Dr John Sullivan – Why Google Doesn't Rely On Workforce Planning

If there’s one area that most HR leaders I talk to struggle with, it’s workforce planning. We’ve never had more tools and tricks to assist us developing our forecasts, but we’ve also never had to do so in such a volatile and unpredictable environment. Where once we would devise forecasts for years down the track, most organisations are lucky to have an accurate view of the road six months ahead.

How can we rely on a traditional methods of strategic planning, when we no longer live in a traditional world?

Last month I talked to recruiting thought leader Dr John Sullivan, who shared his thoughts on why traditional workforce planning no longer works, surviving in a VUCA world, and why organisations like Google don’t need to rely on demand forecasting to ensure they get the best talent.
You can watch our chat, or read John’s main’s point below.


The Problem With Traditional Forecasts

“If you look at strategic planning, business planning – it’s inaccurate after 18 months at nearly every place; it just doesn’t work. If you’re going to say you’re going to plan ahead, you have to be accurate and you can’t be, because the world changes.”

The VUCA World

whack-a-mole“What we’ve found is called a VUCA world. The world changes so rapidly that it’s not predictable, it’s not a straight line anymore. Workforce planning is a regression now, its a straight line but the world isn’t a straight line, its a VUCA – up and down.
“The best you can do is have talent pipelines, maybe 6 months out, but you can’t forecast the demand because demand changes with the economic forecast. When the unemployment rate is at 20%, the demand is zero and the supply is huge. It’s unfortunate but I’ve been doing workforce planning for 20 years, and about 5 years ago it became pretty much impossible.”
“You can’t forecast something that goes up and down like a wack-a-mole, but its not just up and down but sideways. So, you forecast as long as you’re accurate, which might only be 6 months. You’ll have a pipeline of talent-which is always a good idea- but if you’re saying demand versus supply, my answer to you is that I don’t recommend it, I wouldn’t do it.”

Why Great Organisations Don’t Need To Forecast Shortages


If you have great recruiting there might be a shortage, but if you’re a Google and you have a great brand and great recruiting, you’ll get more than your fair share.

So most of what workforce planning is, is seeing if the market has a shortage. No great baseball team, football team has a shortage of talent. It doesn’t matter because they get the best because they’re great at recruiting, they’re great at branding, they’re great at attracting.
Stop worrying about the world and the shortage of nurses etc, have great branding, great recruiting and a great pipeline and you will get more than your share, and the mediocre firms will be the ones that will suffer.

“I’ve known no great firm that has a shortage of talent. It doesn’t matter if supply is high or the supply is low, they always get the cream of the crop.”


If you want to learn more about how to improve your branding, marketing and recruiting to solve your talent acquisition needs now and in the future, join your peers at  ATC2015 in Sydney. Limited spots are still available, here.

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