The Big List Of Resources For Designing Digital Learning Experiences

I use a ton of resources when designing a new learning experience. I look to several sites and tools to help inspire me, to teach me, and to support me.

Get inspired by these resources

I integrate learning about beautiful and user friendly designs into my day. I use these tools and sites to inspire me.

  1. Panda - A Google Chrome extension. This is by far one of my most valuable resources for getting design news. It is a must have! I have mine set up to display top Dribbble posts and Designer News.
  2. Dribbble
  3. Collect UI
  4. Behance
  5. PatternTap by ZURB
  6. One Page Love
  7. Site Inspire
  9. Codepen

Collect what inspires you

As I'm looking through different designs for inspiration, I add the ones I like to a moodboard. I'll download images of the designs or take screenshots and add them into the moodboard. Here are some examples of moodboards to use.

  1. Go Moodboard
  2. Niice
  3. The Matboard
  4. Pocket

Design a mockup and/or a prototype

My main tool of choice for creating mockups used to be Sketch but is now Adobe XD Here are some other common tools for creating mockups and prototypes. A pen and paper also works well!

  1. Sketch (Mac only)
  2. Adobe XD
  3. Framer
  4. InVision

Learn all the things

This list of curated courses have all been tested and approved by me. They've been super helpful in teaching me design tools/coding and a bit about web design fundamentals.

  1. Sketch Essential Training: The Basics
  2. Adobe XD CC Essential Training: Design
  3. Adobe XD Essential Training: Prototype and Share
  4. Code School - HTML/CSS path
  5. Code School - Fundamentals of Design
  6. Code School - The Elements of Web Design
  7. EnvatoTuts+
  8. Daily UI - Check out this ID's take on the challenge.

Get the resources, don't let your dreams be dreams.

I'm always on the lookout for free and cheap resources to help me design a project. These are just a few of the resources I utilize.

  1. Sans Francisco - A collection of tools to help designers craft delightful experiences.
  2. All The Free Stock - Basically, a giant hub for stock sites on videos, images, graphics, icons, audio, color inspo, templates, and more.
  3. Stock Jo - Another really great hub for many different stock sites.
  4. Designer Lynx - Tons of resources to help inspire you and support you in designing.
  5. Free Design Resources - A great repository of all kinds of stock multimedia.
  6. Sketch App Sources - Resources for design for Sketch (and sometimes Photoshop and Illustrator.)
  7. Sketch Repo - More Sketch resources, UI kits, icons, and more.
  8. Freebie Supply - Lots of freebies, especially for UI design.
  9. Pixel Buddha - Lots more freebies.
  10. Up Labs - Freebies and inspirational resources.
  11. XD Resources - Free Adobe XD resources.
  12. XD Guru - More free Adobe XD resources.
  13. Hero Patterns - Just a bunch of nice subtle patterns you can use for backgrounds and other things.
  14. Subtle Patterns - More awesomely subtle patterns.
  15. Patternico - Create your own custom patterns.
  16. Vector Emoji - Because emoji are important.
  17. Emoji One - Just some more emoji.
  18. The Badass List of Free Stock Photos Websites for Designers - A massive list of stock photo sites.
  19. ImageOptim - Reduce your image file size, without losing quality.

— Mel

Change³ and Adaptive Organisations

"Today, we are up against businesses that work out of a garage, take risks, operate in a nimble way, and have a different kind of energy and drive. Large incumbent companies that can’t create a similar kind of culture just won’t be able to compete. One of our rallying cries has been how do you create a 20,000-person start-up?"

- Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS



Transformational change is hard. It's easy to add something new to what already exists, but changing what's already there is more difficult. And what do you do in a market, business, societal and environmental context that's constantly changing? You could change everything and it might all be redundant in five years. It's hard enough to navigate yourself in the midst of such deep, wide-reaching and unpredictable turmoil. Bringing hundreds or thousands of other people with you is much harder.

My perspective of transformational change starts with characteristics of change itself, structured into three separate layers.

(1) First level change is the day-to-day background change we're used to - changing weather, people, projects, priorities. Adding something new, cancelling something else, picking and choosing from the menu of options in front of us. Time moves on, things change and we do stuff. As both organisations and individuals, we do this all the time.

(2) Second level change is transformational change. Unlike first level change, this is not just adding to or subtracting from what already exists, but fundamentally changing it to its core. This is deep change, fundamental change, structural change, transformative change. You're changing what the thing really is, and this is no small thing to do - especially if you're a large organisation. The hardest part of transformative change usually lies not the adoption of the new (which can be exciting and liberating), but in letting go of the old and familiar. Just like breaking up is much harder than falling in love.

