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Approval Workflows for Headcount Planning: Why You Need Them and How to Get Started

May 2, 2023| Reading time: 11min

BY John Wetzel

Principal Product Manager

Headcount planning is not for the faint of heart. Sure, you can project and collaborate on hiring needs, but when you’re in an ever-changing economy and wrangling multiple stakeholders, you need to ensure that your decisions are the right ones (no pressure).

Unfortunately you can’t wave a magic wand to make sure everything goes according to plan. However, you can equip yourself with the right processes to help make informed, aligned, and efficient decisions… all with approval workflows.

Why You Need Approval Workflows

When it comes to headcount planning, having effective approval workflows in place is essential for success. An approval workflow orchestrates the steps and procedures to approve any new hires or personnel changes within your organization. And, as we all know, the more organized the better when wrangling people from across your company to take action.

Approval workflows help you work smarter, not harder, because they:

  • Lead to strategic conversations. Big decisions – like letting someone go or changing compensation bands – have a major impact on headcount forecasts and hiring plans. You therefore want strategic leaders to not only see plans, but to sign off on them, as they can see across the business and are planning for your organization’s future.
  • Streamline the process by providing a single source of truth. A formal approval process ensures that your decisions are documented. A best practice is to add comments with approvals so people can communicate their thinking at that moment. When you have a single place to go, with comments, it makes reviewing or auditing that decision later much easier.
  • Align stakeholders. Everyone has visibility into decisions and understands how the headcount plan came together. As a person proposing changes, you know that the key people (such as HR and Finance) are aligned with your decision and proposal. This collaborative approach creates a better workplace environment, as it encourages transparency and communication.
  • Forecast headcount planning. By using historical data, stakeholders can easily identify patterns from previous approvals that help to inform future decisions.
  • Save time. Approvers and leaders are busy people ; they need all the information in one place  to make a decision then and there. By having an efficient approval process, you can handle all new hires and personnel changes in a timely manner and complete all of the necessary information and documentation. Moreover, every approval will have a consistent process, so there’s no more “who owns what and when” discussions. 


Your inbox shouldn’t be your source of truth. Instead, a people operations platform with approval workflows aligns stakeholders to help save time and make better, more informed decisions. 

Designing Your Approval Workflows: Getting Started

Headcount planning can be one of the most challenging tasks for leaders. With different sources of data and scattered communication, it’s often difficult to reach a consensus across teams and departments. Luckily, building approval workflows within the right platform helps solve these problems. Below are three ways to jumpstart building out your workflow processes.

Choose the Right People Operations Platform

Before we dive into how to set up your approval workflows, it’s important to discuss the best way to conduct headcount planning: within a people operations platform.

When you collaborate on a shared platform, everyone with permission has access to the same information, so not only are you aligned for this round of headcount planning, but you’ll have historical data at your fingertips for future headcount forecasting needs.  

And when your people operations platform has an approval workflow functionality, you can sleep well knowing your headcount plans are properly vetted before implementation. 

The right platform tracks each step in the approval process, including which stakeholders provided input, so that there is always a clear picture of what has been approved and where the headcount plans stand.This feature makes it easy to spot any discrepancies or changes in the plans, as well as make changes in real-time. Even better: After the approval is completed, the information is automatically saved in “The Headcount Plan.” No more moving plans to another spreadsheet or saving your document as “FINAL FINAL Headcount Plan.” 

Lastly, having a one-stop-shop for communications, planning, and approvals helps you maintain compliance with auditable regulations, policies, and procedures. Instead of searching your inbox to double-check that you obtained necessary approvals, it’s all saved in one location to help you hit your deadlines confidently.

Determine Who’s Who in the Approval Process

When designing an approval process for workforce plans and changes, the design of the workflow depends on the operations of your organization.That’s why it’s so important to choose a people operations platform that’s configurable to your needs.

Therefore, create an approval process that fits the level of sophistication of your organization. A simple approval process could look like: VP of People → CFO → CEO. However, a more complex approval process could include additional approvers based on department, location, team or group. 

So when it comes time to decide who’s who for approving headcount changes and workforce plans, look at the hierarchy of your company or your own organization’s policies. Making intentional choices on who is approving what will ensure that the decisions align with the goals and objectives of the business.

ChartHop-Approvals Workflow Scenario

This suggested workflow for standard approvals is one way an organization can ensure the right people are making people decisions for their organization.  

Set Up Your 3 Traditional Headcount Planning Workflows

Ready to optimize your headcount planning process? Here are three distinct types of approval workflows to get you started:

1. Annual Headcount Planning Workflow

Annual headcount planning can be daunting, especially when there’s multiple stakeholders, complex data sources, and competing priorities involved. Need we even mention all the emails, spreadsheets, and Slacks along the way? 

Sure, coordinating all of your hard work is needed, but there’s a better way to see your plans through. When it comes to major annual headcount changes (such as large hiring pushes or downsizing initiatives), an efficient and robust approvals process is necessary. Determine whose input is needed and build out your approval workflow accordingly. 

2. Quarterly Headcount Planning Adjustments Workflow

Does your headcount plan in Q3 look like it did in Q1? Yeah, didn’t think so..and that’s totally normal.  

Because your headcount needs fluctuate over time, it’s important to have a streamlined system in place to review and approve any adjustments. A well-crafted quarterly adjustment process does just that by allowing managers to collaborate with the right people (like Talent, People teams, and Finance) to ensure they have what they need to do their jobs. Additionally, regular planning adjustments help ensure that any changes are aligned and adjusted to business priorities. 

3. Ad Hoc Headcount Planning

Last but not least, ad hoc headcount planning is an important part of any workforce strategy. Having a well-designed approvals workflow in place helps managers quickly evaluate and approve any requests for new hires, dismissals, and backfills, ultimately reducing the amount of time it takes for these decisions to be made. And luckily, using automated approval software helps streamline these decisions even further, ensuring that all steps of the approvals process are completed accurately and efficiently.

Communicate Expectations to All Stakeholders

When setting up your approval workflows, it’s important that everyone involved is on the same page. This initiative includes training people at all levels on the new process, including how to use any planning software that’s been put in place. Providing clear expectations from the beginning can help prevent confusion down the road. 


  • Defining roles and responsibilities, such as who should create the request and who will approve it. 
  • Explaining the process step-by-step and any expectations, such as the timeframe the approver has and what types of comments they should provide within the platform.
  • Making sure everyone knows how to access the platform and understand their tasks within the workflow. 
  • Providing ongoing support as needed to help ensure a smooth transition.

Collaborate and Align on Headcount Plans

Who would have thought a software feature like approval workflows could create a better workplace environment? But we’re here to say it does, as it aligns all stakeholders and the data in one platform and orchestrates the approval process in exactly the way your organization needs. 

And because all the right people are using the same information to make decisions, approval workflows increase transparency and encourage collaboration, while also providing insight into headcount forecasting for the future. Ultimately, using the right resources and procedures create an aligned and informed process to help your people and organization hit their headcount planning goals.

Interested in seeing approval workflows in action?

Watch the video here

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