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Strategic Workforce Planning for the Future

HR teams need to be proactive and bold

Strategic Workforce Planning


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By AJ Herrmann, Executive Director, Strategic Workforce Planning

In the human resources world, workforce planning has historically meant being responsive, reactive and agile. Training programs weren’t created until they were needed. Employees weren’t replaced until they moved on. This approach worked for a long time, but won’t cut it today.

Across healthcare, HR professionals are facing a workforce crisis. The gap in the global supply of workers is forecasted by the World Health Organization to be 14.5 million by 2030. And, according to U.S. News & World Report, half of the 100 most in-demand jobs are in healthcare. Organizations don’t have the people or talent to fill roles needed and the supply challenge isn’t going away anytime soon. Add to that the fact that the skills and technology that healthcare workers will need in the years ahead are changing fast, and it’s difficult to keep up.

As we often say in Cleveland Clinic’s Caregiver Office, it’s like swinging at a pitch that’s already in the catcher’s mitt. And the only way to get out in front of it is to elevate traditional HR planning.

Strategic, forward-thinking people planning

Today’s people planning needs to be proactive, forecast-driven and bold — planning that elicits action now, instead of waiting until needs arise.

HR teams should be asking questions: What skills will our workforce need in five years? What technology will they be using? Is our current workforce equipped to handle unanticipated change or crisis?

The answers require more than guesswork. They require analytics, planning and a commitment to being ahead of the curve.

At Cleveland Clinic, we use an HR concept known as Strategic Workforce Planning. A new concept to healthcare and other industries, Strategic Workforce Planning helps ensure an organization has the workforce necessary to fulfill its strategic goals. It’s similar to how business strategy ensures adequate capital, real estate and materials to meet strategic goals. Strategic Workforce Planning builds the workforce needed to do the same.

It elevates traditional people planning in these important ways:

  • Action is taken based on forecasts and strategy, not when a problem emerges.
  • It relies heavily on internal and external data, moving beyond anecdotal evidence for decisions and performance tracking that uses more advanced analytics and forecasting technology than HR has ever used.


Capacity and capability

Cleveland Clinic’s Strategic Workforce Planning is rooted in capacity and capability. We forecast the organization’s capacity needs (number of employees) as well as capability needs (skills and knowledge) that will emerge in the future.

Capacity needs are predicted based on historical trends, internal business strategy and economic drivers. Capability forecasting — a process that was impossible until recently — is accomplished through collaboration with partners using artificial intelligence and allows us to identify emerging technology that will unlock capacity and innovation in our workforce.

We use internal resources as well as preferred external market tools and technologies to aid with gathering needed data and analytics tracking. We meet with leaders to discuss workforce specialties, growth ambitions and strategies, and technology needs for each area. We analyze hiring trends, workforce productivity, employee engagement survey results, compensation, benefits, retirement, retention and the time it takes to fill positions, among other important metrics.

The result is a customized plan that determines how many employees are needed compared to how many we will likely have.

The assumption is that every position stays the same – that is, a registered nurse today will be the same as a registered nurse three years from now. But we know that is unlikely.

Nurses in three years will probably need more or different skills than nurses today. That goes for all healthcare professionals. And organizations that can predict these changes will benefit, because building new skills within a workforce takes time and dedication. So capability forecasting is the second step in our model.

Capability forecasting breaks down every task for every individual caregiver and critical workforce role and identifies which tasks will be needed. Once again, advanced forecasting technology is vital to the process. By analyzing tasks, technologies and other data, we can zero in on how to create or implement solutions that will bring more efficiencies to caregivers’ roles.

To use the nursing example, this might be a solution such as equipping patient rooms with devices that can indicate safety information (i.e., bed rails are up or locked) and directly input that information into the electronic health record. This could potentially reduce documentation for nursing and also provide notification outside of the patient’s room (i.e., a notification dome light) that fall-prevention measures have been fully initiated.

When speaking with our Strategic Workforce Planning team about why we are doing what we are doing, Chad Minor, Associate Chief Caregiver Officer & Chief of Workforce Strategies, sums it up perfectly when he says, “We want to ensure that our leaders have the caregivers they need to grow, and that lack of talent is no longer a barrier.”


Big picture outlook

After initial capacity and capability forecasting is complete for an institute or department, Cleveland Clinic’s Strategic Workforce Planning team models out a full workforce strategy plan that includes five to eight customized actions that can be taken now to address needs that will arise within three to five years.

If Strategic Workforce Planning is on your horizon, keep in mind that it will be most successful when it takes the direction of your organization’s broader strategy. It should closely align with specific strategic objectives. If it doesn’t, and is done only in smaller pockets, the big picture may be lost and the work won’t be as effective.

Additionally, as with all planning, creating the plan isn’t the finish line. It’s important to use data-driven performance indicators and monitor and refine the plan regularly.


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