Scope—This article provides an overview of five critical workforce strategies that must be linked with an organization’s strategic objectives to achieve success. It directs readers to more in-depth resources on the five strategies and on many secondary matters.


Identifying and implementing workforce strategies in a challenging global economy is a high-priority issue for top executives. To be successful, human resource professionals and business leaders together must grapple with the many variables that affect the organization’s ability to attain its strategic objectives. They must develop quantitative and qualitative approaches to efficiently and effectively attract, engage and retain human capital. Specifically, to be effective, business leaders must focus on the five key areas discussed in this article:

Workforce planning.

Organizational capability assessment.

Organizational development and structure.

Diversity and Inclusion.

Change management.

Human resource professionals must pursue all their workforce strategies while taking into account employees, clients, shareholders and the communities served—collectively, a «four-legged stool.» If one of these constituencies is not satisfied, the stool becomes unstable.


Alignment is Essential to Effective Performance, Profitability

Integrate HR with Operating Strategy

Put Plans into Action

Workforce planning involves analyzing the workforce implications of a business plan and developing solutions to address them. Steps include:

  • Analyzing the organization’s strategic goals.
  • Determining competencies required to attain those goals (needs analysis).
  • Conducting a talent assessment of the employee population.
  • Performing a labor market analysis (availability).
  • Identifying the gap between the current capabilities and the needs, which forms the basis of a talent-build (employee development), borrow (use of a contingent workforce and project-based work) or buy (staffing) matrix.

The resulting talent acquisition strategy will depend in part on the organization’s life-cycle stage. Organizations in the introduction phase, for example, will emphasize acquiring exceptional as opposed to acceptable talent or building or moving talent.


Creating an Effective Human Capital Strategy

Practicing the Discipline of Workforce Planning

Customize, Align Talent Strategies with Business Objectives

Competencies Hold the Key to Better Hiring

On completion of a workforce plan, the next step is to conduct an organizational capability assessment. This assessment will focus on the factors that affect an organization’s ability to attract, motivate and retain the talent needed to reach organizational objectives. See:

Organizational Assessment: How does a company conduct a training-needs analysis?


Efficient and effective methods of attracting and acquiring talent are critical to success. In a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, «strengths» refers to the organizational qualities that would be difficult for a competitor to replicate. Because methods for producing products tend to be similar, an organization can distinguish itself from its competitors by developing and communicating its unique people advantage.


Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Staffing Management

Guide to Conducting a Culture and Needs Assessment (SWOT Analysis)

Strategic Planning: What are the basics of environmental scanning?

The Untapped Potential of Referral Hiring

Filling the talent gap involves implementing robust methods of attracting, sourcing, screening, interviewing, hiring, onboarding and retaining human capital, as well as developing staffing management metrics to measure efforts within each of these areas.


Recruiting Internally and Externally

Benchmarking Human Capital Metrics

Tips for Recruiting Millennial Women

Interviewing Candidates for Employment

Managing the Employee Onboarding and Assimilation Process

Attracting talent includes creating or refining an employment brand, as well as communicating the message through people, process and technology solutions. Categorizing channels according to the 7 Sourcing Segments®, identified by the consulting firm Kaufman, VonStuben and Associates, helps streamline these efforts:

  • Internet.
  • Mass media.
  • College relations.
  • Affinity groups.
  • Referral programs.
  • Direct talent scouting.
  • Special events (e.g., open houses, career fairs).

Working within each segment before identifying specific needs allows organizations to consistently communicate an employment brand and further decrease acquisition time by inviting talent to apply and prequalify in advance of actual needs. See The Hidden Benefits of Employer Branding.


To perpetuate and build on a competitive people advantage, organizations must understand what attracts and motivates employees. Motivational factors frequently cited in research include:

  • Training, development and career.
  • Immediate management.
  • Performance management.
  • Communication.
  • Equal opportunities and fair treatment.
  • Pay and benefits.
  • Health and safety.
  • Cooperation.
  • Family friendliness.
  • Job satisfaction.

Leaders of high-performing organizations must strive to understand the mix and multitude of motivational and engagement factors and to introduce efforts to influence them. Diversity and individual values also play an important role in engagement. See Developing and Sustaining Employee Engagement and 2015 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report.


Effective retention strategies revolve around how the organization’s managers and employees interact, how the organization develops and presents talent, and how these behaviors come to life within the work environment and brand. Organizations must develop and implement human capital strategies that encourage, support and hold people managers responsible for retention. These strategies include ensuring that talent-buy and talent-build efforts feed a culture in which people are appreciated and included. This begins with an organization’s values statement and is carried out via its performance management system. Accordingly, managers should hire individuals who mirror organizational values as well as demonstrate those values through their behaviors. If diversity and inclusion are values, for example, behaviors related to them are included in performance plans and measured, rewarded or corrected. See Managing for Employee Retention and Culture, diversity, engagement, and retention will be front-burner issues.

