Moving Towards Agile Workforce Planning

By: Ian Cook, Head of Workforce Intelligence Solutions at Visier

This article first appeared on Visier’s Clarity blog

Business agility is no longer for the brazen few. In fact, 94% of business leaders and CHROs say that “agility and collaboration” are critical to their organization's success, according to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report.

Rapid technology change, shifting demographics, competitive markets, and other trends have necessitated new types of business structures that are optimized for adaptability. This is supported by a critical element that is often overlooked: agile workforce planning.

In short, to have a responsive workforce, the process that supports this (workforce planning) needs to be adaptable itself.

visier BLOS image

Typically, workforce plans are executed on an annual basis, with budgets firmly set for the year. This may have been sufficient in an era when markets were more predictable. But when there are sudden changes in immigration policy, or a new digital-driven competitor emerges mid-way through the fiscal year, it can be difficult to change course.

Agile workforce planning practices enable organizations to minimize risk (such as talent shortages) and capitalize on upside opportunity in an era of disruption.

The 4 Critical Elements of Agile Workforce Planning

What are the main elements of agile workforce planning? Continuous activity, awareness, collaboration, and flexibility. Here is why each is important to your business and what you can do to get more agile:

1. Continuous activity

Why you need it:
When workforce planning marches to the drum of the fiscal year, businesses often need to set aside money for extra budget “just in case” people end up costing more than expected. One large organization I worked with had allocated 5% of its compensation budget to cover any overage resulting from an imprecise budgeting process.

Such a fund may always be necessary in an unpredictable market, but when workforce plans are refreshed on a shorter cycle, they are more accurate, and this type of budget padding can be significantly reduced. This frees up funds for other critical projects, such as learning and development. When planning is done on a shorter cycle, it also enables HR to quickly realign resources to different projects as they become more critical.

What gets in the way:
Planning is often spreadsheet-based, with HR pulling information from many disparate systems (covering everything from compensation and performance data to financial targets). This can take a significant amount of time, which means that rapid-cycle planning is simply not feasible.

Top Tip:
Look to reduce the amount of time your team manually pulls data from disparate systems. When this process becomes automated and analytics-based, you can look ahead at how many open positions need to be filled, when they must be filled, and where in the organization they are needed the most. This gives you the necessary time to either move budget around or talk to the manager about delaying the hire until budget accumulates. Now you can hire on genuine need, and respond more quickly to market shifts, while forecasting more accurately.

2. Awareness

Why you need it:
CFIT accidents happen when perfectly good airplanes, under pilot control, are unintentionally flown into obstacles such as a mountain. Many of these types of crashes are the consequence of poor situational awareness. Pilots must know at all times what their position is, and how their actual position relates to their environment.

Just like a seasoned pilot, an HR leader always needs critical awareness. It’s important have a solid understanding of how the business is doing in relation to planned hiring targets, compensation budgets and other key business objectives. With an awareness of where deviations may be happening in the plan, HR can best support the organization’s goals.

What gets in the way:
HR needs an accurate snapshot of the current situation to make a starting point for the plan and to compare actuals to the plan. But often, the manual process to get headcount and Total Cost of Workforce (TCOW) takes too long. The snapshot is obsolete by the time the planning team gets it.

Top tip:
To get an accurate snapshot, it is not enough to view analytics from several individual systems. Look for software that uses the unified data from your HRIS and financial systems to give you an accurate picture of your current headcount, organizational structure and total cost of workforce as a starting point for your workforce plan. Functionality that helps you easily keep track of how headcount and cost targets vary from plan is also a critical asset. This enables you to see how actuals for headcount and costs compare to their values in the plan to keep track of how well your plan is being executed.

3. Collaboration

Why you need it:
Skills requirements are evolving at an increasingly rapid pace. Consider all the high-paying jobs (such as data scientist, sustainability director, or mobile applications developer) that only emerged within the last few years.

When workforce planning is done in a vacuum, HR and senior leaders can miss crucial feedback from line managers and other subject matter experts about key skills that are on the horizon. To stay ahead of critical skills gaps, the planning team needs input from people on the front lines: What do we do to get those skills? Can we train our own people? Plan for an aggressive recruitment strategy? Or is it better to look at contingent labor as a short-term solution?

What gets in the way:
When it takes too long to collect feedback, HR makes assumptions that end up being inaccurate, and there is a lack of buy-in from managers to execute the workforce plan.

Top tip:
Make it a priority to have all levels of business quickly give input and collaborate on the creation of a workforce plan. Track whether your plan contributors are completing their assignments to let you assess project progress and help you determine what to do in each individual case.