(3) Third level change is continual or dynamic transformative change. Change, even transformational change, is not enough in a world in which everything's changing. If the world is changing you have to change, and you have to keep changing as long as the world is changing. This is the question of what you want to change into. If you change into something static you might gain a few years, but sooner or later the world will pass you by again and so you'll have to change again. So the goal is to change into something dynamic, with the fluidity and flexibility to meet, adapt to and exploit whatever comes at you.

The more you have to lose the more vulnerable you are. In a world of dynamic change you have to change dynamically too - it's not enough to change once. Essentially you have to teach yourself, your team or your organisation how to change so that individually and together they can change again and again and again as the world changes around them.

The River Model of Dynamic Change

One dynamic model for thinking about organisational adaptation to continual change is that of a young, fresh and fast-flowing river system.

This model begins with the force that animates us - purpose. If you're going to get people to organise in large numbers while remaining flexible enough to meet and exploit change, you're going to have to have a good story - a clear, concise narrative of who you are, what you're about and why you're doing what you're doing. And it better be a real story, underwritten by real shared values and demonstrated by real actions. There are no secrets safe from social media, so you'd better drink your own cool aid and eat your own dog food, or eventually you're going to get found out.

Purpose is the reason we get out of bed and do what we do, giving us meaning and direction. At a collective or organisational level purpose helps form our identity and connects us to others who share a similar purpose. Purpose is the why that gives us a reason to be interested in the what and the how. The bigger, deeper and more ambitious the purpose, the more potential customers, readers, viewers, constituents, employees, partners, talent and other allies you can attract. Shared purpose based on core values and expressed in a simple and coherent narrative is what brings people together and focuses them. Good leaders tell good and inspirational stories.

Purpose, if you haven't already guessed, is the gravity of our river system model of dynamic change. It's not only the gap to be crossed and the distance between here and there - it is the very animating force that causes movement between here and there. But that journey is rarely a straight line, and must adapt to the reality of the second part of our model - the landscape.

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.", says the Serenity Prayer most associated with 12-step programs. That wisdom essentially involves recognising the things that you can't change, and thus have no choice but to adapt to and accept. If these unchangeable things stand between you and your purpose then you'll have to go around them because you're not going to go through them. This is your topography - the hard reality of the landscape through which you must move.

A good tool to help survey your landscape is PESTLE analysis (a systemic look at the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental landscape facing you or your organisation). SWOT analysis is also useful, and a SWOT analysis of your PESTLE landscape is even better. But it would be a mistake to only sit in an office reading reports, because that's not where reality happens. The full picture is the human picture and that happens inside the heads of individuals. If you really want to know your landscape you have to actually get out there and talk to the people in it.

When doing all this research, reading, talking, listening, thinking and other analysis it's very easy to focus on the negative (after all, you're looking for the things you can't change). But it's not just the obstacles you're looking for - you want to spot the opportunities too. A great way to do this is to adopt a Blue Ocean perspective, which trains you to identify and evaluate pools of untapped demand. After all, the flip side of unprecedented threat is also unprecedented opportunity and if you're going to do a comprehensive survey of your landscape anyways, you may as well look for both.

The third and final part of the river system model of dynamic change is, of course, the water itself. A water molecule consists of an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. The two hydrogen atoms stick tight to the oxygen atom, but interact more weakly with other hydrogen atoms, constantly connecting and letting go. It is this rapid and incessant series of connecting and letting go that gives water it's fluidity and it's ability to flow. Connect, let go; connect, let go; connect, let go - again and again and again, instantly adapting to whatever it meets.

Your customers, shareholders, employees, audience, constituents or other stakeholders together create your organisational identity - each has a part in your story. But each is also a real, actual and unique human being with their own internal life, free will and choice. Remember, you're not just trying to change what these people think or do - you're trying to make them much more responsive, flexible and adaptive, able to continually connect and let go and thus flow like water.

This is the world of Lean and Agile thinking and practice - the ideas and community of SCRUM masters, project owners, change agents and mindset coaches. Lean-Agile grew from the cutting edge software industry operating in the hyper-competitive realm of the internet - the red hot core of technological change. Grounded in KPIs and other performance metrics and loyally wedded to the interests of the end customer, Lean-Agile advocates small flat teams of equals, open to test, risk, failure, ideas and people and working incrementally and holistically in time-bound bursts, with each iteration being better than the last. It's like AI for organisations - evolving performance rather than constructing it. And it comes from the flexibility of Lean-Agile teams.

