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Libby Marks

Strategic Staffing 101: Aligning Talent with Organizational Goals

Expert strategic staffing tips and best practices to elevate your business - and your people - to new heights.

Don’t you just hate the word ‘resources’? And ‘resource management’? 

It’s a term we use to describe our product because that’s what the industry calls it. But it’s a legacy term that doesn’t sit well with us. 

Because the resources in question are people. 

And - we don’t know about you - but we don’t love language that makes them sound like they’re just there to be used. 

We much prefer to think about resource management in terms of people - and how businesses and people combine to make great things happen. 

If you share our belief that people are more than ‘resources’ - and they deserve more than just ‘management’ - you’re going to love our take on strategic staffing. 

Because it’s all about how putting people first makes brilliant business sense. 

As part of our LEAP webinar series, we’ve talked to two amazing experts - our own COO Nicole Tiefensee and former Baker Tilly Resource Director Christine Robinson - to explain more.

So read on for the inside scoop on how strategic staffing spells a brighter future for businesses and the people who work in them. 

What is strategic staffing? 

Strategic staffing is about aligning your workforce with your business strategy. It aims to equip your business with the right number and type of people you need to ace your organizational objectives - now and in the future. It also seeks to deploy them in the most effective way - to maximize productivity and profitability in your business. 

That’s the traditional take. But it doesn’t stop there. At Runn, we also think it includes people-centric policies that elevate and motivate your employees, so they love their work and do great things.

More on that in a minute.

What does strategic staffing include?

If you think the definition of strategic staffing above sounds like capacity planning, you’re right. Ditto, resource management and HR. 

That’s because strategic staffing spans several different disciplines within your business. To reap the benefits, you’ll need great cross-functional collaboration to bring it all together.

It includes elements such as:

  • Strategic alignment - Partnering with senior leaders to understand short- and long-term business goals - and help shape the workforce to meet them 
  • Recruitment and retention - Acquiring and retaining top talent through a positive employer brand and employee experience 
  • Resource intelligence - Understanding individuals’ interests and career goals, to find alignment and mutually beneficial opportunities within the business  
  • Development and upskilling - Helping staff develop new skills that increase their expertise and engagement while supporting organizational objectives 
  • Capacity planning - Forecasting future demand to identify the competencies and roles required for future success 
  • Scheduling and optimization - Having the right people in the right place to deliver projects efficiently and profitably 

➡️ Related:

What is the difference between staffing and strategic staffing?

Traditional staffing is about filling vacancies as they arise - perhaps looking a few months ahead at any gaps that will need filling - and recruiting the best people for your immediate needs. 

Strategic staffing is about longer-term planning - how you build and develop a workforce to meet your organizational goals - and empower them to unleash their full fabulousness.  

➡️ Related: What We Like About The Ready's Staffing Model

The five biggest benefits of strategic staffing

Strategic staffing helps organizations increase their competitiveness and agility by unlocking the full potential of their people.

It puts the right people in the right place to deliver your services. And it elevates individuals by providing opportunities that motivate and fulfill them. 

Here are five ways strategic staffing can benefit your business.

Better business performance 

Strategic staffing combines a range of activities - from effective resource management to proactive upskilling - that boosts your business performance. It makes sure the right people are in the right place at the right time. But also makes sure they’re engaged in meaningful work that keeps them motivated. The result is increased productivity, efficiency, and innovation. 

Openness to opportunity  

A key part of strategic staffing is forecasting future demand and shaping your workforce to meet it. You identify the roles and skills you’ll need in 3, 6, and 12 months - and avoid unnecessary costs, risks, and stress. 

You’re not overstaffed and spending more than you need to. And you’re not understaffed and struggling to keep up. You have the people and skills you need to confidently pursue future opportunities, knowing you can deliver.  

Lower staff turnover

Staff turnover is costly and disruptive. But it isn’t inevitable. Strategic staffing eliminates some of the main reasons staff quit - like burnout, boredom, or lack of advancement opportunities. 

This helps businesses retain the people they have - and the invaluable operational knowledge they hold. Which, in turn, reduces the cost and disruption of having to recruit and onboard new team members, maintaining a stable, experienced, and engaged workforce. 

