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Taking the time for headcount planning and creating a hiring planning strategy is incredibly important.

Be it annually, semi-annually, or quarterly, getting all the team leaders together to discuss and understand how each team will grow and develop is key to sustainable growth.

Here I’ll take you through why and how to create an efficient, sustainable hiring plan.

What Is A Hiring Plan?

A hiring plan is a strategic document or process outlining an organization’s hiring needs over a set period. It involves forecasting the organization's future talent needs based on factors such as growth forecasts, changes in business strategy, turnover rates, and skill gaps within the current workforce.

Often, hiring planning is considered more of an operational plan rather than a purely strategic one. This is because it should always be grounded in delivery within a specific budget, time, and resources, and it’s less likely to contain expansive analysis.

Why Create A Hiring Plan?

Creating a hiring plan is important for several reasons:

  • Strategic alignment: A hiring plan ensures that your organization's talent needs are aligned with the overall strategic objectives. By forecasting future talent requirements, the plan helps ensure that the right talent is in place to support the organization's goals and initiatives.
  • Hiring efficiency: Without a hiring plan, organizations may face inefficiencies and increased costs associated with rushed or reactive hiring processes. A well-defined plan helps allocate resources effectively, minimizing unnecessary spending on recruitment and onboarding, and leading to a better candidate experience. It also helps avoid mis-hiring and over-hiring.
  • Workforce diversity: By incorporating diversity and inclusion initiatives into the hiring plan, organizations can attract a more diverse pool of candidates and foster a culture of inclusivity within the workforce. This can lead to better decision-making, innovation, and employee satisfaction.
  • Employee retention: A well-executed hiring plan considers not only the recruitment of new employees but also their long-term success and retention within the organization. For example, it helps define roles and responsibilities and opens up conversations about internal mobility and development.

Overall, a hiring plan provides a roadmap for effective talent acquisition and management, helping organizations build and maintain a skilled and motivated workforce that drives success.

The Hiring Planning Process

The hiring strategy process flow goes something like this:

  • Defining company and team goals.
  • Assessing specific skill needs/gaps. Often, the easiest way to identify your needs is to look at gaps in skills and experience (a skills gap analysis). Additionally, creating an org chart to go with the new hiring plan helps visualize reporting lines and working relationships.
  • Assessing if the skill gap is coachable for the current team. If not—create the positions.
  • Work with HR/Talent Acquisition to create a job description
  • Work with other team leaders to discuss your ideas for hiring this person so there’s no overlap.
  • Create a plan on when you need to hire and how you will do it.

The way I run this is by running a hiring planning session with every leader in the company for the next 12 months (could be less) and we walk through things like skill gap analysis and job creation.

Throughout that process, I ask questions that bring us into the realm of workforce planning. I seek to understand the wider business performance currently and business needs, and then think about whether any skill gap is coachable for the current team.

After that, it’s important to collate the headcount from all the different leaders together (including the job descriptions) and start identifying where some teams potentially may be hiring duplicates. 

This is something to watch out for in the following teams:

  • Sales <> Marketing
  • Engineering <> Product <> IT <> Data
  • Finance <> Business Operations <> Data
  • HR <> Finance
  • Finance <> Procurement (if not within finance already).

For example, I once had to step in when Finance wanted to hire someone to head procurement but the supply chain team was already looking for someone to head up procurement!

Often, these situations are because one team feels like they aren’t getting enough information or bandwidth from another team and they think that hiring someone to bridge the gap and take over will help (but it never does).

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Questions To Ask While Making A Hiring Plan

Asking the right questions will make your hiring plan more strategic and sustainable.

Most line managers should be able to answer the following questions in a manner that helps you and them understand the most important aspects of their hiring needs and the scope and urgency of a role.

Q: What resources/budget do you have (if you have one)?

Let’s face it, this is very much the deciding factor here. If you go through the entire checklist and discover that you won’t be able to find the person you need with the budget you have, you will be able to go back to Finance/C-leadership to discuss this with the answers from below.

If you don’t have a budget, keep in mind the expense so you can advise finance. You may need to make tradeoffs on things like certain skills or seniority to fit a smaller budget.

Q. What will this person do here? What are the specific outcomes we expect of this role in the first 6 months/12 months/more?

I recommend talking about specific outcomes so that there a tight focus on why this person is needed. This is how you avoid hiring for skills only (i.e.“Oh this person’s skills would be nice to have in the team”—doing what?).

Q. Who will they interact with the most internally? Do we need their input in the hiring process or during the formation of the job description?

There are very few roles nowadays that don’t interact cross-functionally in the company. Getting outside opinions can broaden or narrow the role, but it’ll make it a better fit either way.

For example, if Finance wants to hire someone for Data, what is the current Data team not providing them with?

Q. Is there an overlap between the person in this role and anyone else in the company? If so, to what degree is there overlap and what are the differences making this role necessary?

Continuing with the example from above, if Finance hires a Data person, they will need to work with the Data team. But is it appropriate to have so much overlap, or can the Data team spare capacity to provide Finance with the information they need? Or, should the Data team just hire the person to keep the reporting lines clear?

Q. What experience and/or skills will the best candidate need to achieve success in the role?

This is so you and the hiring manager have some idea about what you’re looking for. Ideally, there should be some criteria that are a “must-have” and some that are “nice to have”. 