An Adaptive Organisation

As change, in all its myriad forms, continues and accelerates we don't just have to adapt, we have to adapt to adaptation. We don't just have to learn, we have to learn to learn. We can't just take snapshots of our environment, we have to actively and continuously scan and probe it. Whether we're a lone individual or a vast organisation, we don't just have to change - we have to change into something that continuously changes.

Water molecules, connecting and letting go, splash onto the rocks of the high mountains. Inexorably drawn by gravity they find each other, become drops, and then trickles. The trickles become small streams, which combine to form bigger streams, then small rivers and bigger rivers, getting bigger and stronger as they go. Flexible particles animated by gravity across a defined but irregular landscape. A river system.

People, connecting and letting go, land into a team. Inexorably drawn by purpose they effortlessly co-operate with each other and with others, organising and reorganising themselves and their teams and communicating and collaborating widely as they openly work towards clear and specified goals - all clearly directed towards an important, higher and deeply meaningful purpose. Who wouldn't want to belong to, buy from or otherwise associate with that kind of team - or an organisation made up of such teams? In an unpredictable world of seismic change, this is the environment we want to create - an environment in which people can align their purpose with organisational goals and work freely and flexibly enough to do magic.

Whoever or whatever you are, you will change and change and change again in the coming years and decades - reality and survival will require it. And these won't be small changes - your entire market, business model, customer base, audience or electorate could change almost overnight. And not just once, but again and again. There will be vast threats and also vast opportunities ahead, the stakes growing ever higher. But if you and your people have a clear and focused purpose to energise you, bring you together and direct you, and if you know your landscape and are flexible enough to flow towards that purpose, then you can handle any change. Like water, you will always find a way.

An adaptive organisation is focused, framed and flexible. It's people feel their purpose, know their landscape and work freely on focused goals. It's performance is grounded in both quantifiable metrics and active listening to end customers. Its boundaries are vague as it engages with and includes customers, audience, constituents, partners, supporters and others. It's as comfortable letting go of the old as it is adopting the new. Such an organisation flows easily through the ever-changing landscape of it's wider reality, always knowing which way to go.

Like a river.

"Agile learning is a mindset towards life and employability"

Patrick Veenhoff, Head of ENT Academy, Swisscom AG

in a conversation with

Dr. Daniel Stoller-Schai, Management Advisory Board LEARNING INNOVATION Conference

Dr. Daniel Stoller-Schai: Mr. Veenhoff, what do you mean by “Agile Learning”? What is your personal understanding?

Patrick Veenhoff: Agile learning to me is a mindset. Not towards learning, but towards life and employability. It requires a clear understanding of what I as a person want from life (short- and long-term), what my innate strengths & weaknesses are and how these translate into employability. Only then can (and must) I pro-actively shape and secure my future employability. In that process, I will learn in the way I always did, what I need to learn in order to achieve the goals I set for the next 1 or 2 years. A regular reflection on my life’s goals is needed to make sure that this shorter-term approach is supporting my longer term goals in life.

Dr. Daniel Stoller-Schai: What is your best example of an agile learning project?

Patrick Veenhoff: At Swisscom Enterprise Customers we implemented a social learning marketplace last year. My L&D department enables the 5’000 employees to learn from each other and teach other. This way, we ensure that all trainings that are created by subject matter experts or external partners and are delivered just-in-time. A more practical example: the business and HR have a big need for a formalized onboarding program. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they took an onboarding program that was made 2 years ago for employees whose company we had bought. A quick review of what was missing and what could be removed was done. Within 2 months, a first release of a general Onboarding Program could be released. The business and HR will now further develop this program and add/ remove content as they see fit based on user feedback.

“A culture in which failing fast is seen as THE way to increase efficiency, effectiveness and innovation is needed” – Patrick Veenhoff 

 Dr. Daniel Stoller-Schai: What is needed to enable companies and organizations to implement agile forms of learning?

Patrick Veenhoff: A culture in where professionalism is not determined by how much things we do right in the first time. Rather, a culture in which failing fast is seen as the way to increase efficiency, effectiveness and innovation. For that culture to be able to flourish, it needs leaders who are willing to show their own weaknesses and jointly reflecting with their teams on how they can improve themselves. This builds a culture of trust and tolerance which to me are the foundation of any successful organization. It then requires empowerment of individuals to let them experiment in controlled conditions, but always with the clear focus on driving measurable business impact. If these conditions are met, agile forms of learning will be a natural consequence.

Dr. Daniel Stoller-Schai: Why would agile forms of learning fail inside a company?