Increased competitiveness

Lower costs and higher innovation are hallmarks of strategic staffing. But they’re not the only things that will increase your competitiveness. A key aspect of strategic staffing is upskilling and cross-functional training. 

Upskilling equips individuals with new industry knowledge and best practices that they can apply in your business. While cross-functional training gives people the skills to make an impact in different areas of your business. Both sharpen your competitive edge by improving innovation and agility.

Brilliant brand reputation 

From potential clients to candidates for your job vacancies, everyone wants to know what you’re like to work with. Strategic staffing bolsters your brand on both fronts - securing the two things you need for success - client demand and the people to meet it. 

Firstly, it helps you meet client expectations and deliver great outcomes, which makes it easier to win new clients and keep the ones you have. Secondly, a strong employer brand will attract high-caliber candidates who’ve heard good things about your people-first policies and investment in staff. 

10+ strategic staffing best practices

We’ve talked to experts in strategic staffing to bring you best practices to elevate your business. 

These tips will be useful for both

  • Seasoned resource managers in organizations with high resource management maturity
  • Businesses that are just starting to get strategic about staffing

We’ve already got lots of articles on our resource management blog about the more technical side of things, so these tips lean more into the people side of strategic staffing, which is very close to our hearts at Runn.  

Move from transactional to strategic management 

One thing all our experts agreed on was that resource management is changing. Moving from a transactional approach - concerned with maximizing inputs and outputs - to a more strategic approach - one that considers the bigger picture of people management.

‘‍Often, people ask us “Isn’t resource management just scheduling resources?” says Nicole Tiefensee, co-founder of Runn. ‘And I say “Sure, that's part of the puzzle – allocating people to projects - but strategic resource management is so much more.’

Resource management is an old-school term that comes from manufacturing. It's taken us a while to find our place in that category, because for us resources are people, not cogs and wheels in a machine. Resource management today is about orchestrating your team in a way that boosts both your business and your workforce. It's about achieving nimbleness, aligning with business values and goals, and fostering growth – both for the company and the individuals within it.

When you move from technical to strategic resource management, you automatically broaden the scope of the resource manager - from simply scheduling people, to actually understanding them. And - as you’ll see in the rest of our tips - that’s essential for business success.

Make people your priority 

If you stick with the textbook definition of strategic staffing - focusing on planning, hiring, retaining, and scheduling resources - you’ll miss an important part of the puzzle. In our experience, it’s the difference between average and high performers.  

What we're seeing in organizations that are high-performing is that they take the people side a lot further. They look at people's interests, where development opportunities exist, and how they can make the hours people spend at work more exciting and more engaging.

In high-performing organizations, strategic staffing looks beyond just what the business needs in terms of talent and time. It also prioritizes what its people need - knowing that is mutually beneficial. 

Truly strategic staffing recognizes that an organization can’t achieve its potential without harnessing the full power of its people. This is especially true in a professional services firm, where knowledge workers turn their knowledge and creativity into client deliverables.

Get personal

Getting to know your people is fundamental to strategic staffing, as Christine Robinson explains:

The first and the most integral best practice for resource management is drilling down to the fundamental - which is that the resources that are being managed are people. Establishing that relationship with people and understanding how they are motivated and what they aspire to…That's going to be the key to success across the board.

It’s through personal connections that you can understand what motivates people and how they’d like their careers to develop - as well as personal factors that might impact their work or open up opportunities. 

Christine recommends getting to know people as soon as you can.

When they walk through the door on their first day, meet with them. Say “I'm your resource manager, I'm here to help you. I'm here to understand what your career goals are so that I can help you achieve them. But if you don't tell me what they are, it's gonna be really difficult for me to help you get to that place."

It’s essential to give resource managers the time to cultivate and nurture those relationships fully. And they can’t do that if they’re spread too thinly.  ‘Try not to over saturate your resource managers. Because when you do that, you start to dilute the value that they can bring,’ advises Christine.

Emphasize strategic alignment 

If you’re coming from an organization with a lower level of resource management maturity, your senior management might not understand the value of people-centric processes. So it’s important to articulate that and get buy-in. As Christine explains, resource management isn’t an end in itself, it’s about getting the business where it wants to be. 

Successful resource management is not about resource management - it is about the organization and getting the organization positioned and strengthened to meet leadership's vision.

