The importance of workforce planning

While it may be a cliché, it remains true that a charity’s most important asset is its people. Without the right number of people, with the right skills, in the right place and at the right time, it is unlikely that any charity can ever deliver what it is really set up to achieve or aspiring to do.

Effective workforce planning can help charities to maximise the use of their human resources and build capacity – in a structured and methodical way – to be ‘fit for purpose’. People are the key to successful improvement and development, and charities that plan well are likely to be better equipped to manage both their day to day service demands and to address changing strategic and operational priorities.

Workforce planning should be an essential element of your charity’s operational management. To be fully effective, it should include some longer-term thinking about future service pressures and demands, and what the charity needs to do in the short-term to link its operational and financial plans with its people plans. This will include consideration of the main drivers for change.

Key drivers for workforce planning
  • Resources – the need to achieve economy, efficiency and effectiveness
  • Labour market – trends in the employment market which have implications for the recruitment and retention of staff and volunteers
  • Demographic and social change – changes, such as the ageing population, which affect both the demand for services and the workforce supply
  • Technological change – new technologies which prompt changes in service delivery and ways of working and have implications for the skills needed in the workforce.

But workforce planning is not just about helping to support operational improvement. The recruitment, development and retention of a competent and effective workforce should enable your charity to achieve its broader priorities and charitable objectives.

Effective workforce planning can help your charity to develop a sound workforce strategy which:

  • Assesses the whole organisation in a coherent and consistent way to make best use of people and to demonstrate value for money
  • Deals with immediate workforce challenges but also addresses potential future issues, e.g. acquiring and growing workforce skills that take time to nurture or putting in place schemes to retain essential staff
  • Tackles major change projects in an orderly and phased way, e.g. managing relocations, withdrawing from service provision or merging with other charities
  • Communicates future resource requirements so that people understand what will happen, when, and how. This could include areas where there may be future job opportunities
  • Informs decision making and ensures that there are clear links to other corporate and partnership working plans and strategies
  • Analyses the labour market to assess how best to meet demand, e.g. using labour market intelligence to predict and address any peaks or troughs in demand for certain types of staff
  • Anticipates more informed and effective use of training and development investments, e.g. sharing the costs of training with other organisations.
Ensuring that the workforce is productive

In seeking to deliver the very best services, your charity should have a coherent management culture which is based on a clear vision for the future. In order to achieve the vision, the charity should ensure that this culture is underpinned by a focus on the right things delivered in the right way with the right people, all of whom are well motivated and have the right skills. This is the essence of effective workforce planning.

But as the pressure on charity finances continues to grow, it will be essential that you look for ways of fostering innovation and maximising the productivity of your workforce. Understanding what drives improvements in workforce productivity will require you to consider the following:

  • Inputs – the staffing resources used in delivering a service. In productivity terms, a charity which operates to minimise the staffing inputs required is described as economic in its use of resources
  • Processes – the approach that the charity takes in using its available staffing resources to deliver a service. In productivity terms, a charity which makes best use of its available staff to deliver high quality processes is described as efficient in its use of resources
  • Outputs – the services that are delivered as a result of the staffing inputs and processes
  • Outcomes – the improvements in the quality of life experienced by those in the community as a result of the outputs delivered by staff. In productivity terms, a charity which delivers a high volume of quality outputs or outcomes is described as effective in its use of resources.

Increasing workforce productivity is about trying to achieve greater outputs and better outcomes with a fixed level of staffing resources or delivering the same level of outputs/outcomes with fewer staffing inputs. But economy, efficiency and effectiveness needs to be monitored carefully. For example, if a charity is uneconomic or inefficient, there is a risk that it will waste some of its valuable staffing resources. However, if an economic and efficient charity is ineffective, it risks wasting all staffing resources.

Our local communities want economic and efficient charity services, but they want effective charities even more. This is one reason why processes and culture are so important – both can help to deliver effective services and continuous improvement. Good processes and staffing management will deliver many benefits, but it is the attitude, creativity, commitment and dedication of the people delivering services that is most essential.