This should further cement the need for the role and start you thinking about the urgency. You should avoid being too nebulous e.g. if all you can think about is people that are good with communication and self-motivation, you may need to go back up to the outcomes. Of course, being overly prescriptive is also a hindrance.

(I cover this some more in my article on candidate sourcing).

Q. When is the role needed—yesterday, in 3 months, in 6 months?

This is where we start thinking about the urgency of the role. This will help you and the talent acquisition team plan when a role should be posted, what is the urgency, and how many resources to put into it right now.

Q. What happens if we don’t hire the person in 6 months?

This is more of a mental exercise to think about the urgency. It’s easy to say “Well we won’t achieve our targets” and be done with this prompt. 

Take your time to think about what will happen if you don’t have this resource but the demands of your team remain the same. This is how to truly get the urgency of the role.

In my career, I’ve only had one manager tell me “Hey Mariya, my role is not urgent but wanted to give you the heads up that I need this resource in 6 months and it’ll be a tough one, so let’s post it now.” It brought tears to my eyes—be like that!

Q. Who can/will take up the mantle in the interim?

Again, this helps assess the urgency of the role and also gets the line manager thinking about creating a stretch goal for someone internally or making it part of their development plan. 

I’ve seen many a time when hiring is the first go-to, but, once we get to this question, we discover there are a lot of under-utilized people in the team already.

Q. What is the career path (if any)?

This is something any manager should think about when they look to hire anyone. Sometimes the answer is that there isn’t one because it’s a super senior role already (e.g. looking to hire a C-level role). 

Other times, however, it’s because the company needs this person only for a fixed amount of time when they look at it carefully. If so, perhaps getting a contractor is a better fit than a permanent staff member who’ll then be idle after the project.

Related read: Contractor vs. Employee: Pros And Cons

Q. Do you have the time to hire right now/when will you have the time?

Hiring should take a fair bit of the weekly calendar and, the more urgent the role, the more time someone should be prepared to dedicate to the recruitment process.

Job posting, checking the applicant tracking system, posting on social media, screening resumes, and interviewing all take time.

Other things I also see people forget to factor in for time include feedback (top talent requires good feedback), background checks, and onboarding.

Often, discussions I have with hiring managers looking to scale teams quickly revolve around their team having the capacity to run a great onboarding process for all new employees.

Q. What about company culture?

Note that in none of the above I talk about "company culture fit”. This is because I’m of the firm belief that this can be really limiting at this stage and can be a source of bias.

Focus on things like behaviors, skills, and experience fit of the ideal candidate and you will avoid all your new hires looking like they came out of the same mold.

Armed with the answers to these questions, go back to your leader or leadership and discuss the hiring plan.

If you have a dedicated hiring team/resource, be prepared to debate the urgency of your role with other teams that have equally or more urgent roles. 

The answers to the above questions also have the benefit of guiding both the selection process and the hiring decision down the line so they are doing double duty!

Checklist

checklist graphic

Most companies operate on an annual or semi-annual strategic hiring plan, so here is a checklist of what you should verify and plan for by the time the hiring period you have planned for starts.

  • An overall hiring plan for the company
  • A space for each team to hire throughout the period for the different roles they have
  • You have verified with cross-functional stakeholders about the role you're adding
  • You’ve answered all the questions in the section above
  • You’ve started creating job descriptions with HR/Talent
  • You’ve started thinking about how to hire this person (the interview questions or tasks in the hiring process)
  • Once you have posted and started hiring for the role, you start thinking about what the next iteration of your team looks like for the next round.

Taking The Time To Properly Plan Hiring Pays Dividends

A hiring plan takes time. It can be labor-intensive, and it can make you think of things you don’t have ready answers to. 

However, that shouldn't stop you from going through the process and trying to go a bit deeper into the planning to make it more sustainable and accurate.

As if right on time, just as I was writing this article, a friend reached out to me with the following story. 

They were in discussion with a company that liked their skills but, over the course of almost 9 months, kept changing the roles my friend was being considered for. 

This is a waste of everyone's time and likely an indicator that they really didn't have a plan in place when they engaged my friend in a discussion. 

It makes me think that they saw their experience and fell for the trap of “We’d love to have someone with that experience on board” without knowing what they would do with them.

Eventually, they ended up abruptly pulling out of the process, wasting everyone’s time and leaving a bitter taste.

I wish I could tell you this is a one-off example of a particularly bad candidate experience, but it’s not. It seems to be the norm in this “hire first ask questions later” environment that we’ve bred. 

I’ve been part of these scaling efforts myself—doubled even tripled teams in a year—but I’ve always tried to be the voice of challenge in those rooms. 

This has helped the teams I’ve worked with have a clearer goal in mind so that they can, in turn, give the right candidates the best candidate experience and maintain a great employer brand.

Hiring goals should be treated just like any other goals—every minute you spend planning before you execute like mad is at least a few minutes you don’t spend backtracking and wasting.

I’m not saying that this means you will never make people redundant, but it’s always healthy to question yourself from time to time, to check if you’re on the right path.

To you, hiring and firing may eventually end up looking like numbers or line items but, to people, this is their livelihood.

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By Mariya Hristova

Mariya is a talent acquisition professional turned HR leader with experience in large corporates and start-ups. She has 10+ years of experience recruiting all over the world across many different industries, specialising in market entries, expansion, or scaling projects. She is of the firm belief that great candidate and empoyee experiences are not just a luxury, but a must. Currently she is the People Lead at Focaldata.