For example, perhaps they are interested in growing the practice by honing in on and doubling down on a particular skill set. The resource manager can go look at who has that skill set. Who has a skill set that is adjacent to it? And how can you match the current population of people to either be upskilled or reskilled to meet that demand from external clients.

Or, in the case of talent retention, what parts of the resource management process are you going to double down on to ensure that top talent can be retained? Maybe by assigning people to projects that are in line with their career aspirations?

By drawing a direct line between business objectives and strategic resource management, you can secure the senior buy-in you’ll need.

Plan ahead…especially when it’s hard to

All businesses can benefit from strategic staffing. ‘The fundamentals of resource management are industry-agnostic’ says Christine. But project-based businesses particularly benefit because it mitigates the inherent complexity of their work.

The forward-looking nature of strategic staffing might seem pointless in the face of an unpredictable pipeline. But it’s actually more important to employ tactics like resource capacity planning.

By increasing transparency into capacity - and strategically aligning this with opportunities - it makes projects more predictable and staffing more successful. 

You never want to be in a situation where there's an iceberg in the distance and you didn't see it coming. Even if you just have the most basic information around scheduling into the future - maybe it's three months, maybe it's three weeks - having that insight and making decisions based on that information is going to help.

Are there certain types of clients that the business leaders know they're going to work on? Certain types of opportunities they know will come to fruition over six months but they don't know when?

What you can do there is to understand what skill sets are going to be needed. You can start working with the learning and development team to create some sort of a boot camp training process so that when these opportunities come available, people are trained and ready to go.

Measure what matters

There are lots of resource management metrics you can use to measure the efficacy of how you deploy your people. But strategic staffing goes beyond literal data like utilization rates, useful as that information is. 

It also looks at the wider organizational objectives you’re supporting, as Christine explains:

There are certain things - like measuring utilization or productivity -  that go without saying. However, imagine what’s most important to your organization right now is to drive retention. Perhaps, as a starting point, you begin with measuring the employee experience. Or maybe the organization wants to be more precise this year about forecasting. If you have a huge level of leakage or schedule variance week to week, that's something you're going to want to track.

Nicole agrees, pointing out the futility of simply viewing resource management from a productivity perspective.

In high-performing organizations, there is a lot of alignment. Throughout the business, there are clear business goals that everyone understands. And there’s visibility and clarity over work priorities. If we're just purely looking at [staffing] from an efficiency point of view, efficiency is very much a productivity metric. And, as I always tell my teams here, you can very efficiently do the wrong things…

Work out meaningful metrics to track, so you can continue to prove the value of strategic staffing to the wider business. 

Don’t manage, motivate

A key principle in our approach to strategic staffing is that motivated people need less management. It’s why we’re such advocates for autonomy at work. If people are engaged and enthusiastic about coming to work, it frees your project managers from day-to-day management for more strategic tasks. Tim Copeland, co-founder and CEO of Runn explains.

It’s about what is intrinsically motivating to people versus what they’re told to do. The “I'm your manager, I'm going to tell you what to do” approach works. It's an effective strategy. You've got to start there because if you're not doing that, you probably don't have an operating organization in the first place. But it misses all the other good stuff that can come with embracing people holistically. 

Where you want to get is having an awareness of what people want and are driven to do without being told. If you are an organization that can really understand who is doing the work, and why they're motivated to do the work, you don't have to do as much management. You don’t have to track every hour and see how that gets spent. You give people work that they care about and they will do the right thing.

Align aspirations with opportunities  

People want to progress. Some organizations are scared to upskill people in case their staff take their training and apply for a job elsewhere. But if you can’t provide opportunities for people to grow and progress with your business, you’ll probably lose them to other employers anyway. Aligning staff to development opportunities can help retain them in your business, explains Christine, but only if you know what’s coming.  

Planning ahead positions you to have the ability to have real meaningful conversations with people around “Look. Here's what the next three months are going to look like. You've got an opening in your schedule - which is essentially an opening in your career path. What do you want to do? Express your aspirations so that we can help align you appropriately.

When it comes to where people want to be, don’t just think in terms of seniority or skills. Even in today’s remote market, they might have geographical preferences too. As Christine explains.

Say, for example, your business is looking to expand into a new region. And the resource manager - through having one-on-one conversations with individuals - knows that there's a high performer who for personal reasons is looking to relocate to that region. That's a perfect opportunity to explore how to retain that top performer and possibly make the expansion easier.