Patrick Veenhoff: In my perception, firstly our school system has trained our brains to think in silo-based, linear and performance/ reward-based structures. Secondly, over at least the past 50 years, we have gotten comfortable in our lives and in how we could secure our future employability. And thirdly, the (Swiss) government has done extremely much to protect the individual in securing his existence. The VUCA world of today requires fundamentally different attitudes from the individual in order to secure his own future existence. That change process is complex on an individual level and gets even more complex on team and company levels. Setting the rights priorities between business success and guiding this fundamental change in order to achieve long-term sustainable business success, is a challenge that will be new to many business leaders. Because this paradigm shift is profound and far-reaching, many business leaders need to learn themselves (in agile ways) how to best steward these new challenges in ever-faster changing environments. The majority of today’s business leaders will not yet have significant experience in addressing this challenge. It is a learning process for all involved and mistakes will be made. The question to me is: is there a culture of trust and tolerance in the organization on key levels that can absorb leadership mistakes? That to me will be the reason if agile forms of learning in companies will fail or not.

Read more article by Patrick Veenhoff on his blog On Corporate Learning

A New Workforce Planning Model: Why Position Management Is Flawed

Given that people costs make up the largest chunk of the operating expenses for a typical organization, getting the workforce plan right is fundamental to good corporate fiscal health. Yet most Finance departments still develop budgets for people, the same way they do for chairs — an outdated approach that creates risk and headaches for the organization.

As a best practice, workforce planning should be continuous. However, the reality is that for most companies the workforce planning process is precipitated by the annual budget cycle, when Finance provides the cost or FTE limits for each department, passes the budget to HR, and then HR uses their workforce expertise to refine the plan. The problem is that Finance’s budget does not take into consideration important details about:

  • Types of roles
  • Team formation
  • Historic and seasonal turnover trends
  • Projected employee movement
  • Organizational changes that are key to delivering the business plan

As a result, the budget provided by Finance does not articulate the impact on teams and the roles that need to be planned for and managed throughout the workforce plan’s lifecycle. 

The Human Layer of Workforce Cost Management

Finance is numbers-oriented — if a team has six full-time employees and plans to hire four more this year, Finance counts that as 10 positions. Salary values are assigned to the 10 positions and that is the team’s total workforce budget.

From Finance’s perspective, there are “six filled chairs and four chairs to be filled for a total of ten chairs in Marketing Operations this year,” but the reality is that teams are rarely this stable.

At any point in the fiscal year, employees may leave the company, get promoted to a different position or team, or go on leave. Teams may need to fill more or less positions than they originally planned, but their ability to manage this type of churn is hindered by the basic way in which cost limits are allocated and the inflexibility of the plan monitoring process.

As a result, line managers and HR work within a budget that does not adjust to reflect the realities of their teams, often resulting in shortcuts (like hiring contractors) and workarounds (like delaying hires) that increase costs and decrease productivity. 

Monitoring a plan showing the total cost of workforce in Visier Workforce Intelligence

Tracking Based on Position Management Doesn’t Work

Creating a workforce plan based on position structure works fine at the budgeting stage, but once you get into the fiscal year, tracking positions is like playing a game of musical chairs. When the music cuts out, you may be left with no chairs — a.k.a. budget for a new hire. How does this happen?

Organizational structures change frequently due to circumstances such as churn within an organization or changes in business priorities. To Finance, an empty position simply means no costs are incurred. Finance will often count this as a cost saving and look to “manage” a vacancy rate to reduce spend. But to HR and a line of business leader that empty seat could either mean revenue that is not being earned or customer satisfaction that is being reduced.

When positions are looked at as neutral “chairs,” the balancing of labor costs against productivity demands gets extremely tough — leading to waste and missed goals. Managing between the two worlds of neutral cost buckets and the dynamics of people, teams, and business demands becomes extremely time consuming, manual, and wasteful. If that empty seat eventually does need to be filled, the budget assigned to that “chair” may not get released or have been allocated elsewhere.

Data visualization showing a new model for workforce planning

When HR tries to fit the people plan into the budget framework from Finance, they’re forced to forget about people dynamics, market demands, and changing business objectives throughout the year. Finance’s model is ideal for creating the budget, but not for tracking the budget and people movement. 

One of our customers used to have upwards of 25 staff whose sole job was to keep track of how positions were changing and where employees were moving within the 30,000-person organization. It was a huge expense that had no guarantee of accuracy or efficiency.