4. Flexibility

Why you need it:
A significant event, such as a merger or acquisition, can dramatically alter your staffing and skills requirements within a very short time. The level of unpredictability also increases when external players are involved: prized M&A deals often fail to go through or can even threaten the business. Consider how Toshiba’s future was put in jeopardy after it bought Westinghouse Electric Co., a nuclear services company. The volatile nature of business deals means HR needs to be prepared for multiple scenarios.

What gets in the way:
Oftentimes, information is spread across the organization in siloed systems within various departments and is difficult to aggregate and reconcile. This makes it difficult to create one plan, let alone multiple.

Top tip:
Look for technology and tools that enable you to create and compare different workforce planning scenarios (each with different workforce movement and cost assumptions) so that not only can you choose the best option for your organization, you can have contingency plans in place.

Change the Conversation to Eliminate Surprises, Reduce Costs, and Drive Performance

“It is not the strongest who survive, but the most adaptable.” Contrary to popular belief, Charles Darwin didn’t actually say this, but it does speak to a certain truth about the requirements of businesses today.

With analytics-driven, agile workforce planning, HR and finance can spend more time charting the way forward instead of arguing over the accuracy of headcount numbers or hiring simply because it’s in the budget.

With the ability to accurately adjust the plan on the fly, the plan is also more precise. This has a direct impact on costs, but more crucially, has tangible impacts on productivity and business performance.

About Ian Cook
Ian Cook is a recognized expert in the field of workforce analytics and planning. For the last 10 years Ian has been involved in driving forward the datafication of HR and is a frequent speaker and blogger on the subject. Prior to joining Visier, Ian built Canada’s leading source of HR benchmark data. His background includes years of international experience solving strategic HR problems for leading brands in the Fortune 500 and FTSE 100. Ian heads up the workforce domain for Visier and in this role is committed to delivering workforce intelligence that impacts business results.

Learn more about Visier at or @visier





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Why You Should Take a Recruiter’s Call

As annoying as they seemingly are, a recruiter teasing you with a seemingly cool job opportuity, imagine if they were not calling you (or emailing, LinkedIn/Twitter message)? If they are not, then either you can't be found, your skills are hidden, or your skills aren't needed.

Before dismissing a call outright, consider these salient reason why you should at least consider the new opportunity. Your career takes the 45seconds to read these.

  1. There is no better time to objectively evaluate an opportunity and company with a clear mind without any negative, outside influences or external pressures (e.g. you have just been restructured out and need a job now).
  2. Opportunities appear more attractive than they really are when you’re currently unsatisfied in your role or company. 
  3. You are more likely to settle for a lesser position or salary when tyou are unhappy than they would have if they were satisfied in their current role.
  4. You have the time to investigate and qualify the new opportunity and company to determine if it will help you grow professionally.
  5.  In today’s corporate world, the only job security you have is the security you provide for yourself.
  6. This is the best time in your career to take your successes and accomplishments to test what they’re worth to another company.
  7. Actively looking for a job can be a full-time job itself and can also be also be very stressful to you and your family. People who get ahead don’t wait until there is something that they don’t like in their current role to have an open mind. They are proactive and keep their options open.

Abbrieviated from a post by Jerry Land. Read the full article here.

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UPDATED: Oct 21/17 see [NEW]

The Federal Government is walking back their proposed tax changes. We will update this post with relevent links. 

Oct 20/17: Federal finance minister Morneau pitches small business on tax reform (CBC)

Oct 20/17: Full package of revised tax proposals requires more analysis, consultation (CFIB)

Oct 20/17: Examining Bill Morneau’s tax-reform tweaks (Canadian Manufacturing)

Oct 20/17: Conservative leader Scheer decries 'irony' of small business tax plan (CBC)

Oct 20/17: Morneau announces plans to work with angel investors in Waterloo (570 News)


Oct 20/17: Morneau assures tech community tax changes won’t squeeze out investment capital (Globe and Mail; paywall)

[NEW]  Oct 16/17: CFA reacts to announcement of small business tax changes (Canadian Federation of Agriculture)


Original Post

On July 18th, the Federal Government’s Department of Finance announced significant proposed changes to certain mainstream tax planning. Details have been released in a comprehensive, technical consultation paper focusing on tax practices commonly used involving private corporations.

These tax practices are being labeled by the government as tax loopholes and they are implying that small businesses are taking advantage of them unfairly. That entrepreneurs should be treated equally alongside their employees when it comes to taxation.

