How do you build an effective Workforce Planning capability?

We had the opportunity to speak to RJ Milnor, VP, Talent Management Operations at McKesson at Insight222’s Global Executive Retreat. We ask him how he builds an effective workforce planning capability at McKesson and how to ensure that the People Analytics team is supporting both Talent Acquisition and the overall workforce planning strategy. Check out the video of his interview below as well as the transcript from our discussion. For more videos on the future of HR, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

myHRfuture: What is the role of people analytics in strategic workforce planning?

RJ Milnor: I really see them as two sides of the same coin, because Workforce Planning is taking information that's in models that are typically used in people analytics, but it's also providing information that's tremendously useful in people analytics projects. So what I've found useful (at least in my experience) is having both as sub teams or work streams. We might have an advanced analytics group in people analytics that are working on specific projects and then workforce planning or Strategic Workforce Planning is another sub team or work stream in a larger people analytics organisation. But when I say that they're both using information or models that the other can use, whether there's a symbiotic relationship, what I mean by that is if you think about Workforce Planning, (so looking at the current workforce, what the workforce supply is likely to be over time, the demand, the gaps), to do that we need an attrition model. Well, attrition models, typically we have those in the people analytics organisation already, we're using them for different things (retirement models and so on).

So then what do I get from Workforce Planning? Well, I might be looking at my talent gaps over time, hiring forecasts, but increasingly the way we're using Workforce Planning is to understand where are my skill gaps, so what types of positions might I need? Where might I need to use them? What do the external labour markets look like? So there is a kind of a talent mobility element to that and that feeds directly into more classical people analytics projects. I would think about skill deployment, job deployment, things like this so there's just this natural synergy between the two that I find works really well.

myHRfuture: How can people analytics help us to understand the skills our employees already have?

RJ Milnor: One of the things that we're working on right now is skills matching or job matching. So, understanding what is our inventory of talent and how can we deploy that best against not only the current jobs that we have, but the current challenges that we face. One of the challenges that comes out of that is how do we deploy talent against the challenges that we don't know that we have yet. So if we think about growth strategies or future business opportunities, we might not know the talent that we need against that and that's one of the areas where Workforce Planning frankly becomes really challenging.

One of the areas that we're starting to venture into, and honestly I don't have a solution for it yet, is if we're looking at a business opportunity where we typically haven't had that talent yet, where can we go? And so there might be skill adjacencies or skills that look like a skill we've had in the past, can we grab on to that? Can we build from that? Or do we need to go externally and find entirely different skills, what does that look like? There's some really good labour market analytics around that can help us find that.

myHRfuture: How are you using people analytics to inform Talent Acquisition?

RJ Milnor: Like most people analytics projects, it fell back to what business problem are you trying to solve? Really looking at corporate strategy, and that was a huge driver of Workforce Planning. As we started to put the practices and processes, and also the underlying technology into place, and as we were going through stakeholder engagements, talking with business leaders and HR about what they needed, what we started to uncover was that there were also challenges in our talent acquisition process. Our talent acquisition process was doing exactly what it was designed to do, it was designed to fulfill requisitions as they were created, but the variability in terms of that requisition flow meant that TA had to staff up and staff down and that came with certain consequences. So what we're finding through this workforce planning journey is it's not enough to have a workforce plan, that we're building a workforce planning capability and with that comes some design thinking on the talent acquisition side and those two things move together.

I think that was a big “AHA” moment for us, that we needed to look at Workforce Planning and providing a hiring forecast, a stable consistent accurate hiring forecast to Talent Acquisition, and at the same time kind of concurrent with that, we may need to actually rethink the way that we go about talent acquisition to achieve that workforce plan, and those two things really go hand in hand.

Workforce Planning Online Training

We are excited to be launching a new course on getting started with workforce planning in the next few weeks, led by Al Adamsen. This introduction to workforce planning will ensure that as an HR professional, you not only understand how to create a strategic workforce plan, but also how you can get buy-in and support for your workforce planning activities. Click on the image below to learn more about the course and to pre-register now to secure our Early Bird rate.

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Ian Bailie is the Managing Director of and an advisor and consultant for start-ups focused on HR technology and People Analytics, including Adepto, Worklytics and CognitionX.  In his previous role as the Senior Director of People Planning, Analytics and Tools at Cisco Systems, he was responsible for delivering the tools and insights to enable and transform the planning, attraction and management of talent across the organisation globally.  Ian is passionate about HR technology and analytics and how to use both to transform the employee experience and prepare companies for the Future of Work.