Simplifying Recruitment Planning

Recalibrating our Business

Financial markets took a significant hit following the warning from the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor and Chief Medical Officer of a second wave of COVID-19.Thankfully, that does not seem to have impacted on the overall business outlook as markets bounced back. The volatility and uncertainty that we experienced in the earlier part of this year has now been replaced by a new-found confidence as organisations have learnt how to survive the pandemic and are finding their feet in a new world.

Business planning during the pandemic has, for many, been measured in days and weeks. Strengthening cashflow and pivoting to new ways of working is, understandably, focused on surviving another day. However, business leaders are now starting to return to a longer lens and consider the future.

Workforce Planning

Interest in workforce planning has risen significantly in recent months as leaders are looking to the future. Not only do they recognise the need for a workforce that is aligned to a quite different business model, but they also see that the opportunity cost of transformation has never been lower. Strategic workforce planning is allowing organisations to take action today to align and secure their longer-term ambitions. Other organisations are taking a viewpoint no further than the next financial year and are resetting budgets. Operational leaders and people professionals, in the short term, have an opportunity to be proactive and launch effective recruitment plans to provide the right capabilities for the coming year.

Order Taker

It is late on a Friday afternoon when the recruiter’s phone rings, it is a senior manager within business operations.

  • Senior Manager: “I’d like to recruit a backfill Dave, for one of the managers in my team”
  • Recruiter: “Great, when would you like them to start?”
  • Senior Manager: “As soon as possible, Dave’s last day is today”
  • Recruiter: “Oh *sighs*”
  • Senior Manager: “I know, retired on his 65th birthday; couldn’t have foreseen it”

For many this may seem far-fetched, for countless others this will resonate as an event that could have been easily forecast and proactively managed. Many people professionals still find themselves as order takers for business operations, scrabbling around to find workers to fulfil a new immediate need.

There is another way that allows us to be much more proactive in planning recruitment which, fortunately, is relatively simple.

Three-Question Recruitment Planning for Yourself and Your Team

 For organisations where decisions on budget and headcount have already been made, planning recruitment on the basis on three simple questions to managers can prove highly effective.


What is your headcount plan?

Over the next year, the headcount of an organisation or business area will do one of three things:

  • Grow - Your organisation may have growth ambitions, or it may have let staff go in the early stages of the pandemic and are now seeking to rebuild.
  • Stay the same - You may be seeking to maintain your existing levels of capability until there is greater certainty on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19.
  • Shrink - For many industries, revenue streams have been significantly damaged with little prospect of recovery on the immediate horizon; this may necessitate a reduction in headcount as the furlough schemes draw to a close.
Simplifying recruitment planning

What is your workforce going to do anyway?

Whilst there are many decisions an organisation can take to change its workforce, the only guarantee is that people will eventually leave. To understand what our workforce will look like in the future, we need to forecast the level that it will turnover. The age and tenure of workers will give a helpful indication of retirement levels. Previous turnover trends remain a useful predictor of future behaviour, abstracting for outliers like the pandemic period. Though turnover levels tend to decline during increased unemployment, organisations are not immune to people leaving. Criticals and Professionals have the greatest range of employment opportunities; sectors that have suffered the least disruption may well be more attractive than your own organisation. If you are having to make difficult choices and downsize your organisation, the very people you seek to keep may well depart.
Simplifying recruitment planning

Do you have plans that change your workforce?

Regardless of any movement in the top-level headcount numbers, there is a high likelihood of change that will impact the shape and mix of the workforce. If you are changing the services you offer and products you deliver, there may be key capabilities you wish to grow or business functions that will be increasingly redundant. You may be looking to improve or transform business models, including the use of automation, that will change the need for certain roles. With a switch to greater home-working, you may be considering the closure of certain offices and sites. Those businesses based in metropolitan areas may seek to reduce the location premium they pay and take advantage of locations with lower wages, including offshore, given the new remote nature of work.
Simplifying recruitment planning
Simplifying recruitment planning

Creating a Plan

The first step is to compare the responses to the first and third questions: what is your headcount plan and what is your workforce going to do anyway? This will allow you to forecast headline numbers against turnover in one of three ways to establish the gap between your workforce supply and demand.

Simplifying Recruitment Planning

If your headcount is growing or staying the same, you will likely need to recruit permanent staff or contingent workers to bridge the headline gap. If your headcount is shrinking, that may still be higher than your turnover levels and necessitate continued recruitment. Alternatively, in the example shown, you may need to cut deeper meaning that turnover will not be enough to reach the headcount target.

When we overlay this with the results of question two, do you have plans that change your workforce, we will see this further changes the requirement. If specific capabilities will need to grow or reduce at a rate that is different from the headline figure, then this will need to be taken into account. We could be shrinking our overall headcount, but seek to increase significantly in a new capability that will enable business recovery. If the timeframe precludes upskilling and reskilling the workforce to meet this new requirement, then it will need to be incorporated into recruitment plans.

This enables us to know, at a headline level, the amount of people an organisation will need to recruit in order to achieve its objectives. It will also provide clarity of key capabilities that will need to be talent-pooled in order to meet your recruitment needs. Moreover, it will provide a detailed forecast of target start dates for roles so that new workers can be brought in at the point of need, rather than kicking off recruitment when Dave retires.

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  1. Valance, P & Whitty, C (2020) Chief Scientific Advisor and Chief Medical Officer briefing on coronavirus, (21 September)
  2. Some organisations may, alternatively, use FTE
  3. Gibson, A (2020) Identifying Your Critical Workforce for Post-COVID Recovery

Written by Adam Gibson

Chartered FCIPD FCMI, Strategic Workforce Planning Leader

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