Headcount Planning Best Practices | Pigment

Workforce planning

Don't let your company fall behind - follow these best practices for headcount planning to ensure optimal organizational performance.

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Priyaanka Arora
November 25, 2022

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Headcount Planning Best Practices | Pigment


Ensuring optimal headcount can be a complex process in large enterprises.

There are various aspects that must be taken into consideration, such as cost centers, new laws, updated pay scales and several others. While planning optimal headcount is a critical and strategic process, often, companies fail to allocate adequate resources towards it.

This is where the importance of headcount planning comes to the fore. 

What is headcount planning?

Headcount planning is an integral part of strategic workforce planning where businesses ensure that they have hired the right people with the right skills.

This process helps companies meet their short-term and long-term goals per given budgetary constraints. To execute headcount planning, companies need a cross-departmental team featuring senior managers, financial experts, and HR executives. 

This level of cross-functional collaboration is critical to optimize the strategy based on the present needs of the company, ensuring inputs from key stakeholders across departments with varying needs and metrics to report.

Why is headcount planning important?

Headcount planning is an integral part of the budgeting process. Having a well-defined headcount planning process can deliver several benefits:

  • Getting the right talent: Headcount planning helps you hire the right people with the right skills at the right time. Otherwise, there is a risk of misalignment between the short- and long-term strategies and the ability of your teams to execute them. 
  • Budget compliant: Headcount planning brings together the HR and finance teams to better align compensation plans with the present situation in the labor market. This helps ensure that you can hire the right people within the given budget. 
  • Right Mix: Your business might need to hire contractual workers during seasonal spikes or lay off certain seasonal workers after the demand has plateaued. Headcount planning will help you ensure the right mix of workers based on your needs.
  • Optimal Infrastructure: Whether you follow a remote-working model or a hybrid-working model, you must have the proper space and equipment in place to ensure optimal working conditions for your workers. Headcount planning will help you ensure adequate infrastructure for the employees at the right time.

Steps involved in effective headcount planning

By taking into account factors such as growth projections, hiring needs, and vacant positions, you can develop a plan that works for your business. In order to make sure your headcount is manageable and effective, follow these simple steps:

  • Gather Data: Start with an analysis of your company’s goals, strategic objectives, and budget. This will help you get an overall perspective of the current state of operations.
  • Analyze Workforce: Next, analyze the current state of your workforce through a headcount planning exercise. Through this process, you will be able to determine any skill gaps and then assist with planning the hiring priorities and the duration in which to complete them.
  • Create a plan: Work on strategies to close any known, existing gaps, such as recruiting, training, and promotions. Then, determine the specific employment type required for every position, such as seasonal, contractual, or part-time.
  • Communicate and execute: Ensure that the budget allocated for the process is adequate. Moreover, hiring managers and HR personnel must have ongoing communication to execute the plan to shuffle, train, or hire employees.
  • Evaluate: After the plan has been put into practice, monitor and undertake revisions as required. Also, keep an eye out for any new developments in the market that may require another round of headcount planning.

Read more on our ultimate guide for headcount planning.

Methods for forecasting future headcount needs

When it comes to planning future headcount needs, there are two popular methods used by companies, ratio analysis and trend analysis:

  • Trend Analysis: Within the scope of trend analysis, you must refer to past data to determine future needs. When it comes to planning for upcoming headcount needs, you need to gather data from the last five or ten years. Then analyze the data for insights into patterns related to hiring and retirement patterns, employee turnover, demographics, transfers, promotions, and other essential aspects. This analysis will help you determine the trends that have a high probability of repeating based on the present situation. Other factors that you must consider under trend analysis are competitors, industry trends, unemployment rate and other macroeconomic factors.
  • Ratio Analysis: With ratio analysis, you predict your future headcount needs based on a comparison between industry standards and your forecasts. If your company has been in operation for only a few years, then this can be a good approach to determining your headcount planning needs. Ratio analysis can help you determine the number and type of workers required in a particular business operation to achieve the specified goals.

Tips for avoiding common mistakes during headcount planning

Like every other business process, headcount planning is also susceptible to errors and misguided efforts. Read on to learn about the common issues that you may encounter during the process and how to avoid them: 

  • Not factoring in future growth: A common mistake that you must avoid during headcount planning is not considering the growth of your company. To avoid this, you must create a comprehensive organizational chart to develop a robust headcount planning process that will help identify talent shortages and urgent hiring needs.
  • Not undertaking skill gap analysis: If you overlook the skill gap analysis process, you will not know where your company stands today, making it difficult to learn from past experiences and plan for the future. Undertake a comprehensive skill gap analysis to know the kind of skills or workers required and then plan a hiring process accordingly.
  • Thinking of short-term: If you undertake headcount planning only to meet short-term goals, then it is a recipe for disaster. Instead, you must have an equal focus on the long-term goals to be able to identify a talent force with all the skills that your business will need in the long run. 
  • Miscalculating future costs: Ever since the pandemic changed working styles worldwide, companies have been having a hard time predicting future costs. But you must do a detailed analysis, based on past data and industry trends, to accurately determine the future cost you will have to bear by hiring more workers now. This will help you avoid unpleasant surprises in future. 
  • Not tracking progress: Headcount planning loses much value when followed only as an annual exercise. It is always a work in progress. Monitor essential metrics regularly to predict upcoming requirements. This will help ensure the right person with the right skills is available at the right time.


In ultra-competitive markets, only agile and forward-planning companies can survive. Having the right personnel with the right skill set is essential for any company to thrive.

Use the best tools and software for the headcount planning process to stay one step ahead of your requirements.

By defining and following best practices for headcount planning, you can keep your company on track to sail through uncertain times with sustainable growth and success.

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