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Libby Marks

How to Create an Effective Staffing Model (with Examples & Instructions)

What is a staff model? Why do you need one? And how do you create a staff model that works? Discover all in our beginners’ guide.

A staffing model is a framework that ensures your organization has the right people to meet its operational needs. 

It outlines the roles, skills, and staff ratios required to deliver your core business – as well as what you’ll do if there are fluctuations in demand. 

Think of it as the ingredients list in a recipe. It provides clear guidance on the type and number of people you need – so you can ensure your organizational pantry is properly stocked. 

Here’s what you need to know to incorporate staff modeling into your strategic workforce planning. 

What is a staffing model?

A staffing model answers the question ‘How are we going to staff the business to meet our strategic and operational objectives efficiently?’. 

Part of the wider workforce planning process, the ultimate goal of a staff model is to equip the business with the right people, at the right time, at the right cost. 

Creating a staff model involves looking back at historical data – and forward to future needs – to understand the likely demand for staff. 

(This is known as deterministic workforce planning ➡️ explore the four types of workforce planning models and what they involve.)

From here, you design an optimal staffing structure to deliver high performance and good value to the business. For example:

  • In a predictable business with steady demand, your staffing model might be to hire a set number of permanent staff in fixed job roles.
  • But in a more volatile business – perhaps with seasonal ebb and flow in demand – your staffing model might be different. You may hire temporary workers via an agency at peak times. 
  • Or in a project-based business, your staffing model might be to hire specialist expertise on a project-by-project basis, from a pool of trusted contractors. 

You’ll see that it isn’t just about the who and how many – labor costs are important too. Different staffing models use different hiring processes to secure staff at the right cost to the business.

And it isn’t just about salary. Staffing models consider ‘hidden’ costs of new hires such as pension contributions, equipment, and management costs as well.  

What’s the difference between a staffing model and a staffing plan?

A staffing model and a staffing plan are both key elements in strategic workforce planning – but they aren’t the same thing. 

A staffing model uses a range of resource forecasting techniques to determine the optimal staffing levels, skill requirements, and recruitment preferences for the business – how many of each type of role each department needs and the best way to hire them. It is a bird’s eye view of the staff the company needs to succeed. 

A staffing plan is much more granular. Building on the staff model, it details the exact activities needed to staff the business – recruitment timelines, job descriptions, training, scheduling and rotas, succession planning, etc. A staffing management plan is about the practicalities of implementing the staff model through specific recruitment, training, and deployment activities. 

(Now you know the difference, if a staffing plan is what you’re actually interested in, head over to our other article How to Create a Staffing Plan Your Staff Will Approve Of. Otherwise, keep reading 🙂).

The importance of effective staffing in businesses

Effective staffing is crucial for businesses to achieve their goals and maintain competitiveness. It ensures there are enough skilled employees to handle workload fluctuations, deliver quality products or services, and provide excellent customer service. Strategic staffing also helps in controlling costs, minimizing employee turnover, and fostering a positive work environment. 

Benefits of creating a staffing model 

The benefits of creating a staff model are the same as the benefits of workforce planning generally – the main benefit being that there are no nasty surprises to blindside you. 

You’ve considered every angle of your operations and your workforce is planned and prepared for what lies ahead.

However, other benefits further contribute to your business success. Here are some of the things that an effective staffing model helps your business do better:

  • Align staff to strategy – A staffing model involves forecasting workforce requirements, which ensures you have the right staff, skills, and knowledge for your intended direction of travel. 
  • Optimize resource allocation – You’re more able to match workforce supply to demand, reducing underutilization and the costs associated with overstaffing.
  • Manage staff costs – An appropriate staffing model doesn’t just save the cost of underused employees, it also saves expenses associated with the wider hiring process.
  • Enhance performance – Having the right people in the right positions helps you deliver your operational goals and delight your customers and clients.
  • Retain employees – By considering workload, skills development, progression, flexible working, etc, you are more likely to retain employees. 
  • Adapt to change – A successful staffing model anticipates change and gives you the flexibility to adapt to market conditions as needed.
  • Scale faster – Some staffing models (see below) help you access specialist expertise and additional resources needed to pivot or propel your business forward.

Who’s involved in creating a staffing model?

An effective staffing model draws on contributions from different people in the business. It’s both top-down – based on strategy cascaded from senior management – and ground-up – taking into account the frontline needs of managers and employees. 

The HR department typically owns and guides the process. But they consult widely in the business to make sure they fully understand what’s required – and make buy-in more likely. 

Staffing model stakeholders 

Senior leadership – The executive team sets the organizational goals that the staffing model needs to support. They provide oversight, advocacy, and guidance for the project. Their involvement ensures the staffing model moves the needle for the business.

