Workforce Planning vs Headcount Planning: What’s the Difference?

Dec 20, 2022
Reading time: 7 min

The terms workforce planning and headcount planning are often used interchangeably…but they’re actually not synonyms. Are you accidentally making this mistake?

Read below to understand the difference between the two so you can create plans that are strategic and intentional for your organization and your workforce.

What is Workforce Planning?

Workforce planning is planning for your current and future workforce needs. We know – this sounds very general yet very complex at the same time.

And that’s because it is. Workforce planning is a delicate (and strategic) dance of hiring, developing, and retaining top talent, as well as preparing your company for any unexpected people changes.

Strong organizations have a workforce planning strategy to optimize their current organization and set themselves up for success in the future. If you’re looking to strengthen your workforce plans, you should:

  • Conduct a workforce analysis. Your people are your greatest asset. Therefore, it’s crucial to know their strengths and weaknesses – and create a game plan to address the latter. The best place to start is by looking at data, including eNPS scores, performance reviews, and KPIs.
  • Provide professional development opportunities. If you want to retain your top talent and close skills gaps, look into providing consistent and personalized professional development. In fact, a culture of continuous learning is the top reason people stay at their organization. Additionally, when you implement continuous and contextual performance management, you’re better able to quickly address professional development needs and support employees in achieving their goals.
  • Consider your contingency plans. A contingency plan is a backup plan in case there’s a disruption in your organization’s operations. When it comes to strategic workforce planning, you want to assess any potential hiring and employee retention risks in your company before planning your response. In addition to determining expected risks, you should plan for the unexpected as well (looking at you, 2020 and 2021).
  • Evaluate your succession plans. Succession planning’s primary purpose is to identify and develop leaders (think C-Suite level) to replace current ones when the time comes. When it comes to executive roles, you don’t have the luxury of waiting around to find the right person. You need to fill each role quickly – with a person you’ve already identified and trained to get the job done.

While there’s many reasons why you should look at your people data regularly, making informed decisions goes at the top of the list. And to implement the above list effectively and efficiently, your best bet is looking at your metrics within a people operations platform. Visualized data helps you discover insights about your workforce so you can spend less time comparing numbers and more time creating a strategic workforce plan.

ChartHop Performance Review example

A modern people operations platform is essential to implementing your workforce planning strategy. With it, you can slice and dice your data to help identify next steps to support your people and create a stronger organization.

What is Headcount Planning?

Headcount planning is planning for your future workforce needs. We know what you’re thinking – isn’t this a lot like workforce planning? Yep, it is.

We like to think of it this way: All headcount planning is workforce planning, but not all workforce planning is headcount planning. In other words, channel your 9th grade math skills and consider the relationship between a square and a rectangle (apologies if you have one of those back-in-high-school nightmares tonight).

To summarize, headcount planning is looking ahead to your short and long term objectives and ensuring you have the right people in place to hit those goals. Workforce planning is looking at your current people and seeing how they fit into your strategy.

For the best headcount planning experience, you’ll want a people operations platform with headcount planning and org chart functionalities. That’s because headcount planning, sometimes referred to as “org charting,” requires you to build out various scenarios using your org chart. But if you’re still building your org chart manually, this process will take up precious time that you should be using planning instead of creating tiny boxes on your screen.

Furthermore, these scenarios should be a single source of truth to all stakeholders. Luckily, when plans are created and stored within one platform (that also houses all of your people data), it becomes just that.

The result? Headcount planning becomes a collaborative process: Finance can forecast and approve budgets, managers can create team headcount plans, People leaders can approve workflows, and talent acquisition teams can prioritize their next hire. This way, all departments and headcount plans are in place to help you hit future goals with the right workforce.

scenarios-org chart

Using the right people operations platform helps you build out headcount plans with all of your data in one place.

Use Strategic Workforce and Headcount Planning to Strengthen Your Organization's Future

In order to optimize your current workforce, as well as hit your future objectives, you need to create both workforce and headcount planning strategies. And to do so collaboratively and effectively, you’ll want to use a people operations platform to help you visualize your data and forecast what’s ahead.

An all-in-one platform will help you conduct a workforce analysis and create plans to help your organization have the right people in place, now and in the future. Ultimately, it’s critical to create (and constantly revisit) your workforce and headcount plans to help position your organization for long-term success.

Looking to better collaborate on headcount plans and give visibility across your organization? Plaid and its Operations team also had their list of must-haves when it came to strategic workforce planning: An easy-to-use platform that could handle the entire end-to-end process, foster collaboration and visibility across teams, and enable security controls to secure personal data. Read how they used ChartHop to get it done.

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