Growth is a complex process for businesses, especially when they’re transitioning out of their initial startup phase. Business owners often view cash flow issues as their biggest barrier, but there’s an additional challenge that needs to be overcome after financing has been sorted. Continuing to satisfy a growing client base while going through a growth phase is an enormous challenge. It means finding new suppliers, buying equipment, acquiring new facilities, and, most importantly, expanding your workforce without seriously disrupting your current activities.
Businesses are made up of individuals, and growing businesses need to ensure that the people they have are suited to dealing with the stresses of that growth. To do this well, they need to optimise their personnel choices on a continual basis. This process of optimising a workforce to meet both a business’ current needs and to tackle its future goals is called strategic workforce planning, and it’s becoming increasingly relevant to growing businesses in the digital age.
Uncontrolled hiring leads to preventable issues
Today, small businesses often operate with a limited staff of essential personnel. When someone leaves, business owners often find themselves scrambling to replace them as quickly as possible. In the same way, businesses who are hiring for growth purposes are often left operating with damaging urgency. A business that doesn’t integrate a workforce plan into their growth strategy might take on a large new client without consideration for the amount of time it takes to go through a proper hiring and training process. While hiring new talent as fast as possible might manage the short term problem, it also limits the business’ ability to find the best candidates for a given position.
Businesses who do plan ahead and line up new talent preemptively may nevertheless still run into difficulties. Strategic workforce planning means putting talent acquisitions in context of a business’ future. Some employees, who may work very well in a fluid small business setting, may not be suited to the increased structure and bureaucracy that becomes necessary as the business grows beyond a certain size.
Alternatively, it’s important to consider how individual responsibilities are likely to change in the coming months. A less experienced employee who can be hired on a lower salary might be a great fit for their current role, but might be overwhelmed within months by growing responsibilities that they aren’t prepared for.
Create specific growth goals
The most important aspect of strategic workforce planning is the ability to forecast your business’ trajectory. To do that, it’s critical to set specific and achievable goals. A business that does this well is going to be able to use those goals as a framework to forecast its future needs. A business that, instead, passively waits for growth opportunities to present themselves places itself at a disadvantage. If you can’t predict when you’ll experience growth, you’ll be forced to try to accommodate it reactively instead of building up to it in advance.
Know who you’re looking for
Once a company knows where it’s heading, it can begin to make decisions about how to approach future challenges. In terms of workforce planning, that means sitting down to determine what professional qualities are and will be ideal for any given position.
Traditionally, hiring managers interview candidates based on a combination of technical qualifications and their own personal judgment. That personal judgment is often a reflection of the candidate’s social skills and ability to build rapport with the interviewer, rather than their ability to execute a role. Profiling the ideal candidate before even selecting candidates adds an important third dimension to this process. For example, a conservative and risk-averse business owner may be put off by candidates that exhibit outgoing and risk-taking qualities in their interview. Understanding that this quality might be explicitly desirable in a sales manager, or perhaps someone working in research and development, can help to temper those personal prejudices and result in a more effective team.
Use technology to aid your search
One reason that strategic workforce planning is becoming increasingly relevant is digital technology. With modern tools it’s easier than ever to filter out and find candidates with increasingly specific qualities. As a result, workforce planning requires less time and investment than it did in the past, which has also made it more popular, and more accessible to smaller businesses. This means that, every year, more businesses are getting better at building better teams.
Strategic workforce planning allows a business to take control of its growth on the most fundamental level. It allows them to build better teams, and to ensure that they can respond more capably to growth and change than they might have otherwise. By planning ahead today you can limit the growing pains businesses are otherwise forced to go through during the scaling process, and give your business the ability to emerge from its growth phase ready to take on larger competitors.