Headcount planning best practices: What to know before you grow

Headcount planning best practices: A complete checklist | Abacum
Abacum team


Last updated on 

Sep 19, 2022

Headcount planning best practices: A complete checklist | Abacum

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A single hire can make or break an organization. While the right hire can set an entire team up for success, the wrong one can stunt the growth of that same team, leading to costly roadblocks that impact an organization's overall performance.

So how can you ensure that you are hiring the right players to support business performance? By carefully planning out your future workforce with an effective headcount plan. 

Headcount planning is an activity that involves identifying the number of employees required for a particular team or organization to support business objectives. From the outside, this practice may seem like a straightforward requirement that all organizations can easily master. However, many growing companies would agree that building a headcount strategy can also pose a number of unique challenges.

By understanding how to properly create strategic headcount plans, your Finance and Human Resources teams will be able to work together to hire employees with the right skill sets and create a solid workforce that supports your company's overall business goals. 

What is headcount planning? 

Headcount planning, also known as org charting, is a process that determines whether a company has the required number of employees to carry out its business strategy and achieve both short- and long-term goals within a defined budget. This planning initiative involves assessing current staffing, determining future skills requirements, and identifying ways to reduce costs while maintaining top talent.

Typically, HR and the recruiting department look at trends, projections, and financial forecasts to ensure they are on track for meeting their workforce goals. Other team members that may also be involved include the founders or business owners, the legal department, and the finance team. With this cross-functional collaboration, department managers can ensure that they are fulfilling their talent needs while also staying within budget.

Why is headcount planning so important?

People are often a company's largest expense, which is why business leaders need to have a firm grasp on how their current workforce is operating. By taking a more calculated approach to your headcount planning process, your team will be able to combine financial planning and analysis (FP&A) initiatives with your strategic workforce planning, helping to bridge this gap and meet the needs of your growing organization. 

Hiring the right people is also a critical component of headcount planning. Having a deep understanding of what kind of roles and skill sets each team needs can help you prioritize the most impactful positions. Your company must also consider hiring the right headcount mix, which may include full-time, part-time, or freelance employees. 

Last but certainly not least, is that headcount planning ensures that your recruiting team stays within budget. This is when the Finance team can make a major impact on your headcount planning initiatives. The Finance team steps in to bring light to the actual constraints within the budget while revealing opportunities that the company can take advantage of. These insights allow department leaders to make the right budgetary decisions and formulate a more accurate headcount plan.

Headcount planning framework: How to get started

Looking to build a robust headcount strategy? Below are some of the most essential steps on how to get started. 

Identify roadblocks

Before getting started with headcount planning, identify key business challenges that your company may face in the future. Here is when you can use scenario planning to gain a deeper understanding of potential threats such as changes in the economy, changes in demand, regulatory shifts, or increased competition. By having a better understanding of your current and future business environment, you will be able to have greater insight to support future business decisions. At this stage, the Human Resources teams should also have a discussion with each department manager to understand how many people are needed on each team and for what purpose. 

Analyze your metrics

Modern leaders of an organization know just how important it is to practice data-backed, strategic decision-making. That is where analyzing your metrics comes into play. Workforce metrics that should be tracked include the attrition rate, performance ratings, necessary position requirements, individual worker performance, retirement eligibility, and so on. By basing decisions on data, HR and the executive leadership team will have a stronger idea of what positions are needed and when.

Assess your current organizational structure

How does your current workforce stack up against your metrics? Before you start making a change to your headcount, take some time to analyze your company's current standing and identify areas of improvement. At this stage, collaboration between the Talent Acquisition and Finance team is essential. By taking a deep-dive into the analytics and conducting proper forecasting, business leaders are better able to identify the necessary organizational changes needed to reach future company goals. Finance also brings a unique perspective at this stage since they can inform the hiring team of which positions will be able to maximize efficiencies and deliver the most impact.

Formulate & execute your plan

Now that you have all the information you need, it's time to create a strategic plan. When you begin the execution phase, be sure that department managers and executive leadership properly communicate these changes or new hires to all employees. This will ensure a smooth transition as your organizational structure evolves. 

Review & adjust headcount plans accordingly

It's no secret that business landscapes for startups can be unpredictable. In order to stay agile, your Finance department and HR team must revisit these plans and make adjustments as needed. By taking a proactive approach with a dynamic headcount, your organization will be able to adapt and adjust business plans as needed. 

How to improve your headcount planning processes

Applying a strategic mindset when formulating your workforce plans will ensure that your team is set up for success in the long run. Below are some of the top ways your headcount planning can support your organizational goals.

Audit the accuracy of your data

 Working with outdated data will only lead to error-prone forecasts and business plans. When reviewing common workforce metrics and other company-wide data, be sure you are working with the most up-to-date information. By upgrading your company's tech stack with a human resources information system (HRIS) and financial planning and analysis software (FP&A), your team will be able to ensure that it is relying on all the latest company data and metrics to support its strategic decision-making.

Make headcount planning agile 

As your organization grows, so does the complexity of its processes. To keep up with the ever-changing needs of your business, you'll want to implement a flexible headcount planning strategy that can be adjusted on an as-needed basis. If you're looking for a way to improve your headcount planning process, try implementing a modern software that is dynamic and flexible.

Encourage collaboration among team leaders

As mentioned above, headcount planning should be a company-wide initiative. The best way to encourage cross-departmental communication is by organizing regular check-ups with the head of each department. These meetings should include senior executives along with the management team so everyone can review the necessary roles and responsibilities across departments. By encouraging communication and collaboration, your team will be better equipped to handle any potential issues that arise during the course of your headcount planning process.

Streamline your headcount planning process with collaborative FP&A software

A company's human capital is just as important as its financial capital. With the right tools, your team can streamline its headcount planning processes and improve overall efficiency. 

Our FP&A software allows you to easily access and analyze critical data from across your entire organization. From sales forecasting to financial budgeting, your team will easily be able to identify potential issues before they become problems.

Our robust FP&A software also helps you track key KPIs such as revenue growth, profit margins, and employee retention rates, as these metrics help you determine which areas of your business require additional investment and attention. 

By leveraging the power of collaborative FP&A software to manage your headcount planning processes, you can better align your workforce with your company's strategic objectives.

Looking to revamp your headcount planning initiatives? Download our free Headcount Planning Checklist to get started.

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