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How Leadership Can Take an Aligned Approach to Headcount Planning

Dec 17, 2021| Reading time: 7min

BY Kerrel Brown

Senior Marketing Manager

In your experience, what makes headcount planning so complex?

Through conversations with People leaders day in and day out, the two challenges that consistently come up are highly manual solutions and a lack of alignment across the org.

These two complexities become particularly apparent when it’s time to bring the entire leadership team into the process.

The good news is that common challenges don’t have to equal immovable obstacles. By taking a highly collaborative approach from the outset, leadership can align on a high level plan and ensure visibility from planning to final approvals and hiring.

Collaborating and Aligning with the Entire Leadership Team

While your People team should lead headcount planning, each exec team member also needs to have a sense of ownership and provide strategic support as they advocate for their teams’ needs. In order to play this collaborative role, each exec needs to have the proper visibility into other teams’ plans and potential scenarios.

With insights from ChartHop’s own team, here’s how you as a People leader can support the entire leadership team when it comes to headcount planning.

Use tech to get everyone on the same page

Relying on highly manual solutions like spreadsheets to provide actionable data to all execs can put the headcount planning process behind before it even starts. And if there isn’t even an up-to-date org chart that visualizes current roles and reporting structures, fuhgeddaboudit.

With a platform that centralizes all of your people data, execs can easily find the information they need to identify strengths and gaps within their current teams. Critically, this knowledge empowers alignment on strategic decisions and helps improve the accuracy of forecasts.

This approach has been a game changer for Emily Connery, ChartHop’s Senior Director of People & Talent, who says, “Data is only as useful as it is accessible. By implementing people analytics technology that consolidates your HR data and optimizes insights through visualizations, everything your team needs to know about your organization is instantly searchable and dynamically surfaced.”

Turn the process into a conversation

With a single source of truth from which all execs will develop a plan for their team, headcount planning presents an opportunity to align the entire leadership team on the skills needed for the business to meet its objectives.

Instead of dropping individual needs into siloed spreadsheets for one-off approvals, a cross-functional conversation around headcount planning needs – from open roles and job descriptions to forecasts and budgets – not only takes some of the burden off of your People team, but it also improves collaboration and sheds light on hiring dependencies.

For example, ChartHop VP of Customer Experience Sarah Diegnan, relies on this kind of collaboration to know if plans for her own team are on the right track. She says: “It may seem counterintuitive for some, but my approach starts with visibility into the new business sales targets and plans, then I work backwards to make sure our capacity will match demand.

Keep the long-term in the forefront

Though headcount planning is not a one and done process and should be revisited periodically, it’s important not to have a short-sighted view. Keeping in mind future mobility for employees and how that may affect plans put in place today sets up your team for long-term success.

Specifically, once you develop an ideal team structure, leaders will need to consider what roles can be filled internally and what new gaps that might create.

Leading new business at ChartHop, our VP of Sales J.T. Levin knows how to play the long game. “Thinking about the creation of new roles is the easy part. It’s the career pathing, promotion planning, and management layer approaches that are most important and require the most thought.”

Co-signing that sentiment, ChartHop CMO Diana Kucer adds: “It’s important to think both short-term and long-term. Everyone feels the pain of gaps in a team at the moment, but how will the moves we make now impact where we’ll be in six months or a year?”

Validate needs against capacity

Hypothetical bubbles on a scenario plan are one thing, getting butts in (in-office or remote) seats is another. Once all stakeholders feel the plan is in a good place, before final sign-off it’s important to take a realistic look at what filling those open roles will take.

One of the final steps in an aligned approach to headcount planning is to make sure G&A (including HR and talent acquisition) can support the headcount goals and the growing business.

Kucer identifies having this insight as the one thing that would’ve made the process smoother the first time she went through headcount planning at a previous company, adding, “I wish I had better understood what the capacity would be for the Talent Acquisition team to deliver on the hiring plan.”

Give Headcount Planning the Strategic Attention it Deserves

There’s no way around it.

Effective headcount planning – driving faster growth, greater innovation, and better employee experiences – requires working collaboratively with the entire executive team to align on the implications of growing different areas of the business in different ways.

ChartHop CEO Ian White points to the importance of this collaboration when reflecting on what led to his creating ChartHop. “How an organization functions largely depends on its structure, and this affects everyone. ChartHop is the platform HR, Finance, and exec leaders need to replace the time-consuming spreadsheets and Powerpoints that make it so hard to create intentional structures and transparent cultures.”

With the right tools, you can easily facilitate this level of collaboration and visibility to make complex headcount planning a thing of the past.

For a more detailed look at what it takes and how your team can overcome the unique complexities of headcount planning in 2022, download our guide on How to Confidently Approach Your 2022 Headcount Planning.

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