Strategic Workforce Planning

Strategic Workforce Planning

[ Massive thanks to Ghilaine for organising the roundtable and sharing her experience and wisdom, and we're super grateful to Hannah Poole for the notes! ❤️ ]


"Tools aren’t the problem, discipline is."

  • Your value is knowing what happens in reality, not on paper
  • It’s important to share this/speak up so that you’re not building a strategy on paper that you know isn’t going to work in the real world
  • This is a good way to get involved in strategic conversations if you’re looking to grow into a COO role
  • Other part of strategic workforce planning is that you’re looking a year out
  • Operations people can be very focussed in the short term (firefighting, etc)
  • You can’t easily context switch between the short term thinking and long term thinking
    • You need to block out time for this big picture thinking - can’t just try to fit it in around your daily work (takes more than 15 mins)
  • In a start up, you’re looking at growth at all costs rather than optimisation
    • Your main starting point is hiring people who know how to hire people
    • You start thinking about ratios (ex. How many people do I need to hire? How many people do i need to make that happen?)
  • Your ratios will change with critical mass
  • You need some data, although data in a start up is an interesting concept
    • Sometimes it’s more holding your finger up to the wind or speaking to the person in the room who has the most experience
  • Growth vs Scaling
    • In vested startups, they generally don’t mind if you’re hiring lots of people as you grow (costs growing in line with profit)
    • In scaling, they generally want costs to level out while the profits continue to grow
  • What’s the main goal? Growth at all costs (start up) or is it optimisation (scaling)?
  • How your managers get involved in this - you’re not doing this alone
    • Depends on the size of the business → may just be the C Suite, or you may have a level of people managers
    • A lot of people managers in start ups don’t have much experience actually managing people, so you may need to give them the tools
    • Thus, when you’re looking for data, you may want to ask your most experienced person doing the job rather than your people managers
    • You need to think about what the people managers can and should measure and educating them there
  • How long does it take to hire someone into a team?
    • How long does it take to replace someone with a fully ramped up person? Not just a bum in a seat
      • Takes at least 6 months (possibly 9-12 months) to hire someone and get them ramped up to at least 80% of a functional person in a role
      • Need to back track from your estimated functional date to when you need to start hiring
    • Need to think about how much it costs to replace someone once they’ve given notice. Usually at least £30k
      • So maybe it’s better to give them a £5k pay rise (or other motivator) to keep them in the business
    • Think about who you have in your business who’s making an impact and how you can keep them
  • Try to do hiring in clumps
    • Onboarding experience is better
    • You can train one to many which is less costly
  • Rolling job ad
    • Constantly interviewing for key roles
    • How many people do we need to be continuously hiring?
  • What are your trigger points?
    • Put targets in where you can afford to hire people you’ll need in the future so that you’re not hiring when you need someone, but before you need them
    • Trying to onboard someone while everyone is firefighting is a bad experience and is more expensive/less effective
  • Question: We are a start up - Constant worry in our business about progression from teams and pace of moving, how can I balance this with the team experience levels and value they are bringing and what the loss would/could mean.
    • Start small
    • Be open and honest about what the business needs and what they were hired for
    • Give them as much as you can as quickly as you can
    • Say it, do it (so that they know that you mean it)
    • Put a plan in and stick to it, but be honest about what might change the plan
    • Ask them to do some work
    • Use it as a learning opportunity for the team
    • Be careful with having them do 2 jobs while they’re ramping up their replacement, but it’s good to have them ramp up their replacement
  • Question: How do you calculate or predict efficiencies that quickly evolving products can provide in the number and type of talent required? (product that we’re building)
    • Sometimes it’s guesswork (data and estimates)
    • You need to test it out and see what efficiencies you’re gaining from it
    • In that situation, i would hire quite conservatively until you’re sure what you need
    • Hiring is the most expensive thing you will do in your business and making people redundant is awful to do
    • Warn the team to let them know that you’re hiring conservatively and that they may be strapped at times, but you’ll hire as you hit certain thresholds
    • With product specifically, there should be a level of validation, use the product team’s estimates to guide you
    • Always hire for culture and work ethic! Everything else can be learned
  • Question: How do you put hiring plans together when there are lots of ‘what ifs’ and therefore contingent hires I.e. how much is raised, whether a product is launched on time etc. Would you create multiple hiring plans with the varying outcomes or is it best to iterate over time?
    • Never use time as milestone
    • You’ve got lots of other triggers here, so base your timing off of events
      • Ex. Product launch minus 4 weeks
      • Ex. Hiring based off when investment ££ hits the accounts rather than when you receive a time sheet
    • You can create multiple hiring plans, but it’s better to have them as “if this then we’ll do that” rather than having super strict hiring plans
    • Reduce as many “what ifs” as possible
  • Question: Scenario planning for baseline/under/over. Off the back of that question - I’ve been given a scenario plan metric that is minimal staffing, medium, and full staffing for a baseline scenario/under/over - is this what you would suggest?
    • I would approach this as best case scenario vs realistic scenario vs worst case scenario
    • Start with worst case (b/c everything is generally better than that) and work your way up
    • In the end, some of these things, you have to sit there and back up your working, so don’t let people push you off what you believe
    • Being cautious and reserved when you’re hiring people is much better, so stick by it
    • Go with a more pragmatic approach, if they ignore it, it’s okay, but it sets you up for the next time
    • Minimal staffing is important, think about what you can’t do without
      • You need to have your HR ratios, you have statutory requirements that need to be hit from an HR perspective, and the culture piece
      • Remote working has opened the doors for a lot of really skilled people who can’t commute and can only work part time but have a lot of experience so that’s a good option
  • Question: When you talked about not pegging it to time. We normally build out a hiring plan/financial model. It’s obviously based on assumptions, if there’s a trigger event coming we’ll iterate, but we tend to check in quarterly on the plan. So we peg it to time in that sense, is that an issue?
    • No, i would say you’re not
    • You’re just checking in periodically on the plan to see where you’ve come against it
    • That kind of cadence is really important (quarterly is about right) and reviewing your assumptions and plans periodically to course correct is vital
  • Question: Are you tracking any particular metrics that are really helpful for you?
    • Days to hire
    • Days to ramp up
    • Those metrics are really important and you want to try to bring them down b/c the shorter those times are, the cheaper it is
    • If you can tie cost to it that’s even better
      • Most people don’t understand how expensive hiring is
      • People are not interchangeable
      • Trying to keep people is much better
      • So knowing exactly how much it costs to hire new people really helps
  • Question: Once you have a plan to identify the talent needed which software or company is recommended to use (at late seed /early series A stage) to help find and retain the talent?
    • Don’t have any recommendations
    • The most important thing is your job description (don’t have rockstars/ninjas)
      • Use language that is more accommodating of difference
      • Talk more about the company (who you are, your values, etc)
      • Think about your people spec → the things you need the person to be for a role (ex. For ops you need to be organised, timely, etc)
      • Be really specific about what a day in the life looks like and what success looks like
      • Don’t have a laundry list of redbrick university, X many GPAs etc
    • If you find a recruiter you like, hold onto them
    • A lot people don’t like recruiters
    • The amount of time it takes to filter through CVs, do screening calls, etc is huge, so if you have a recruiter to do that for you, it can be a huge saving of your time and open you up to work on different things
  • Question: Would you have a more junior person do the screenings to “reduce” cost? Eg if you’re more senior in your team and you look at your hourly cost.
    • Hire for culture
      • I have a very set list of requirements of things i look for in a role
    • If you’ve trained someone reasonably well, it’s okay
    • You have to get the right person, so it comes down to trusting the person doing the screening
  • Question: What are the questions you ask in the screening interviews? ;)
    • Do you trust your own judgment?
      • Don't want them asking me questions that they could figure out on their own
    • How do you make decisions?
      • How do you make a decision when you can’t ask anyone
    • If it’s the wrong decision what do they do about it?
      • Will find out what i should have done
      • WIll apologise
      • Will fix it
    • What makes you angry/frustrated/upset?
      • Shows their value base very quickly
      • Good answer is “people not pulling their weight”
  • Question: When do you make the shift back from growth/scaling back to optimising?
    • As soon as you want to see a profit
    • As soon as possible, generally
    • Do it as soon as possible b/c it makes people’s lives easier
    • You need people to do things manually before you can bring in a tool
    • Document everything
    • Tools aren’t the problem, discipline is
  • --