Human Resources department – Your HR pros develop and implement the staffing model. They coordinate the process and do the technical work, like workforce analysis and role design. This ensures the plan is guided by experienced professionals with the right skill set.

Departmental managers – Dept. heads provide insights into their team needs. They help HR to understand operational realities, job duties, trends in demand, and the skills and key positions required. This helps ensure the staffing plan equips teams with the staff and skills they need for success. 

Finance team – Your finance professionals ensure the staffing model aligns with the organization’s overall financial objectives, and provide insights into budgets and costs to guide the plan. This makes sure staffing decisions are optimized for the organization’s financial reality. 

Employees – Individual staff members contribute to staffing modeling by giving insights into the employee experience – like workload and work-life balance, staff sentiment, skills needs, etc. This helps create a plan that supports staff retention and satisfaction goals. 

As with most things in business, consultation and collaboration yield the best results. Taking on board a wide range of professional opinions – from the boardroom to the shop floor – ensures your staff model is aligned with current needs and future ambitions. 

Seven common staffing models

The exact details of your staffing model will depend on the nature of your business, your ambitions, and any constraints you’re facing. However, there are different types of staffing models you can consider. Here’s a quick rundown. 

(Note that you’re unlikely to pick one of these off the peg and use it exclusively. Most staffing plans are a hybrid of these approaches, reflecting the complexity and ambitions of the business at the time.)

1. Fixed staffing model

In this approach, you have a constant number of employees throughout the year. You may lose or gain a few due to natural turnover. But there are no major changes to reflect workload fluctuations, like seasonal changes in demand.

  • Pros – It’s predictable, making it ideal for businesses with consistent demand
  • Cons – You may experience over- or under-utilization if workload fluctuates 

2. Variable staffing model

In this staffing model, the size of your workforce varies depending on demand. When you have higher demand, you hire more staff.  This may be due to known seasonal fluctuations or in response to upturns in the market. 

  • Pros – Allows you to fit your workforce to the work available, avoiding underutilization and wastage
  • Cons – Bringing in additional temporary workers at short notice may incur higher costs 

3. Hybrid staffing model

As you might guess, this combines elements of fixed and variable staffing models. You maintain a core staff to cover standard workload but also have a team of contract workers you can call on at peak times. This offers a balance of stability and agility.

  • Pros – Allows for scalability at peak times without committing to full-time hires, which supports cost management
  • Cons – Requires careful management and may lead to lack of cohesion within teams

4. Lean staffing model

A lean staffing model focuses on optimizing workforce efficiency and minimizing excess capacity. You operate with a minimal number of employees. But you maximize their flexibility and utilization rate through cross-training and active resource management – equipping people to fulfill multiple roles and moving them between roles as needed.  

  • Pros – A cost-effective way to cover your core business operations
  • Cons – Requires careful workforce planning and resource allocation to ensure appropriate workloads 

5. Outsourced – or external – staffing model

In this staffing model, you maintain a core in-house workforce but supplement it with specialist expertise from external service providers. For example, a publisher may outsource photo editing to an offshore provider that can turn work around overnight. 

  • Pros – Access to specialist expertise and flexibility in response to changing demand
  • Cons – Sourcing, onboarding, and retaining external suppliers adds a layer of complexity

6. Project-based staffing model

This approach involves hiring employees or external contractors on a project-by-project basis. It allows businesses to respond exactly to workforce demand, but carries risks relating to planning and estimation.

  • Pros – Equips you with exactly the number of employees needed to deliver the work available, reducing waste
  • Cons — Requires solid project planning, resource forecasting, and management skills to keep projects and employees aligned 

7. Staff augmentation or contingent staffing model 

The staffing model involves augmenting the permanent workforce with temporary hires, brought in to complete a specific piece of work. This is often done through agencies – who manage sourcing, admin, etc. – or through the use of freelancers.

  • Pros – You can quickly scale up or scale back your workforce based on demand 
  • Cons – It can take time to onboard temporary staff and get them up to speed

➡️ Learn more about staff augmentation.

How to create a staffing model in 8 easy steps

Below are the basic steps you’ll need to take to create a staffing model in your business. There are a range of qualitative and quantitative techniques involved – your HR team should have the analytical skills and experience required. 

1. Engage stakeholders and establish business needs 

Contact your key stakeholders to begin gathering input for your staffing model and to start the process of getting buy-in. 

In consultation with your executive team, get a clear understanding of your organization's short-term and long-term goals – especially any known changes in the forthcoming year, like mergers and acquisitions, or growth targets. 