Organizational Development and Design

Business leaders seeking to exploit their organizations’ people advantages ask, «Are we organized correctly? Are the right people working on the right things according to their skill sets? Is the organizational structure efficient and effective? Do we have too many or too few people?» The answers to these questions emerge through the functions of organizational design and development. See Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Organizational and Employee Development.

Quantitative and qualitative analysis of an organization’s capabilities will contribute to achieving defined business goals through skills analysis, job design, role clarification and performance measures. These measures also benefit the employee populations, the shareholders, and the communities in which the organization operates.

Human resource professionals, for example, must continually employ efforts to analyze redundancies within organizations and be willing to make tough, courageous decisions and recommendations. This is not necessarily a negative for employees: These activities can contribute to more clearly defined responsibilities, expanded roles, enriched careers and more appropriate compensation.

Not only must organizations look at human capital from a business (versus from a historical personnel) perspective, but they must also consider the implications of decisions. For example, if analysis dictates a workforce reduction, organizations must incorporate strategies to mitigate lower productivity as a result of «survivor guilt,» maintain stock prices (if publicly traded), continue attracting and retaining customers, and maintain corporate and social responsibilities. Not taking these steps may result in a failure to realize the full benefits of a reduction. Organizations that reduce the workforce to save money but subsequently suffer losses in productivity do not realize the anticipated savings. See Managing Downsizing by Means of Layoffs and Managing Employees in a Downsized Environment.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion strategies should focus on how to unleash the power of inclusion within organizations by helping employees understand how decisions can be made together, how teams operate more effectively, how to better appreciate employees’ respective «otherness» and how the collective «otherness» can have a positive impact on the marketplace served. When addressed correctly, diversity and inclusion can have dramatically positive outcomes for the business. Conversely, when misunderstood and misapplied, they can leave a workforce with a «flavor of the day» attitude or, even worse, bitter and resentful.

Historically, organizations have focused diversity efforts primarily on visual diversity and frequently communicated diversity attributes, including gender, age, physical ability, national origin, sexual orientation, race and religion. However, organizations have evolved beyond that to a point where they must also consider how an individual’s acculturation (the habits formed as a result of experience or communal or family upbringing) affects how work is accomplished. Organizations must ponder how they can become more competitive by understanding and exploiting differences for the benefit of fellow employees, stockholders, the community and customers. They must also consider how to prove the value of diversity and inclusion strategies through quantifiable and business-related metrics. Depending on where an organization is on the diversity continuum, it could take years to go from concept to completion. Inclusion is a journey, not a destination. See How to Develop a Diversity and Inclusion Initiative and Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Diversity.

Change Management

Organizations often fail in implementing strategies. It is not uncommon to have a consultant and cross-functional team come together to address an issue and assemble volumes of data, and then to have the results sit in dusty binders on executives’ bookshelves. When decisions are made about a different way to conduct business, implementation of those ideas is critical, and change management is the vehicle by which to do so.

«Change management is the process of continually renewing an organization’s direction, structure and capabilities to serve the ever-changing needs of external and internal customers.»1 See Managing Organizational Change and Understanding and Developing Organizational Culture.

HR does not own change but rather facilitates it—more often than not with the assistance of outside consultants. By championing change, HR can increase buy-in, solidify support for change across departments and thereby increase the success rate of such initiatives.

One author has found that approximately 70 percent of change initiatives fail.2 According to Edward E. Lawler III, from the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California, the 70 percent failure rate for change initiatives has remained remarkably stable over the past 14 years. As a result, Lawler wrote, «It is nearly unanimous that HR can and should add more value to corporations. The best way to do this is by being a business partner—by directly improving the performance of the business.» Lawler cited change management as one arena in which HR can add support and value to organizational performance by acting as a strategic partner.

A solid change management methodology requires change awareness, understanding, involvement and, ultimately, ownership. A focus on the following five areas increases the success rate of change efforts:

  • Identifying committed sponsorship (functional leaders and steering team—activities, personnel, inputs and outputs).
  • Soliciting input from a cross-section of the organization via a stakeholder (including suppliers) analysis and involvement (scope of change, risks, audience—activities, personnel, inputs and outputs).
  • Developing a solid communication plan (define audience, objectives, timeline and channels). See Managing Organizational Communication.
  • Ensuring stakeholders are training on the plan and its components.
  • Executing on a universally understood timeline (content definition, design and development, documented and deployed).

HR professionals who can direct these five key areas toward executing their organization’s strategic objectives enhance their effectiveness and reputation as valuable business partners.


1Moran, J. W., & Brightman, B. K. (2001). Leading organizational change. Career Development International, 6(2), 111-118.

2Kotter, J. P. (1990). A force of change: How leadership differs from management. New York: Free Press.

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