When workforce plans are tracked improperly, line managers end up having to fight for more budget in the middle of the year. And if they don’t get the funding needed to make the hire, they may leave a critical position empty until the next year, resulting in higher costs due to lost productivity and missed business targets, or they may resort to hiring contingent workers who bring all sorts of other costs and risks with them.

Finance will often count this as a cost saving and look to “manage” a vacancy rate to reduce spend. But to HR and a line of business leader that empty seat could either mean revenue that is not being earned or customer satisfaction that is being reduced.

This leads to situations such as that of a company with 20,000 employees — and 9,000 extra positions. The budgeting by position process led them to have 29,000 potentially funded positions in an organization with 20,000 actual people. If the average budgeted cost for each positions is $50,000, then there is potentially $450 Million of approved cost that the company is struggling to track. In addition, a portion of this money is “locked” inside the budget and therefore, is not available for strategic business initiatives such as new product development.

Applying Business Analytics to Workforce Plan Tracking

Being nimble is increasingly important to business leaders. Workforce plans require a more agile model, but this has been difficult to implement due to an over-reliance on spreadsheets, the huge number of stakeholders involved, and communication and time constraints.

Even as HR becomes more data-driven, they often still track workforce plans using the position-based spreadsheets generated by Finance POS. Traditional analytics — derived from limited transactional systems or expensive data warehouse projects — can’t drill down to the team-level and pick up on the nuances of position changes. For example, if the workload is too much for one position, a manager may decide to split it between two new positions, essentially creating two chairs at two different costs.

The little information that can be extracted takes an army of people and weeks to accomplish. It’s an expensive strategy that makes the business too slow to react to shifting strategies and market changes. 

We encountered one organization where the HR Business Partners spent one day a week trying to reconcile budgets to actuals and tracking the movements of people relative to the costs. They understood how negative this approach was as 20% of their time was non-value-adding.

So how can you better track workforce plans and ensure managers have the funding they need when a critical position opens up?Data visualization a showing workforce plan comparing external hire count and planned external hires over the next three years

1. Stop tracking workforce plans based on Finance’s budgeting model

With workforce planning, you’re ultimately trying to answer whether you spent more or less than you should have on your people. When HR tries to reconcile the workforce plan by positions, the workforce plan collapses as soon as that position changes. Instead, HR should move to a plan to actuals comparison, which enables more precise tracking of team-level changes and makes budget tracking easier.

2. Move to a continuous planning model

When workforce planning continues to only be done during the annual budget planning stage, it leads to talent shortages, missed opportunities, and other risks. Reviewing the plan to actuals routinely throughout the year helps you see problems before they become pitfalls. With this kind of insight, you and the line managers can investigate both problems and successes, and re-allocate budget according to what will happen in the future.

How to collaborate on workforce planning in Visier

3. Look for technology that makes the job faster and easier

As I’ve mentioned, using analytics to model and compare future workforce scenarios has traditionally been an expensive, imprecise and time consuming process. However, HR analytics technologies such as a people strategy platform, connect together data from all HR, Finance, and Business systems to provide a complete and accurate picture of your organization. Look for a cloud solution that enables fast and easy workforce planning collaboration options. Beware of trying to use generic business planning tools (like Hyperion or Anaplan) for this — they are designed for Finance not HR use.

people strategy platform allows for rapid cycle planning so you can look ahead at how many open positions need to be filled, when they must be filled by, and where in the organization they are needed the most, which gives you the necessary time to either move budget around or talk to the manager about delaying the hire until budget accumulates. 

When workforce planners can access the current budget or forecast from Finance, they’re able to seed the upper limits on headcount and make data-driven decisions in advance of problems coming up. This, together with actual historical data on which headcount and costs are projected in the plan, and fast collaboration between other planners and stakeholders, makes for an even more accurate plan and hiring forecast. It’s the best way to avoid the music cutting out too soon and finding yourself with a critical chair that needs filling and no way to fill it.

5 Essential Workforce Planning Tools for any HR professional

Workforce planning tools are an essential part of the HR professional’s toolkit. In this article we’ll go over 5 strategic workforce planning tools, explain their use and give examples and excel templates on how to use them.

What are workforce planning tools?

Workforce planning tools are instruments that help analyze current capabilities and future needs for the employee population.

These tools are data-driven instruments that help identify the gap between current capabilities of the workforce and its future needs. In addition, they help you come up with ways to fill this gap.

In this article we will discuss five strategic workforce planning tools.

  1. Strategic workforce planning map
  2. Performance-potential matrix
  3. HR dashboarding
  4. Compensation and benefits analysis
  5. Scenario planning

Most of these tools help to identify the current workforce capabilities. Some, especially the compensation and benefit analysis and scenario planning, help to identify the future needs of the workforce.