Strategic vs “just” workforce planning: strategic workforce planning is about enabling the workforce to enable the strategy of the business.

As ops and people people, get involved in strategic conversations: where it is, how it’s created, what it means for a whole organisation, not a particular team. You might not be invited / part of this conversation naturally, but you’ve got to knock the door! When you’re in, don’t be afraid of speaking up, challenging, initiating discussion. Offer your on the ground knowledge. As ops people, we know what happens in reality, not what happens on paper. This knowledge is hugely valuable.

With the help of ops and people people, company’s strategy will be able to live in reality, not just on paper.

With strategic workforce planning, you have to look a year ahead, not just tomorrow. Generally, as operations people you tend to worry just about the next month. When you think strategically, you’ve got to worry about the next 1-2 years. It’s super hard to context switch.

Go from tactical to strategic. Get some focus time for creative thinking - it’s not a 5 minute thing, you can’t fit it into your normal day, you need to allocate time.

You’re usually looking at growth rather than operational optimisation. Therefore you need to hire people who know how to hire people. Think about ratios: how many sales are expected for particular sales people? In all the teams, what are those ratios? With critical mass, ratios will change. You will need some data, but sometimes you’ll back your decisions with experience, intuition, or simply sticking your thumb in the air :)

Growth and/vs scaling. Scaling is having growth the same, but the costs flatlining. Sometimes it’s putting systems in to enable growth and scaling. Think - what’s the main aim for the company, is it growth at all costs or optimisation? If it’s growth at all costs (startup stage), doesn’t matter. If optimisation/scaling, you’ll need to think more carefully.

Back to ratios again. How long does it actually take to hire someone in that particular team/department, with a fully ramped-up person? Consider institutional knowledge this person has. At least 6 months, possibly even a year. Most people don’t think about how much does it actually cost to lose a person? Ask your people - where do they see themselves in the future? How do you keep them in the business?

Hiring in groups helps - onboarding together, you’re putting one person to many when getting these people ramped up. Rolling job ads could also work - if you’re always looking for a particular type of person, you should constantly be interviewing.

Rather than hiring when you need someone, hire when you have the affordability. You want to be able to onboard people calmly, instead of when you hit your busy period. Start looking for when your triggers are (number of customers, revenue) which will help you make decisions when to hire.


Growth vs Scaling Graph