A brief summary of the proposed changes:

  • Income splitting (dividends and salaries) with adult related individuals will no longer generally be possible unless the individual contributes to the business
  • Multiplying the Capital Gains Exemption will be severely curtailed
  • Increased reporting requirements for trusts
  • Increased taxation on passive income earned in corporations

Most of the proposed changes apply to 2018 and beyond.  The new rules are subject to a consultation period from now until October 2, 2017. [Courtesy: SB Partners | More details]

The finance minister Bill Morneau, healthcare advisor Michael Wolfson and UBC’s Kevin Milligan are convinced that these tax changes will only affect “top earners” who operate their businesses as Canadian Controlled Private Corporations (CCPC). Small business owners, associations and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) think otherwise.

Consider these recent headlines from this summer:

Vids to Watch

Minister Morneau grilled by citizens [in Oakville] angry over tax plan

Trudeau dodges questions over tax benefits he receives through family trusts

Silicon Halton Members Weigh In

Earlier this month, Silicon Halton members representing local technology companies met to learn and discuss the impact these changes will have on their businesses if they are implemented.

Providing guidance and advice were Richard Weber, Partner CPA, CA and Gregory Clarke, Partner CPA, CA of SB Partners.

These tech leaders are frustrated, confused and angry. Clearly, the academics, policy advisors and Canadian government don’t get what it takes to be an entrepreneur and build a Canadian company.  There are three things, I believe, that the policy makers fail to understand when it comes to entrepreneurs and the SME market.

Entrepreneurs are:

  • Builders, not earners. They build companies by taking significant risk which they live with each and every waking moment. They use the cash their business generates to invest in people, in ideas and to grow their business. Very often they come last when it comes to “earning” a living because they put their employees first.
  • Practitioners, not theorists. They roll up their sleeves to help their customers be successful. They spend much of their waking hours (often more than 12 hours a day) working on and in their business generating cash by delivering value to the markets and customers they serve. They have little patience for academics, public servants and career politicians who think they know what it takes to be an entrepreneur and how they should should start, grow and scale their business.
  • Producers, not cheaters. Yes, there is a negative narrative right now on social media that portrays entrepreneurs as tax evaders. Entrepreneurs produce jobs, they pay taxes, they pay employment insurance, they pay into Canada’s pension plan.

The reality is that small to midsized companies are the largest contributors to the Canadian economy. They employ over 10M Canadians. Canadian small and mid-sized companies generate significant tax revenue that is used, in part, to pay the 4.4M people employed by the government and government funded organizations.

Finally, the entrepreneurs that become “rich” earn it through hard work, sacrifice and taking risk. They don’t become millionaires like many government employees do via pensions and other entitlements that in my view are fair game to repeal.

Consider what this tech entrepreneur says about these proposed tax changes:

JB feedback

Consider what another tech entrepreneur said to his MP, John Oliver:

"Per the following reports from Statistics Canada you will see that there are 1,165,000 SME businesses in Canada.

  • These SME businesses employ 10,460,000 Canadians
  • Large Entreprise only employs. 1,130,000 Canadians
  • There are another 4.4 million Canadians employed but they are government and government funded employees.

So it looks like the SME sector pays for 90% of government funded employees. And pretty much all government employees retire millionaires because of their guaranteed pensions. For the SME sector there are no guarantees and certainly No pensions, We take huge risks and there is no one to take care of us when things go wrong."

Robin Smith, co-founder of VL Omni, featured on CBC's On the Money

How Will These Changes Affect Small Business?

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) these are most significant tax changes in decades, with the potential to severely harm Canadian small businesses especially in three areas: 1) Making it harder to share income with your family; 2) Dramatically increase the taxes on your business investments, and 3) Prevent you from passing down your business.

In CFIB’s webinar, CEO Dan Kelly and tax expert Evelyn Jacks outline how these changes could affect us all. We've provided an indepth timeline and here's the raw transcript [Direct Download].

02:39 | Opening remarks from Evenlyn Jacks

03:55 | Managing Tax Risk is More Important Than Ever Now. What Evelyn Jacks covers in this webcast

05:04 | Where does the wealth lie in Canada? The three fasted growth assets: 1) Mutual funds, investment funds, income trusts; 2) Business equity, and 3) Stocks

06:04 | What's at Stake in these tax reforms and why taxman wants a bigger piece of passive investment income earned by private corps

06:58 | Spotlight on Private Business Owners and key definitions federal government is using to define "High Income" and "Unintended Advantages". An entrepreneurs tax audit risk will be exponentially higher than an employer's.