All workforce planning tools we´ll discuss in this article fall somewhere along this spectrum.

1. Strategic workforce planning map

The first workforce planning tool is the workforce map. This map shows how workforce planning activities align with the bigger picture, like the organizational strategy.

An often heard critique about HR policies is that it doesn’t follow organizational strategy. The beauty of workforce planning is that it offers tools to add value to the latter.

The model below shows this very clearly. You don’t start with strategic workforce planning (SWP, which is step 3). No, strategic workforce planning is the result of organizational strategy (step 2).

The board of directors sets a strategy for the organization. This strategy is not made up – it is derived from three key factors:

  • What’s happening in the market? E.g. trends in demand and supply.
  • What products and/or services are we already producing?
  • What is the competition doing? You don’t want to just copy your competition. No, you want to outsmart them through process, product or business model innovation.

These factors influence the strategy that the board sets. This forms the begin point of strategic workforce planning as it helps us determine where the organization wants to go in the next 3-5 years. This is the target.

The next step is to identify where we are now. This is step 3 in the model: the quality and the quantity of the workforce. An excellent tool to do this is the performance-potential matrix that we will talk about next.

Based on these insights, HR strategy is created. This strategy is executed in all the different functional HR areas, like recruitment, performance management, rewards & promotions, etc.

2. Performance-potential matrix

The performance-potential matrix, also called 9-box grid or HR3P matrix, maps employees’ performance and potential in one model.

As you can see, the matrix maps employees in different categories, ranging from “talent risk”, which are low potential and low performance, all the way to “consistent stars”, who are high potential and high performance.

This is just one of the models (source) out there that visualize performance and potential. An advantage of the model is that it’s easy to understand. However, this is also a disadvantage because this lower complexity has a reduced usability. Take the following matrix as an example. This is not a 3×3 9-box grid, but a 4×4.

This model divides potential and performance in four categories. Using these categories, employees can be managed very effectively. Let me give you an example.

  • Phase 1: Yellow. When new employees join the company, they don’t perform optimally yet, but have a lot of growth potential. They fall in the left bottom corner of the model.

Effective talent management policies are training and coaching, performance based pay (PBP) to increase productivity and a growth in base salary to retain them (they are your future stars).

  • Phase 2: Dark green. After working for a year or two, these employees perform well and are still bursting with potential. In this case, they are in the right bottom corner of the model.
    In order to capitalize on their potential, they need more learning and development, challenging assignments that help them grow and a salary growth to retain them.
  • Phase 3: Light green. After a few promotions, these employees may start to hit their ceiling. They are at full potential but are performing excellently!
    You want to further develop the competencies they need for their roles and focus on performance based pay so they stay focusses. You don’t want to grow their salary much further as that may become a burden over time.
  • Phase 4: Red. In the final phase, these employees may become disengaged and performance may lower (left top corner).
    In this case, a development plan to get their performance back on track is the best solution. Salary shouldn’t increase for these people as you don’t necessarily want to retain them.

To create such a four-by-four, you need to assess people on their performance and potential. The performance-potential matrix is thus a great strategic workforce planning tool, not only to assess talent but also to manage it.

3. HR Dashboarding

A third workforce planning tool that a lot of companies are actively investing in, is the HR dashboard. The HR dashboard is a very effective instrument to show current workforce capabilities.

There’s a lot to tell about the HR dashboard. On a conceptual level, the dashboard is filled with information from different source systems, like a payroll system, applicant tracking system, and other Human Resources Information Systems. Based on this data, metrics are calculated and displayed.

The model below shows this process. Systems are extracted, data is transferred and loaded into a data lake or data warehouse. Reporting software uses this data to report on it.

Not all organizations have fully automated this process. If there’s no data warehouse present, data can be extracted from different systems and aggregated manually. This is slower, manual reporting.

However, the goal is always the same: to create an overview of the current status of the workforce. This can be in terms of a workforce dashboard, diversity map, performance dashboard, etc.

On a more practical level, check out our dedicated article about what an HR dashboard is and it most important metrics.  This article has multiple templates and metrics that can be used in a dashboard. An example of an interactive dashboard is included below.

This is a dashboard that we teach our students to make themselves in the HR analyst course.

4. Compensation & benefit analysis

We haven’t written a lot about compensation and benefit analysis yet. However, it does provide a number of great opportunities for data analysis. For two reasons.