Speak to department managers to understand day-to-day operational needs – including any staffing shortfalls or skill gaps. Consider what workforce planning metrics you need to monitor and analyze.

2. Look back and analyze historical data 

Review historic data on staffing levels, workload, business cycles/seasonality, and performance to identify patterns and trends. 

This analysis will help you understand staffing requirements during peak and off-peak periods, as well as any areas of inefficiency or overstaffing.

3. Look forward and forecast future workload 

Using insights from steps 1 and 2, begin to forecast future staffing needs. Possible techniques include time series analysis, statistical regression analysis, trend analysis, and fixed ratio planning (see below). Your HR department should be well-versed in these techniques. 

Consider factors such as anticipated changes in customer demand, new projects or initiatives, and market trends. 

4. Define staffing ratios

Determine the ideal staffing ratios for different departments or functions based on your workload forecasts and performance targets. For example, you may need a certain number of:

  • Customer service representatives per customer inquiries
  • Production workers per unit of output
  • Project managers per project staff

5. Develop different scenarios

Based on your workload forecasts and staffing ratios, develop various staffing scenarios to determine the optimal staffing levels and mix of skills.

Consider different scenarios for different business conditions – such as fluctuations in workload, onboarding new projects – and how you’ll manage staffing. 

This may include cross-training employees to make them more flexible, hiring temporary staff, or using overtime.

6. Assess your current workforce

Evaluate your current staffing levels against your new staffing model and assess whether you have the right number of people, type or roles, and mix of skills to meet your future needs. Identify any gaps or redundancies in your workforce. 

If there are gaps, you will need a strategy to bridge them. For example, hiring new employees, upskilling existing staff, retraining people in redundant (underutilized) roles, contacting past applicants when roles arise, etc. 

7. Think about risk and retention

Your staffing model can’t assume that positions will be easy to fill or that you’ll always retain key staff. 

Consider risks that could impact staffing, such as turnover rates, economic fluctuations, or changes in industry regulations. Develop contingency plans to mitigate these risks and ensure business continuity. 

Also consider ways to make your workplace attractive to employees to support staff retention. Retaining staff is cheaper and less disruptive than staff turnover and recruitment. Prioritize employee retention to control costs.

8. Implement, monitor, and adjust 

Implement your new staffing model, monitor its performance, and make adjustments as needed. 

Remember that historical data you looked at earlier. Revisit the stats after implementing your new staffing model. Has it had a positive impact? 

Regularly review your staffing levels, workload forecasts, and performance metrics to ensure that your staffing plan remains aligned with your business goals.

How technology helps you create a better staffing model

Technology is extremely valuable when it comes to creating a staffing model – from AI-assisted data analysis and forecasting, to scenario planning and resource scheduling. Here are three workforce planning tools you should consider when planning your staffing model – and managing resources generally.

Data and analytics tools

Analytics tools let you analyze large volumes of data and arrive at actionable insights. For staffing model planning, these tools can 

  • Analyze historical data to identify patterns, trends, and seasonality
  • Use AI and predictive modeling to forecast future demand based on project pipeline, client demand, and market trends
  • Visualize staffing data through dashboards and reports, making it easier to communicate with stakeholders and get that all-important buy-in

Resource Management software

Resource management software centralizes data about your workforce and helps managers easily identify and allocate resources within the business. For staff model planning, this software can 

  • Provide historic data about staff, team, and project performance – for example, skills, resource capacity, and utilization – to assess whether the current workforce has the right people in the right place
  • Deliver at-a-glance capacity visualization – based on your project pipeline – to help forecast future resource demand 
  • Support scenario planning and what-if analysis, for data-informed decision-making and agility in response to changing circumstances
  • Let managers schedule resources and see the impact on capacity and utilization in real-time

HR software

HR software serves a wide range of purposes in a business. In terms of creating an effective staff model, it can

  • Track employee performance metrics and provide insights into individual and team productivity – this helps evaluate the effectiveness of your current staffing approach
  • Provide insights into staff numbers, skill sets, qualifications, etc, which is essential when assessing your current workforce
  • Support processes downstream if-and-when you need to recruit and onboard new employees

Using any of these tools can make your staff model more accurate and effective, by providing data for your analysis and decision-making process.   

Build your best staffing model with Runn

Runn is resource management software trusted by hundreds of project-based and professional service businesses worldwide. 

Software studios, marketing agencies, consultancies, construction firms, and more use Runn to analyze their resource needs, devise staffing models, and allocate resources efficiently. 

Discover more about the benefits of workforce planning tools like Runn.  

Or – if you prefer to get hands-on – explore Runn for free for 14 days and see what all the fuss is about.

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