Is Asia being too optimistic about their workforce planning strategy?

Tracing back to its roots, workforce planning was meant to be strategic – a concept conceived in the military where maintaining a strong, trained and stable army despite changes and movements of people in and out was key. An organization’s workforce is very much similar to a military’s troop. One would have to look at the entire workforce and plan for the future instead of simply focusing on filling vacancies as they occur.

In late 2014, an in-house study was conducted by HRBoss where they surveyed 710+ business leaders and professionals from across the region. How do today’s business leaders carry out their workforce planning projects? What are their topmost workforce concerns? Have workforce planning practices changed over years or have they remained the same? Do organizations across Asia have what it takes to be tactical when it comes to Workforce planning?

The research answers questions like on the  ‘how’, ’what’ and ‘why’ but also reveals something more concerning – are organisations in Asia being too optimistic about their workforce planning efforts? As the old adage goes ‘When you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. Based on the report, a whopping 98% of respondents believe that workforce planning is important to the success of the organization.

You cannot deny that workforce planning is the #1 key ingredient for a successful business, but the report findings reveals a severe disconnect between what organisations think and what is really happening. Respondents were asked, ‘How do you carry out Workforce Planning?’ and the results show that the most common workforce planning methods were working with data on spreadsheets and excel (65.7%) , and meetings (56%). With almost 2 out of every 3 people still depending on good old spreadsheets, Workforce Planning in Asia seems like a process stuck in excel hell.

Back in those days where people depended large sheets of paper and pen for work, the invention of electronic spreadsheets a.k.a Excel fundamentally revolutionised the world of work. But, given the accessibility and capabilities of technology available on the market today, one would expect organisations in Asia a little more advanced.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Spreadsheets are still one of the best things since sliced bread…but there’s proof that spreadsheets are no longer reliable tools. In 2008, Barclays sent an offer to purchase another firm that hid, instead of deleting nearly 200 cells resulting in unnecessary losses. In 2013, JPMorgan Chase lost more than $6 billion in its ‘London Whale’ incident –allegedly due to copying and pasting incorrect information. If organisations in Asia believe workforce planning as the key determinant to their success, making decisions based on spreadsheets should be the last on the list of workforce planning methods.

Respondents also cited that the top 3 obstacles to workforce planning are an overly complicated planning process (70.6%), data inaccuracies (70.4%) and the need to gather and associate data from multiple sources (64.2%). These key barriers point to the overarching problems commonly associated with data unification of multiple data sources.  Plus, with more than half of the respondents unable to easily access employee data needed for workforce planning and 77.1% of respondents using more than 3 different sources of data, are business leaders in Asia really making accurate decisions best for their organisations?

In 2012, Bersin by Deloitte published the widely recognised four-stage maturity model which explains how organisations evolve from operational reporting, to advanced, strategic and the holy grail of predictive analytics. Over the years, organisations have accumulated several IT and workforce systems which store huge volumes of people-related data: demographic, performance, job history, learning, compensation and benefits and more. These data can be associated and analysed by business leaders to help companies make better, data-driven workforce planning decisions – termed as ‘Talent Analytics’ or ‘ Big Data for HR’ which are still ‘the’ buzzwords to-date.

Based on the survey results, 88% of organisations in Asia are stuck at Beginners level. Organisations in Asia are working with low functioning data systems and depending on excel which typically requires time-consuming and admin-heavy work when it comes to data aggregation. Only 29.9% have a relatively basic workforce planning tool. Hence it’s shocking to that 65% of respondents said they are able to predict where talent gaps will be in 6 months. The report has spoken and they cannot be further from the truth.

Various official bodies and media have put forward their forecasts on how the Asian economy will fare in the coming year and it seems like growth in Asia generally remains positive. With the full establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, the AEC will support an increase in regional globalization and integration of different nationalities.  Workforce Planning therefore becomes more critical than ever. In a bid to stay competitive, organizations in Asia will no longer be sourcing from local talent pools, but also widening the net beyond national boundaries in search for people they need to meet business goals.

Given that the research reveals that only 2% of respondents are very happy with the way current workforce planning practices are carried out, there is a pertinent need for organizations to overcome the common pain-points to stay competitive in across Asia and beyond. Perhaps it’s time for businesses in Asia to consider moving up the maturity model and look at a next generation approach to workforce planning?

The full research report is available for download at