HR Leads Business

Nov 10, 2020 | Clare Chiappetta, MA, HRCI Contributing Writer

Scenario Planning for HR

Organizations have been buffeted by political, economic, and public health factors largely outside of our control for months now, accentuating our need to prepare for a range of contingencies. Scenario planning allows us to envision possible future outcomes — however unlikely they may seem now — and proactively develop ways to address them should they come to fruition.

“We’ve seen what COVID can do to a workplace and how important HR is in those conversations and planning,” says HR leader Carla Patton, PHR. “HR should leverage this opportunity with the business to show that these things are important.” 

Here are a few ways HR professionals can contribute their unique perspective during these scenario planning exercises.

Learn From the Past to Meet the Future

HR touches every level of business operations, which gives HR leaders wide-ranging access to data across the organization. They can combine that data with open-source data to evaluate external forces (such as technology or policies) that could affect the business. “It’s important for HR to think out of the box, study trends, and analyze what's going on in the world that could affect the workplace and its employees,” Patton says.

If your organization worked through the 2008 recession, for example, can you learn anything about your most essential roles during an economic crisis? “As HR professionals it is critical to do this brainstorming to ensure we are staffed appropriately, have the right skills, and even the right training and resources to help us with what is likely ahead,” says Robin Throckmorton, SPHR, president of Strategic HR Inc. “How do you need to adapt your workplace to manage that situation?” HR professionals can work with other business leaders to identify skills gaps and establish job architecture to flexibly support business needs.

Practice Scenario Implementation

Create a workforce action plan for each scenario under consideration, and strengthen your plan through practice. Organizations can prepare for some contingencies by training ahead of time. “Test reenactments of the scenarios for reactions to customize a plan that works best for your specific work environment,” Patton suggests.

In a scenario of continued economic instability, for example, organizations might leverage contingent workforces. You can test gig workers, contractors, or temporary workers in a single team or department to prepare that infrastructure now. Most scenarios also predict increased use of automation and artificial intelligence-driven technology. Try incorporating automation in a single role to identify the skills needed to work alongside technology, allowing you to scale smoothly when the time comes.

Review and Revise Plans Regularly

This moment of heightened uncertainty highlights the need for regular scenario planning, but the process is just as critical when things are going well. COVID-19 has taught us how quickly fortunes can turn. “It takes some trigger to get people thinking about it,” Throckmorton says. “But when you're in the middle of it, it's harder to be methodical about creating the plan.” Planning for business continuity in any scenario allows you to act quickly and decisively when the time comes.

Regularly evaluate what’s happening globally and revise your scenario plans accordingly, even when things are looking up. Incorporate scenario planning into your business’s strategic planning process, and include key stakeholders, especially workforce representatives, Patton says. Stress-test your plans through quarterly drills that evaluate a specific possible scenario, and assess whether previously made plans are still the best option for your workforce.