09:52 | Principle of Canadian Tax System and the rights of entrepreneurs to pay as little tax as legally allowed

11:02 | The Reality for Governments. Service economy, shift in demographics and high personal tax rates are driving the growth of private corps

12:17 | Federal Personal Income Taxes and new tax bracket introduced in 2016.

13:17 | Provincial Personal Income Taxes (on top of Federal Income Taxes).

15:07 | Risk Assumption: Your Reality Employed and Self Employed. Tax audit risk are proposed to be increased. Integration of Personal Corporate Tax

20:07: | Is it Better to Earn Investment Income Inside or Outside the Corporation?

20:52 | What's Changing: Taxation of Passive Investments. With new changes the effective tax rate will be 72.7%! Yet, the Finance Canada say:"new rules will have 'limited impact' on existing passive investments". But are they right? The answer is no... the devil is in the details.

23:23 | The Purpose of Small Business Deduction, Jun 18, 1971 and what are the questions for Canadian Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs)?

26:37 | Income Splitting with Family Members. Specified vs. Connected Individual. Definition of Split Income (now vs. the proposed future). Test for 18 to 25 years old starting in 2018.

30:34 | Gender Issues. Families, by default have a lot to lose.

31:54 | The problem of "reasonableness testing" being re-introduced. How CRA will "second-guess" legitimate business purposes in a vague and arbitrary manner resulted in unfair tax treatment.

33:11 | Capital Gaines Exemptions. Significant proposed changes. What is an ineligible gain going forward? Election to crystalize Capital Gains Exemptions. Talk to your tax accountant immediately.

35:08 | Surplus Stripping. More concerns when it comes to succession planning?

35:34 | Questions on the Proposals with respect to double and triple taxing. And don't forget there are other changes for professional practices that will increase costs to run a business.

36:41 | Key things to think about and ask your MP

37:34 | Who Bears the Burden of Corporate Tax Increases? For every $1 increased in Corporate Income Taxes wages fall by $1.52 in AB, $2.72 in MB and $3.85 in PEI

38:16 | Questions and Strategies.

39:06 | Summary and your voice matters so talk to your MP, talk to your tax accountant

39:50 | Hand over to Dan Kelly from CFIB to present on: "The Fight Against #unfairtaxchanges.

41:00 | Entrepreneurs are concerned that the Canadian government is accusing them of being tax cheats. That the value of the Canadian entrepreneur is not truly understood and that small business is the major contributor for jobs, economic prosperity and growth.

42:20 | Proposed tax changes but why are their lower tax rate on small businesses in the first place? There are three major reasons.

43:56 | The Four Key Issues Facing Small Businesses Because of Proposed Tax Changes. They will create a decade of uncertainty.

45:03 | Small Businesses are Firmly in the Middle Class. CFIB believes all small businesses will be affected by these proposed tax changes not just the ones earning $150K and up.

45:51 | How the Canadian government is confused. They are encouraging innovation but taxing the funds that small businesses use to innovate.

47:16 | Taxation Facts that All Levels of Government Need to be Reminded Of. Employer vs. Employee tax fairness

48:40 | What We Want from Government.

49:42 | What The Small Business Community Needs to Do Now.

52:06 | Important Dates

54:00 | Q&A

54:21 | "Is there a document that we can have access to that provides the specifics of the tax proposals?"

55:01 | "Does government think that a different government might reverse all of these tax changes?"

56:10 | Comment from angry tax accountant on impact on small business and entrepreneurs

What Can You Do?

At the very least it’s important that we better understand and appreciate the role entrepreneurs play in making Canada successful. And, that entrepreneurs are some of the hardest working people and not tax evaders. Government needs to provide entrepreneurs with incentives, tools and a climate that motivates them to start and grow companies.

Learn more about how these proposed tax changes will affect entrepreneurs and their companies. Discuss this with your MP, with other Silicon Halton members and regardless of which side of this debate you’re on… recognize that the Canadian economy and employment is driven mostly by small and mid-sized businesses and the entrepreneurs and employees that start and run them.


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SB Partners hero graphic

Here’s my next installment in Silicon Halton’s conversation series. I’m reaching out to people within the SH community and beyond. The topics and reasons vary but what is common that drives interviews is Silicon Halton’s continued goal of helping our members grow.  

For us growth is a core part of what keeps the heart of the Silicon Halton community beating. We want you to grow through learning, grow your networks, grow professionally, grow your company and do everything possible to help the hi-tech industry grow in Halton region.

SB Partners has been a partner and sponsor of Silicon Halton since the community started in 2009. Their contributions have been important to the growth of SH.

In addition to the financial contributions they’ve made, many of the Partners have presented at SH meetups on a variety of topics, have been guests at our peer to peer events, and made themselves available as subject matter experts. It’s an amazing community focused partnership!

