How Are Leading Companies Approaching Workforce Planning?

While many companies have invested significant time and money over the years to improve their demand, supply, and manufacturing planning capabilities, they have underinvested in workforce planning and optimization, and they’re now starting to feel the consequences. “Companies are starting to realize that the human capital element is extremely important to their bottom line, as well as their customer service,” said Doug Pollard, Sales Director, Workforce Business Unit at Quintiq, in a recent episode of Talking Logistics.

Workforce planning is about “getting the most out of your people to drive efficiencies and improve customer service,” explained Doug, and companies across many different industries — from services industries, like airlines and rail, to manufacturing companies — are starting to address this weak link in their supply chain capabilities.

Workforce planning is particularly important in work environments where employees are moving around or have non-static schedules — that is, anyone working outside a 9 to 5 schedule. “If you think about maintenance workers within a manufacturing environment, for example, their schedule could change on a daily basis, if not an hourly basis,” said Doug.

A similar situation exists in retail, which hired more than 750,000 workers between October and December last year to support the holiday season. As the Wall Street Journal reported a few months ago, “retailers have come under fire for low pay and a practice known as on-call scheduling that changes workers’ hours with little notice [emphasis mine]. Gap Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Inc. and L Brands Inc.’s Victoria’s Secret chain are doing away with the erratic scheduling.” To me, this practice of on-call scheduling is a symptom of poor workforce planning capabilities.

As with other supply chain planning disciplines, there are short-term and long-term aspects to workforce planning, but many companies either just take the short-term view — what do I need to get done this week or today or right now? — or they take a fragmented approach to it. Doug touched on this point in his comments:

“If Human Resources and Operations are working in a siloed environment, running off different systems — one using an HR system, the other using their ERP — and they’re planning their workforce using Excel spreadsheets, there’s no correlation between the long-term plan [which HR tends to focus on] and what’s needed in the short term. So, if you’re doing your long-term planning and not drilling down into the details of what your operations look like today, your long-term planning will not be as effective as it could be and you’re setting yourself up for failure.”

So, how are leading companies approaching workforce planning?

“They are looking at all three time horizons — the long term (which can be anywhere from 6-18 months), the short term (a few months down to weeks), and the near term (down to day of operations) — in an integrated way using a single holistic system…It all has to be tied together if you’re going to truly maximize your return on human capital.”

Leading companies are also incorporating employee preferences, such as vacation requests or preferred shifts, into their planning and scheduling process, 

Doug also shared some use cases from the airline, utilities, and telecommunications industries — including the importance of integrating workforce planning and scheduling with the planning and scheduling of vehicles, parts, and equipment in field services operations.

I encourage you to watch the rest of my conversation with Doug for additional insights and advice on this topic, including how to measure the value and benefits of workforce planning and what actions companies can take today to start moving up the maturity curve. Then post a question or comment and share your perspective on this important and timely topic!

Watch full episode:

Editor’s Note: You can also download an ebook Quintiq (a Talking Logistics sponsor) has published on this topic, “Capitalizing on Time & Talent: The New Strategic Approach to Workforce Planning and Employee Scheduling.”