A 7-Step Guide to Strategic Workforce Planning

Written by: Lisa A. Burke
Published on: Jan 11, 2021

recruiter with flow chart

Strategic workforce planning is a critical process to ensure your healthcare organization is able to meet its performance goals now and in the future.  The process involves analyzing current medical staffing patterns across all departments, forecasting future labor needs based on organizational goals and planning talent acquisition strategies to meet the demand. In essence, workforce planning is ensuring that your facility hires candidates with the right skills and at the right time.

The key benefits that strategic key benefits that strategic workforce planning process brings are:

  • Well-planned talent acquisition strategy by taking a deliberative approach to recruiting. When future employee demand is clear, the talent acquisition team can proceed with deliberation and carefully vet candidates rather than “hire to put out a fire.”  
  • More on this below.
  • Staff turnover management. For example, predicting the number of employees who might be retiring or planning to relocate.
  • Increase employee productivity. When managers understand the skill sets of current employees, they can perform a gap analysis and plan talent strategy to fill those gaps.  

Taken together, all these elements result in significant cost optimization to your facility.

7 steps to help HR management develop a strategic workforce plan

1. Who should be involved?

Workforce planning involves many factors and perspectives with many moving parts as you move through the process. It will be important to involve stakeholders across different departments: finance, Human Resources, operations, department supervisors, as well as senior leadership. Not every stakeholder will need to be involved at every stage of the process, but their participation will ensure buy-in when the time comes to implement the plan.

2. Set the strategic direction of your organization

As noted above, the purpose of strategic workforce planning is to ensure your facility has the necessary staffing levels to meet its business objectives.  Therefore, the best place to start the process is to understand your facility’s goals and objectives as identified by leadership and aligning talent to meet these needs.

Questions for consideration:

  • What are the short/long term goals of the facility? This can include 1) infrastructure changes (e.g. adding a wing); 2) operational (e.g. introducing technology to certain procedures or processes); 3) programmatic (e.g. adding a telemedicine component to patient care.
  • What are any specific workforce challenges both short and long term? In the healthcare sector, there is widespread recognition of clinical staff shortages across all practice areas. Are there any legislative, policy or regulatory changes that may impact your facility?   

3. Supply analysis

This step involves understanding current workforce patterns and how they are expected to change over time, due to turnover and other factors.  This step provides a snapshot of the workforce in terms of needed skillsets and allows for a gap analysis to plan for any shortages.

Talent analytics, also known as workforce analytics, is useful as it provides insights about employee demographics, salaries, tenure and diversity.

Data for this step includes:

  • Number of employees and types
  • Salary and benefits
  • Employee diversity
  • Turnover statistics
  • Eligibility for retirement
  • Employment tenure

Questions for consideration:

  • How closely does the skillsets of the current workforce align with business goals?
  • What is the number of employees at each organization level across all departments? 
  • What is the turnover rate across all departments? How will this rate affect your facility’s ability to deliver patient care?
  • What percentage of employees will be eligible for retirement in the next 3 years? 5 years?
  • Will employees who resign or retire be replaced? If so, will recruiting be conducted by internal or external sources, or a combination?
  • What are the comparative costs of replacing employees internally vs. externally?

4. Needs analysis

Conducting a needs analysis involves examining the type of work the facility has historically carried out and anticipates carrying out to a specific future point. This data is used to project the number of employees (based on headcount and skill set) needed to perform work in various roles, taking into consideration of current workload and emerging factors (e.g. technology).

Questions for consideration:

  • How many employees does it take to complete a given task? A task analysis is a useful tool in this regard as it breaks down a task into smaller, more manageable steps and provides insight into how the team collaborates.
  • How is the workload measured in the organization? For clinical staff, this could be nurse: patient ratio
  • Based on the facility’s strategic plan, how much work is projected per year?
  • Does the supply of current employees meet this projected demand?

Sample workload metrics:

  •     Number of patients examined
  •     Number of audits performed
  •     Amount/percent of time performing tasks
  •     Lists of key tasks

5. Gaps analysis

Once you have mapped out your current workforce in terms of projected headcounts and skillsets, you’ll be able to conduct a skills gaps analysis and tailor recruiting efforts to address any potential shortfalls. Depending on your facility’s supply and demand analysis, there could be skills gaps in several areas such as skills, competencies, location, practice area, etc. The rise of technology will give rise to a digital skills gap that will need to be addressed in any recruitment campaign.  According to The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report,  by the year by 2022, an estimated 54% of all employees will require upskilling to successfully work with emerging technology. 

Questions for consideration:

  • What gaps are evident from the workforce supply and demand analysis?
  • Which gaps are most critical in terms of strategic goals?
  • How will you prioritize gaps in terms of deciding which to address first?
  • Which gaps are the easiest to close? Which one is the most difficult?
  • Do some of the gaps more negatively impact overall organizational performance than others?

Examples of workforce gaps

  • Skills - Current employees do not possess the skills needed to complete needed tasks.
  • Staffing levels - Current staffing is not sufficient to meet workload demand

6. Develop solutions and implement

Now that you have carried out supply and demand analysis and identified skill level gaps, you’re ready to develop solutions to eliminate those gaps which will enable your organization to meet its strategic objectives. 

Questions for consideration:

  • Are there any other facilities that have faced similar challenges and developed a solution that can be leveraged by your organization?
  • Are there any existing intervention strategies that can be implemented?
  • Does your facility have multiple skills gaps that will require a multi-faceted approach?
  • What are the short-term and long-term implementation activities?
  • What conditions may impede the success of implementation? (e.g. critical labor shortage)

Examples of intervention activities

  • Leveraging technology
  • Developing administrative efficiencies
  • Re-design business practice
  • Reallocate clinical staffing ratios
  • Consolidate/centralize processes
  • Hiring controls/freeze
  • Outsource processes to 3rd parties

7. Monitor and evaluate the plan

It’s critical to continuously monitor the effectiveness of your implementation plan and whether the solutions developed are effectively addressing skills gaps and, if not, make continuous improvements to maximize their effectiveness. Workforce planning is not a one-time activity.  As the strategic objectives, labor supply and workload demand changes over time, workforce planning strategies will need to be adjusted accordingly.

Questions for consideration:

  • How will solutions be monitored and how will progress be measured. What Key Performance Indicators will be used?
  • What are the critical success factors of implementation?
  • How will adjustments to the implementation plan be made? Do you anticipate changes in the internal or external environment that would result in the need for the plan to be revised?
  • How will data collection be carried out to track relevant workforce metrics and trends?

Methods of evaluation

  • Implementation process reviews
  • Employee questionnaires and/or assessments
  • Customer questionnaires and/or assessments
  • Team meetings, surveys, focus groups
  • Organization-wide performance assessments
  • Lessons learned sessions

Strategic workforce planning is not an easy process as there are many different factors to account for in successful planning. For this reason, it’s beneficial to ask for outside assistance. Hire a consultant who specializes in strategic workforce planning to guide and support your facility throughout the process.  This person will be able to provide useful advice and suggest methods that keep the process on track while ensuring that emerge drivers keep your planning up-to-date.

When you’re ready to hire, post your job on myHealthTalent.com or contact Philip Prigal for recruitment advertising opportunities offered by Elsevier.