Something Wonderful Happened This Year at SB Partners

This February, CEO John Chisholm announced the rebranding of SB Partners which included a new brand, tagline and website. But it was much more than a “new look and feel”. It was more strategic and launched SB Partners on their newest journey with their clients and within Halton community.

Call me curious (or maybe nosey) I wanted to learn more and get the backstory! Why did SB Partners feel the need to rebrand? How did they do it? Should other companies rebrand, if so when and why? What was the experience of re-creating the SB Partners brand like?

So, I reached out to Elaine Holding, Director Client Services and Business Development at SB Partners to ask these questions and others. Below is our full interview.

Interview Timeline

You can fast forward/rewind by clicking on the play button. Mouseover the waveform chart above and/or use the > key on your keyboard .

00:00 | Introduction and conversation starter

01:06 | Elaine gives us a bit of an overview of SB Partners and some of the key leaders important for Silicon Halton members to get to know. She talks about the value SB Partners offers to the local community and delivers to private tech businesses and entrepreneurs

03:32 | We talk about how SB Partners have been involved in the Silicon Halton and broader business community to date and the importance of "doing the right thing"

05:36 | SB Partners focus and role in providing thought leadership and informing the community on key matters that can impact their business

07:15 | Elaine and I discuss:

  • How Silicon Halton members can engage and get value from engaging with SB Partners
  • How SB Partners is helping technology companies of various sizes, stages of growth and development
  • How it's important to establish the right corporate and accounting structure at the outset

10:28 | Elaine outlines ways to engage with SB Partners:

  1. When your business model is in place and you need to ask about the corporate and financial structure
  2. When you're starting to earn revenue and you need to ask about CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency) compliance
  3. How to pay yourself as an owner. Understanding what your options are
  4. Understanding how the tax system is going to work for you in the best way, and as the company matures
  5. Getting advice on succession planning, valuation of your company and others for mergers and acquisitions AND setting up family trusts to fully capitalize on being an entrepreneur

13:15 | I ask Elaine how SB Partners is designed to help growth oriented technology entrepreneurs and their companies. And, the importance of choosing an accounting firm that can scale with your growth

15:06 | Elaine explains how SB Partners has being getting value from their partnership and sponsorship with Silicon Halton. Also, she offers her perspective on how Silicon Halton is delivering value to tech companies in Halton region

17:30 | I talk briefly about a new Silicon Halton program being launched with SB Partners designed for CEOs of local tech entrepreneurs aspiring to grow. Stay tuned!

18:22 | Really cool discussion with Elaine about SB Partners new branding and why they did it. Key areas covered:

  • Why did SB Partners rebrand? A very important change in the accounting industry was a contributing factor
  • Firm has evolved and current branding was becoming a bit disjointed and inconsistent. It was time to refresh the brand to reflect where it is today and where SB Partners is heading
  • Why new hires chose SB Partners recently and the role the new brand played in this decision
  • The role "archetypes" play in branding a company. For example an example of an Outlaw archetype would be Harley Davidson. It's important that your brand represents who you are not what you want it to be. The archetype that SB Partners chose was the Hero
  • Elaine talks about the meaning behind the brand, the logo and their tagline: "Accounting for Our Community"

26:51 | Elaine shares the story about the internal launch of the rebranding and the role the movie: "It's a Wonderful Life" played. We talk about how other companies should think about branding over the longer term in order to stay relevant and in SB Partner's case independent. Here’s a key moment in the the movie that resonates with me that I want to share with you:

31:47 | Chris asks Elaine "what are the keys to success for today's tech companies and tech entrepreneurs". Hint: it boils down to leadership and humility. We wrap up the interview

Thank You SB Partners!

Thanks to Elaine and the SB Partners team for all you do for our community and Silicon Halton. Check these presentations delivered by members of the SB Partners team at past Silicon Halton events and you’ll see why they’re a great community partner!

More About “It’s a Wonderful Life”

It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my favourite movies and the meaning behind it strikes a deep chord with me. Below is a music video that I found and wanted to share. It demonstrates how each one of us, in our community, can be intertwined and positively impact other people’s lives.



Chris Herbert is the founder of Mi6 Agency. Mi6 is a B2B (Business to Business) marketing and business development agency dedicated to helping companies build their brands and develop commercial relationships. He is the founder of ProductCamp Toronto and the Hi-tech community Silicon Halton. He tweets under the handle @B2Bspecialist.

Tags: Conversation Series

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Silicon Halton is a grassroots high tech community focused on Technology, Community, and Growth