In preparation for Aberdeen Group’s 2012 Human Capital Management summit (March 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts), an annual gathering of senior HR and business leaders from around the world,  participants were polled to uncover the most pressing issues keeping them awake at night.

The number one issue cited was workforce planning, delivering the skills and competencies required to meet business needs. 

Planning for the future needs of the enterprise involves building deep pools of talent, both inside and outside the organisation, and business and talent leaders require technologies that can help them manage these talent pools.

Hiring and development are closely tied in responding to workforce planning needs, because the goal of each is to ensure that the right employee, with the right skills, is assigned to the appropriate initiative or gets put in front of the right customer at the right time.

It's a deceptively simple concept, one that has echoed through human capital management conversations for decades.

For the enterprises that Aberdeen Group studies, it comes down to visibility into talent data, and having the appropriate data visualisation tools to help uncover gaps between business demand and current talent supply.

Competencies such as skills, attributes, behaviours, become the common language that allows organisations to intersect talent management systems with workforce management systems.

As HR leaders look to their IT counterparts to help them integrate data, these common data elements are critical.

It's not surprising that the number one strategy among European organisations cited in Aberdeen's 2012 talent acquisition research was to develop a competency framework for selection, placement and promotion decisions (cited by 41 per cent of European organisations and 32 per cent of organisations throughout the rest of the world).

Competencies are fundamental to helping organisations identify and bridge talent gaps.

When the needs of the business are understood, these needs can inform talent strategy and help identify where key competencies must be sought outside the organisation through talent acquisition, or where they can be developed in existing employees.

Aberdeen's 2012 study Analytics into Action: Workforce Planning for Talent Success found that just over half (51 per cent) of European respondents cited the need to rapidly realign workforce to changing business priorities / customer demands as the top priority driving their workforce planning efforts. 

Additionally,  42 per cent of European organisations indicated their workforce planning efforts were driven by the need for better insight into internal talent pools due to shortages of key skills in the market.

By providing appropriate tools to manage talent data, apply analytics, and integrate business and talent strategy, IT can enable HR and business leaders to attract and retain the talent they need to meet rapidly changing marketplace conditions.

This emphasis on visibility comes as no surprise.

Top performing organisations in the analytics study are more likely to use visualisation tools that help them model organisational structure.

The Best-in-Class were also more than twice as likely as other organisations to use dashboards to provide talent metrics and analytics to the business. Expertise in implementing these tools is critical to success.

Business intelligence and analytics tools have long been in use in other parts the enterprise, and this expertise must be leveraged in the human capital domain as well.

In the end, unless data and insight can drive action the analytics effort is merely an interesting exercise.

As organisations seek the required visibility to help them drive hiring and development efforts, they should keep several key recommendations in mind:

Utilise visualisation tools to apply data to key decision points.
Talent analytics only matter when they matter to the business.

Without the ability to integrate employee data with other sources such as sales, revenue, or other performance data, and the ability to deliver it to business users when and where they are making critical decisions, organisations will handicap their ability to make an impact with their analytics efforts.

Implement tools that allow sharing data outside HR.
Talent analytics that are built to serve the needs of only HR are missing the point.

Human resource professionals that don't know how to socialise and share the data beyond the HR department will find it difficult to build a business case for investment in analytics technologies.

Executive-level dashboards, real-time analytics, and self-service query tools are all helpful in sharing data more broadly.

If the first steps to analytics and workforce planning success are collecting and integrating data, the next step must necessarily be sharing it.

Put competencies at the core.
Workforce planning is all about ensuring that talent will be available when the business need arises.

Competencies are the foundation for the necessary conversations between the business and talent leaders, and become the common language by which talent needs are communicated.

Business leaders require the technologies that provide visibility into the skills and competencies that exist within their current workforce to better understand what talent must be developed or acquired to execute on their business goals.

Mollie Lombardi can be reached at . 

Mollie Lombardi is research director, human capital management at Aberdeen Group. Follow Mollie on Twitter at @mollielombardi

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