First of all, compensation and benefit data is highly structured and accurate. Secondly, it is directly related to a financial outcome and thus bottom line performance.

The simplest analysis has two elements:

  • Set an internal pay benchmark and group people in (severly) overpaid and (severly) underpaid categories
  • Retrieve performance data and categorize people in overperforming or underperforming

You want your overperforming people to be overpaid and your underperforming people to be underpaid. If there’s a difference in the two you either run the risk of losing top performers because of underpay or not losing bad performers because of overpay. The latter is referred to as the golden cage.

This data can be enriched by labor market statistics. You can use payment benchmarks from outside your organization to adjust for internal payment discrepancies.

You can also use job market information to control for external demand and projected demand for certain jobs. These kind of numbers are available for any industry and can be very beneficial in anticipating and adjusting to future workforce needs.

5. Scenario planning

Scenario planning is the ultimate workforce planning tool. It helps to anticipate multiple possible futures so that you won’t be caught off-guard. In the words of futurist Peter Schwartz: “if you haven’t thought about it, you’re unlikely to see it in time”.

In scenario planning, you imagine different potential futures that have a severe impact on your business and that you will be unlikely to see coming. These scenarios can involve technological innovation, new legislation, natural disasters, changes in attitudes of the general public, etc.

By thinking about these scenarios, analyzing them and describing how they will make an impact on day to day business, you can develop a strategy for unlikely but impactful events.

One of the early pioneers in this approach was Shell. According to Schwartz´s book the art of the long view, Shell used scenario planning to develop strategies for dealing with the 1973 energy crisis, the 1979 oil price shock, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the increasing pressure on companies to address environmental issues.

If you think about the figure that we started with, scenario planning is really about imagining the future – or imagining multiple possible futures. For a full overview of how to do a scenario planning exercise, check appendix A in this document. I included a summarized version below.

How does scenario planning work as a workforce planning tool?

  • First of all, you want to analyze the focal issue of concern for the workforce. This is the issue that the planning exercise centers on.
  • Secondly, you want to identify driving forces of change. These can be external and internal. Examples are the specific demographic driver, environmental drivers, sociopolitical drivers, market drivers, and so on. The challenge is to make these drivers as specific as possible. For example, don’t use ‘global warming’ as a driver but define it as the increasing of drought periods in California (or any specific region).
  • Thirdly, you want to rank these specific driving forces on their importance and uncertainty. Importance refers to the impact the driver will make on the workforce. Uncertainty refers to the uncertainty of your estimation. This step is required to select the most relevant and divergent conditions.
  • Next, the two most uncertain and important driving forces are selected and two polar opposites are selected. These are mapped on a 2×2 grid.
  • This creates four distinctly different and impactful workforce challenges. For each of these scenarios, a name and story are created related to how they will play out and impact the workforce. In the final step, strategies are created to resolve these challenges.

This exercise is not something you do in half an hour. It usually takes a team at least half a day up to a few days, depending on the level of complexity. However, it can be a very useful one!

You have now had a description of 5 essential workforce planning tools. They are essential tools for any HR professional working in a larger organization. Most of these tools are described in much more detail in our HR analytics course. If you want to learn more about it and also practically apply them to real employee data, check the course page!

Zoom Out/Zoom In: An Alternative Approach to Strategy in a World that Defies Prediction

How can companies direct attention toward initiatives that have the most impact—and ensure that they’re properly funded? Using two parallel time horizons—one that’s six to 12 months out and another that’s 10 to 20 years—can help boost immediate strategic impact and prepare for the long term.

Introduction: Achieving impact that matters today

WITH change and performance pressure only accelerating, it may be time to reassess how we approach strategy. Traditional approaches don’t account for the increasing pace of change and risk generating diminishing returns or missing the mark entirely. Fortunately, there is a more promising way to address the challenges ahead.


Despite the challenges of strategic planning in a rapidly changing world, most companies have remained loyal to the five-year plan as a basic framework. Some have moved to a three-year planning horizon to address the growing uncertainty, with a few taking the dramatic step of abandoning a long-term strategic plan altogether.

Regardless of the time frame, executives have increasingly adopted a reactive approach to strategy. The goal: to sense and respond as quickly as possible to events as they happen. Many see strategies of movement as the most effective way to cope with change and uncertainty; flexibility and speed are keys to success.

What’s been the result? Many companies are spreading themselves ever more thinly to deal with an ever-expanding array of initiatives. Even the very largest companies are wrestling with the realization that the number of new programs exceeds the available resources. They are also realizing that these initiatives tend to be incremental in nature, due not only to limited resources but to the programs responding to short-term events.

