Strategic Workforce Planning Frameworks

Choose and Implement the Best Framework for Your Organization

In our previous blog post, we explored the concept of strategic workforce planning, which helps organizations align their talent strategies with their business objectives. We discussed the critical components of strategic workforce planning, including analyzing current workforce supply, forecasting future demand, identifying gaps, and developing action plans to bridge those gaps. If you still need to read that blog post, we recommend starting there to lay the foundation for understanding workforce planning frameworks.

Close-up of an orange metal structure with intersecting shadows creating a geometric pattern.Now that you grasp the basics of strategic workforce planning let’s dive deeper into the structured approaches and methodologies. In this post, we’ll explore some of the most common strategic workforce planning frameworks, discuss the proper framework for your organization, and provide practical guidance on implementing and operationalizing your chosen framework to drive real business impact.


Common Strategic Workforce Planning Frameworks

Organizations can leverage several well-established frameworks to structure their workforce planning efforts. While each framework has its unique elements, they all share the common goal of aligning talent strategy with business strategy to ensure the right people with the right skills are in the right roles at the right time. Let’s look at three of the most widely used frameworks.


6-Step Workforce Planning Framework

Construction of a massive wooden structure underway with the help of a crane.The 6-Step Workforce Planning Framework covers the end-to-end workforce planning process, from strategy to execution. While the exact origin of this specific framework is unclear, it provides shared principles and best practices in workforce planning that have evolved over the years. Here’s a breakdown of the six steps:

Step 1: Align workforce planning with organizational strategy
  • Understand the organization’s business goals, direction, and priorities
  • Identify the critical implications of the business strategy for your workforce
Step 2: Compare current and future workforce
  • Analyze your current workforce, including headcount, skills, and demographics
  • Forecast future workforce demand based on business plans and scenarios
  • Identify the gaps and surpluses between current and future workforce needs
Step 3: Design initiatives to close gaps
  • Develop strategies to build, buy, borrow, or bot (automate) talent to address the identified gaps
  • Prioritize initiatives based on their impact and feasibility
Step 4: Define and implement the plan
  • Create detailed action plans with timelines, responsibilities, and resources
  • Secure budget and stakeholder buy-in for implementation
  • Communicate the plan and engage stakeholders in the execution
Step 5: Monitor and revise the progress
  • Track progress against goals and metrics to assess the plan’s effectiveness
  • Adjust plans based on changing business needs or market conditions
  • Continuously improve the workforce planning process based on lessons learned
Step 6: Evaluate and revise the plan
  • Assess the effectiveness of the implemented workforce strategies and initiatives
  • Identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments to the plan
  • Continuously monitor and adapt the plan based on changing business needs and priorities

This framework provides a structured, step-by-step approach to workforce planning that ensures alignment with business strategy, data-driven decision-making, and continuous improvement.


7-Rights Framework

A close-up of a green leaf with numerous small spots, showcasing the intricate details of nature's beauty.The 7-Rights Framework, developed by the Human Capital Institute, focuses on ensuring that organizations have the right talent to execute their business strategies rather than on the process of strategic workforce planning, as in the 6-Step Framework. The 7-Rights Framework takes a more holistic view and emphasizes that a broad range of talent management activities might be necessary to reach the goal. The framework consists of seven key dimensions:

Dimension 1: Right people
  • Identify the critical roles and key talent segments that drive business value
  • Develop targeted strategies to attract, retain, and develop top talent
Dimension 2: Right skills
  • Define the current and future skill requirements for critical roles
  • Assess skill gaps and develop upskilling and reskilling plans to address them
Dimension 3: Right shape
  • Determine the optimal organizational structure, job architecture, and reporting relationships
  • Align the workforce composition (e.g., full-time, part-time, contingent) with the business needs
Dimension 4: Right size
  • Forecast your headcount needs based on your business plans and productivity targets
  • Optimize the workforce levels and manage attrition to ensure the correct size
Dimension 5: Right time
  • Ensure talent is available when and where needed to meet the business demands
  • Plan for succession and knowledge transfer to mitigate workforce risks
Dimension 6: Right place
  • Align the workforce location and mobility with the business requirements
  • Optimize the global talent deployment and sourcing strategies
Dimension 7: Right cost
  • Develop budgets and forecasts and align them with the business financial plans
  • Balance the labor costs with productivity and performance to ensure ROI

The 7-Rights Framework provides a flexible framework that allows organizations to adapt to their needs and priorities.


Mercer’s 4-Stage Methodology

A high-rise building being built with a backdrop of a blue sky.Mercer, a global consulting firm, has developed a 4-stage methodology for workforce planning that focuses on data-driven decision-making to inform workforce planning decisions and continuously monitor and adapt plans based on changing needs and priorities. While the two previous frameworks also incorporate analytics, they do it to a lower extent. The four stages are:

Stage 1: Gaining insights
  • Understand the business strategy and the implications for the workforce
  • Analyze internal and external labor market trends and benchmarks
  • Get stakeholders on board to identify pain points and opportunities for improvement
Stage 2: Measuring talent supply and demand
  • Assess the current workforce composition, capabilities, and potential
  • Forecast future talent needs based on business scenarios and growth plans
  • Model talent gaps and risks to inform workforce strategies
Stage 3: Designing the future workforce
  • Develop strategies to close talent gaps, such as recruiting, upskilling, or redeploying
  • Design new roles, skills, and organizational structures to support future needs
  • Create workforce action plans and roadmaps aligned with business priorities
Stage 4: Implementing and monitoring the plan
  • Execute workforce initiatives and programs to build and retain critical talent
  • Measure progress and impact using key workforce metrics and analytics
  • Refine plans based on feedback, results, and changing business conditions

Mercer’s methodology emphasizes the importance of using data and analytics. It seems more straightforward and future-focused, but it doesn’t eliminate the need to examine all dimensions of the 7-Rights framework.