A good resource manager understands the whole person - professionally and personally - alongside their knowledge of operational and strategic priorities - to seek out mutually beneficial opportunities.

Harness people’s passions

Speaking of mutual benefit… high-performing organizations understand the importance of aligning people’s work with their skills and passions. It’s all part of intrinsically motivating people to enjoy work and want to do well. Nicole gives the following example: 

At Runn, we’re hearing clients talk a lot more about interests and passions - bringing that into the mix as well. So not just about the skills someone has, but their interests too.

For example, in a professional services context, you might get a project that’s a new website build for a big guitar manufacturer. And you have two engineers: one who’s highly skilled in terms of actual implementation, and someone who's less adept but very, very passionate about playing the guitar in their spare time….

The second person might be the better choice because they will be bringing so much more into that project for the long term.

Aligning work with people’s passions isn’t something to be dismissed as a nice-to-have. It can contribute to better project - and business - outcomes. And it can help upskill staff in a way they enjoy and appreciate.

Giving individuals challenges to grow and develop is an excellent way to elevate and strategically upskill your workforce. Of course, this is only possible if you have a strong skills management process in place and understand the aspirations of your employees.

Lean into the ‘I’ of ROI 

The term ‘resource management’ originates from manufacturing, where people were concerned with maximizing outputs from available inputs. But it’s not that simple when those ‘inputs’ are human beings. 

When thinking about getting ROI from your people, don’t just focus on the ‘R’ - lean into the ‘I’ too - investment.

Investing in your people can take the form of training and development, upskilling, cross-functional training - anything that builds their capabilities and confidence at work.

And strategic staffing practices can help you identify opportunities. 

Nicole notes that upskilling staff is a major trend in the businesses using Runn. There's growing recognition of the value of learning opportunities,’ she says. ‘We're working towards a resourcing approach that not only accommodates existing skills but also fosters growth and readiness for future endeavors.’

In the organizations that we work with, we notice that it's not so much about [matching people to projects] anymore. Organizations are looking at this more from a strategic lens.

Who has time and the right skills is one aspect. But over the last two years, we are moving further away from that. The person might have the right skills, but there might be actually a learning opportunity, and how can we make that happen? How can we resource in a way that we can harness those learning opportunities and set ourselves up for future opportunities?

Use data (not your gut)

When your business is small and close-knit, managers can make resource decisions fairly easily. But as your business grows, it gets harder. So it becomes important to collect and use data to make resourcing decisions. 

‘You should be using data to make decisions,’ says Christine, ‘not simply a gut feel around “Hey, this person feels like they might be good for this opportunity.” When organizations are growing to that level of not simply knowing everyone by name, it gets to a point where it's no longer effective.’

So how can data help make better resourcing decisions? Christine provides seasonal staffing as an example of how data can help you be more proactive and prepared. 

If you look for patterns in forecasting, you can start to see that perhaps there's a dip in demand in a certain area, or there is a spike in another area. And you can start to make some strategic changes in terms of your resource mix.

You can balance out the number of people that are needed, or the number of people needed with a certain skill set. Perhaps you could partner with an outside vendor that can lend you seasonal staffing because you know that that's necessary in a few months at a time.

Graduate from spreadsheets 

Obviously, as providers of an amazing, time-saving resource management platform, we’re going to tell you spreadsheets aren’t suitable for strategic staffing

But our outside expert backs us up. Describing spreadsheets as ‘an archaic mechanism’ for tracking people, Christine Robinson advises investing in an appropriate resource management tool. 

It's really difficult - and somewhat unreasonable - to expect resource management to flourish when not provided with the right tools in their arsenal. If you want resource management to be truly strategic, your resource managers can't spend all of their time entering data and doing administrative tasks when a resource management tool could do it. 

You need something that's going to be able to position resource managers to get information efficiently, accurately. Ideally, it’ll be something that captures the information that's important to your business - maybe that's skill sets, maybe that's certifications, maybe that's proficiency level. It has to cover schedules and all of the different dynamic pieces that relate to people’s working hours. For example, if you have some people on a flexible work arrangement, or only working 80% of the time, you need a system that is going to be able to capture that information for you.
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