilitate strategic and continuous scalability. 

Strategy 1: Grow a Team Of A-Players 

Most existing headcount planning strategies currently already focus on high performing employees with the assumption that they are key drivers for organizational growth and success.

While A-players are extremely valuable assets for your business, this approach can often prove to be highly ineffective in the long term.

High performers are typically only beneficial for your business if placed in the right positions with responsibilities that strategically leverage their individual skills and competencies appropriately. Therefore, it is significantly more productive to first identify key vacancies and positions in your organization and then determine how A-players can strategically fill them. 

While this may seem somewhat obvious, many modern businesses solely focus on onboarding highly skilled employees without determining how their skills and abilities can be appropriately utilized to achieve organizational goals and objectives.

 However, analysis of retention and turnover data from recent years has proved that it is actually more productive to hire the right talent for a particular role or vacancy over the best talent overall. Therefore, hiring and retaining top talent that will be able to strategically operate within and manage key business processes and workflows is much more conducive to success. 

Your business can employ this headcount planning strategy by identifying key vacancies and positions then analyzing each highly qualified candidate’s ability to handle certain key responsibilities.

Many headcount planning professionals usually focus on the level of skill, responsibility and effort that a vacancy may require. However, instead of placing high performers in higher-level positions, it may be more productive to assess which positions are most suited to the skills, competencies, and long-term career interests of A-players in your organization. 

Key Takeaways:

  • When an unmet business requirement has been identified, develop job requisitions for screening and hiring candidates. Then attach specific metrics and KPIs to hiring criteria. For example, when hiring for a marketing role that is a key aspect of your overall organizational revenue, their performance during the last quarter can be a key indicator of their ability to fulfill the requirements of a vacancy
  • If possible, be patient with trying to identify the perfect fit for a job vacancy with your existing work culture. Try to identify primary specific skill sets that may be required to adequately fill the role. 
  • Do as much as possible to recruit the best potential talent for a particular role or vacancy. Hired employees should ideally fit the pre-defined criteria and KPIs in terms of skill and competencies as originally outlined.

Strategy 2: Carefully Consider How To Best Utilize Existing Talent

With recent layoffs and increasing turnover due to a highly volatile current business landscape, your business may greatly benefit from investing in existing employees within your organization.

Your business can optimize its headcount planning strategy by developing employees’ talents, skills and competencies in various distinct areas and sub-functions. This can not only help groom current employees for future opportunities for promotion but can also significantly increase employee engagement levels. 

It has been found that employees are increasingly searching for vacancies and employment opportunities that will invest in their professional development and help develop their skills. While this may have typically resulted in a certain percentage of your business’s annual turnover, this can be leveraged as a valuable opportunity to leverage the value of your current employee’s abilities, avoid needing to hire new talent and increase employee satisfaction.

Increased employee engagement and satisfaction have been linked to better team performance, accelerated achievement of key organizational goals, lower risk of turnover and absenteeism and much more. 

Your business can leverage this headcount planning strategy by strategically analyzing skills, abilities and competencies that are required for key positions and responsibilities within your organization.

Then, identify employees within your existing organizational structure that could potentially fill these positions. Therefore, you will be able to decisively upskill and nurture these employees so that they will be able to take over these responsibilities when required. 

Key Takeaways:

  • This approach to headcount planning is a win-win scenario. Employees are constantly searching for new opportunities for career advancement, promotions and recognition. Recent studies have shown that approximately 69% of employees have stated that recognition in the workplace makes them work harder. 
  • Many core players within your existing organizational structure may be willing to take on more responsibility in exchange for better compensation and positions. Furthermore, you will be able to avoid various hassles associated with filling external vacancies while also fulfilling employee expectations, reducing attrition and turnover rates, increasing employee motivation and ultimately achieving business goals much more productively. 
  • This approach to headcount planning can also help your business avoid having to undertake drastic measurements such as layoffs to manage headcount planning issues. 
  • It is crucial to analyze and determine potential interests that may not be obvious immediately. Many existing employees may have undeveloped skills that could be leveraged in alternative departments, subfunctions, workflows and business processes than they currently operate in. For example, a sales professional may have certain under-developed skills and competencies that could potentially be useful for social media marketing roles. 
  • Taking the effort to understand and nurture the needs of current employees may lead the way for transforming existing processes in more ways than one. 

Strategy 3: Implement and Integrate Comprehensive Data-Driven Approaches 

While many modern businesses claim to be data-driven, there is often a large gap between data collection and analysis processes. 

The determination of valuable insights that can be leveraged to facilitate decision-making regarding headcount planning.

Instead of simply collecting large amounts of data and undergoing basic analysis processes, it is significantly more productive to utilize data intelligently to identify valuable patterns and actionable insights.

Becoming data-driven includes not only utilizing data to facilitate more informed decision-making processes but also integrating insights into day-to-day front-line actions and business processes. 

Developing and integrating data-driven strategies can enable your business to streamline existing headcount planning strategies with data-fueled insights. This can ultimately help facilitate continued business growth, identify new opportunities, improve engagement and enhance communication and innovation.

Key Takeaways:

  • Data can inspire, encourage and empower cross-functional conversations. Data-driven headcount planning strategies can help leaders and business partners understand current trends and patterns to facilitate unified decision-making processes. 
  • An automated headcount planning strategy can automate numerous data sources to flow into a single source with various integrations. This means that your business can significantly improve shared data and develop better job requisitions. Automated data management processes also mean that you can spend significantly less time preparing data for further analysis and more time on analysis. Furthermore, it can diffuse data in real-time across various organizational data systems, create highly flexible models in significantly less time than ever before and much more.
  • Instead of traditional headcount planning strategies that involve difficult ROI measurement, limited data visibility, excess information that does not support optimal strategic operations and prolonged decision-making processes; automated headcount tools can help optimize headcount planning approaches. 
  • This can help avoid making regrettable or undesirable decisions utilizing predictive data analysis tools. These solutions can help analyze potential scenarios, change assumptions and compare scenarios using numerous data visualization capabilities. These tools can also be used to improve your predictions by connecting business models. Research indicates that data-fueled, insight-driven businesses are growing at an average of approximately 30% each year. Therefore, with rapid advancements in data analysis and management tools, implementing data-driven approaches to headcount planning can prove to be extremely transformative for your business in the short term and long term. 

Headcount planning is a key determinant of success for any modern business.

Especially with such an uncertain and volatile current business landscape, refreshed headcount planning strategies may prove to be extremely beneficial for helping businesses navigate ambiguous organizational scenarios.

It is natural to face uncertainty or confusion while navigating such dramatic shifts in your industry. However, volatile situations can help your business develop proactive and preventative action.

This will help empower your business to build a refreshed headcount strategy that you, your stakeholders, and your employees will be proud of.

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