Choosing the Right Workforce Planning Framework

With multiple frameworks, how do you determine which is suitable for your organization? Here are some key factors to consider:

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    Key factor 1: Organizational size, complexity, and maturity

Larger, more complex organizations may require a more comprehensive framework.

Smaller, simpler organizations may benefit from a more streamlined approach.

Verify the maturity level of your organization; which HR capabilities and data are available?

    Key factor 2: Industry and competitive landscape

Some industries may have specific workforce planning needs or challenges. Healthcare, for example, faces an aging workforce, regulatory requirements, and the need to serve diverse populations.

Verify if your chosen framework aligns with industry best practices and standards.

    Key factor 3:  Business strategy and workforce needs

Ensure the framework supports your organization’s unique business goals and priorities. Imagine, for example, a technology company that needs to shift from hardware products to cloud-based services.

Consider the specific workforce challenges and opportunities you need to address.

    Key factor 4: Data availability and quality

The effectiveness of your workforce planning efforts will depend on the data you have. Verify sources such as your HRIS, job architecture, financial systems, employee feedback, or external labor market data.

Consider the types of data you have access to and the quality and consistency of that data.

    Key factor 5: HR and leadership capabilities

Assess the skills and expertise of your HR team and leadership in workforce planning. Your organization should have skills in strategic thinking, data analytics, change management, project management, collaboration, and, obviously, talent management.

Consider whether you have the right capabilities in-house or need external support.

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Once you’ve selected a framework, it’s essential to adapt and customize it to fit your organization’s unique context. You can modify some steps, add or remove elements, or adjust the terminology to align with your internal language and processes. For example, you might want to choose the 6-Step Framework for the structure and the 7-Rights to avoid forgetting any dimension, but you don’t need the “right place” because all of your talent is working in the same region.

Integrating workforce planning with other business and HR processes, such as strategic planning, budgeting, and talent management, is also critical. Strategic workforce planning is not a standalone activity but a key input into broader organizational decision-making.

Finally, choosing a workforce planning framework is not a one-time decision. As your organization evolves and your workforce needs to change, you should reassess and adapt your framework. There’s nothing wrong with changing your approach. Continuously evaluating and improving your workforce planning activities will help you stay agile and responsive to changing business demands.


Implementing and Operationalizing Your Chosen Workforce Planning Framework

Once you’ve selected a strategic workforce planning framework, the real work begins with implementing and operationalizing it within your organization. What do you need to look out for to ensure a successful implementation?

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    Best practice 1: Build a planning team and a governance structure.

Identify the key stakeholders and decision-makers who need to be involved.

Define clear roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities for the workforce planning process.

Establish a regular cadence and process for workforce planning activities and meetings.

    Best practice 2: Develop a workforce planning process and a timeline.

Align your workforce planning process with your organization’s business planning cycles.

Create a phased approach for implementation, with clear milestones and clear deliverables.

Set realistic timelines and expectations for each phase of the process.

    Best practice 3: Engage stakeholders and communicate the value of workforce planning.

Tailor your messaging and communication to different stakeholder groups and audiences.

Showcase early wins and success stories to build momentum and buy-in.

Continuously mention the link between workforce planning and business outcomes.

    Best practice 4: Collect and analyze workforce data to inform planning.

Identify the critical workforce metrics and data sources to support your planning.

Leverage software and analytics tools to collect, integrate, and analyze data.

Ensure data quality, consistency, and security throughout the planning process.

    Best practice 5: Translate workforce insights into actionable initiatives.

Collaborate with business leaders to develop workforce plans that address key challenges.

Prioritize initiatives based on their impact and feasibility.

Secure the necessary resources and budget to implement workforce strategies.

    Best practice 6: Align workforce plans with budgets and financial forecasts.

Partner with finance to model the costs and investments associated with workforce plans.

Use scenario planning to assess the financial impact of different workforce decisions.

Monitor and adjust the plans based on budget constraints and performance.

    Best practice 7: Monitor and measure the impact of workforce planning efforts.

Define clear success metrics and KPIs to track the effectiveness of workforce planning.

Regularly measure progress against goals and benchmarks.

Communicate results and ROI to stakeholders to demonstrate the value of workforce planning.

    Best practice 8: Continuously refine and improve the workforce planning process.

Conduct post-implementation reviews to identify lessons learned and areas for improvement.

Gather feedback from participants and end-users to assess the process and tools.

Update and adapt the process based on changing business needs and priorities.

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Implementing a workforce planning framework is not a one-time event but an ongoing journey of continuous improvement. Following these best practices ensures that your efforts are effective, sustainable, and aligned with your organization’s strategic goals.



Strategic workforce planning is the critical process that aligns talent strategy with business strategy and ensures that organizations have the right people with the right skills in the right roles at the right time. A framework guides your workforce planning efforts. It does not matter which framework you choose as long as it helps you take a proactive, data-driven approach to talent management and decision-making.

A close-up of a building with hexagonal tiles, showcasing its unique architectural design.A framework doesn’t provide an unrestricted view of an organization’s capabilities. Holding many threads, collaborating across departments, gathering and analyzing data, and having a direct connection to business planning requires an unbiased approach to lead your activities to success. In this regard, we have supported clients with a job architecture because it provides transparency into the workforce and a direct link between a job and your value chain. Discussions with management will be reduced to a minimum. On the contrary, your Executive Board will recognize HR as a true strategic player in your organization!

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