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Four steps of workforce planning

Two female colleagues and a male colleague talking in a meeting

Effective workforce planning spans "hire to retire,” and incorporates talent attraction, recruitment and development. These four steps can help you manage your most valuable resource: your employees.

As a manager, you know your most important asset is your people, and that your team’s success relies on having the right people with the right skills in the right roles. Depending on your school or unit’s shifting priorities, the potential for new projects from Stanford’s Long-Range Planning efforts, and the fierce competition for talent in Silicon Valley, you must constantly refine and adapt your workforce planning strategy.

Graphic demonstrating the 4 steps to workforce planning

What is workforce planning?

Strategic workforce planning is how an organization or team analyzes its workforce and determines the steps it must take to prepare for future talent needs. While you may think of this as primarily a staffing tool Human Resources uses to anticipate employment needs, it can also be critical for your staff training plan, organizational design and team development goals.

“Teams with effective strategic workforce plans are better equipped to meet their long-term goals and maintain long-term success,” says Marguerite Kunze, associate vice president, talent management & workforce strategy.

As the first part of our series on workforce planning, we offer the following core steps to managers who are in the process of planning for their team’s current and future needs.

Four steps of workforce planning

Step 1: Analyze your talent supply

As a manager, you should conduct both an internal and external talent assessment. You might ask questions such as:

  • “Does my team consist of long-tenured talent that could retire soon and leave the team with significant gaps?”  
  • “What are the strengths of my current team and how do they map to our current needs?”
  •  “How available is the talent that I need in the current market?”  
  • “What is the cost of acquiring new talent?”

Fact: Talent assessments not only save time and money, but are critical to an organization’s success. According to a study by the talent management insights group CEB, when leadership is not assessed properly, the organization suffers from “a weak bench.” Performance on key objectives declines on average by 34 percent, senior leadership roles are filled with external candidates who are more expensive and slower to onboard, and the organization is 21 percent more likely to fail.

Step 2: Consider your future needs

Next, complete a review of your future business plans and objectives. Gather information around what your team needs to accomplish, projected workload changes and staffing levels. What are the competencies that are critical to achieving your objectives?

Resource: Your free LinkedIn Learning account offers you access to courses such as “Strategic Human Resources,” which focuses on strategic HR planning for managers, assessing current needs and forecasting the future.

Step 3: Identify the gaps

Now, what are your needs? Compare the differences between your supply and demand assessments. Identify the skill surpluses and deficiencies that are linked to the strategic work you must accomplish. For example, do you need to fill a specific role—project managers or developers or researchers—or do you need different skillsets altogether, given the new projects that will be coming to the group in the next year?

Tip: There are a variety of competency tools available to help you and your team leverage individual strengths and identify areas for development. Stay tuned for the rest of our series, which delves deeper into this step of the process.

Step 4: Find the solution

Now you can address the gaps in your current and future staffing needs. As a manager, you should assess opportunities to train and develop your current employees, and consider hiring externally to complement your current teams’ skills. If you recruit outside the organization, where would you go, and how many new hires do you need? Once you’ve solved for the gaps, you’ll need to manage the integration of the new talent into your current team.

Benefit: When a group has prepared and trained their internal talent for a future need, they are better prepared to ramp up rapidly on new projects.

This is important work, and you don’t have to do it alone. University Human Resources offers managers assistance from hire to retire. Please contact Talent Management at for more information.


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