The results are not encouraging. We have been tracking the performance of all US public companies over the last half century. Measured in terms of return on assets, performance on average for all public companies has declined by over 75 percent since 1965.1 If the goal of strategy is to at least maintain current financial performance over time, this is unfortunate evidence that the current approaches are not working.

An alternative approach

Fortunately, there is an alternative to reactive strategy and incremental steps. It’s based on an approach that some of the most successful digital technology companies have pursued over the past several decades. It goes by different names; we call it zoom out/zoom in.

This approach focuses on two very different time horizons in parallel and iterates between them. One is 10 to 20 years: the zoom-out horizon. The other is six to 12 months: the zoom-in horizon.

Notice a key difference from the conventional approach—the five-year strategic plan—that many traditional companies take. Companies pursuing a zoom out/zoom in approach spend almost no time looking at the one-to-five-year horizon. Their belief is that if they get the 10–20-year horizon and the six-to-12-month horizon right, everything else will take care of itself.

A desire to learn faster is what drives this approach to strategy: These companies’ leadership teams are constantly reflecting on what they have learned about both time horizons and refining their approaches to achieve more impact in a less predictable world.

Notice, too, that this approach is distinct from scenario planning or scenario development. Many large companies’ top teams have engaged in exercises asking them to imagine a range of alternative futures and focusing on those that seem most likely to materialize. But then the offsite meeting ends, everyone goes back to her day job, and often nothing really changes. However provocative, the exercise is more or less theoretical, with no clear path to taking action to prepare for that future.

In the zoom out/zoom in approach, the meeting is not over until the leadership has aligned around the two or three highest-impact initiatives that can be pursued in the next six to 12 months—and has ensured that these have appropriate resource commitments. What was a theoretical exercise becomes very real, with clear implications for what the company will be doing differently in the short term to build the critical capabilities for the long term.


This alternative approach to strategy can have a number of benefits. It pulls executives out of short-term thinking that is driven by pressure for quarterly performance—and forces people out of their comfort zone. Consider: If we focus on a five-year horizon, it’s possible to convince ourselves that our company, and the business environment, will look then pretty much like they do today. But if we really understand the implications of exponential change and shift our focus to 10 to 20 years, it is difficult to envision an unchanged future. Zoom-out challenges us to consider how different our companies could be, and will need to be, to thrive in rapidly changing markets. It prompts us to question our most basic assumptions about what business we really should be in and fights the tendency toward incrementalism that short-term views promote. And it may reduce the risk that we will be blindsided by something that appears trivial today but could end up fundamentally redefining our market.

This approach also powerfully combats the tendency to spread ourselves too thinly across too many initiatives. It forces us to focus in the short term on the initiatives that will have the greatest impact in accelerating our movement toward a future opportunity—and to ensure that those initiatives are adequately funded.

Changing approaches

This approach requires us to both expand horizons and narrow focus. While the approach will vary depending on the company’s specific context, figure 1 provides a high-level overview of the approach.

The zoom out/zoom in strategy approach

Zoom out. Typically, the first step is to expand the leadership team’s horizons. In part, this involves building greater awareness of the accelerating pace of change, largely shaped by exponential advances in the performance of digital technology. While every executive is at least somewhat aware of these advances, taking people out of the comfort of their corner offices to embark on a “learning journey” to a center of technology innovation—places such as Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, and Shenzhen—often helps them more viscerally experience what is already occurring and see tangible examples of the accelerating change.

The next step is to start building alignment within the leadership team around a shared view of the 10-to-20-year future. In this context, scenario-planning techniques certainly have a role to play. It is helpful to begin by imagining alternative futures shaped by the key uncertainties ahead. A key to success on this front is to bring in outside provocateurs who can help challenge executives on key assumptions about what business they will need to be in 10–20 years from now.

Here, it’s important to drive an outside-in perspective and to resist the tendency to look at the future from the inside out. Start with the likely evolution of customers and stakeholders. Understand their evolving unmet needs, and then work backward to identify the opportunities to create significant value by addressing those needs in a distinctive way. In addition, focus on leverage: Strive to identify and understand the potential ecosystems that can leverage the company’s capabilities and deliver value to the market.

While imagining alternative futures is helpful, this strategic approach hinges on building alignment around a shared view of what the most likely future will be. This shared view isn’t a detailed blueprint of the future, but it needs to have enough clarity on key trends/opportunities to help executives make choices regarding short-term priorities. Note that it is important to not view the future as a given beyond one’s ability to influence. We have written elsewhere about the opportunity to shape strategies that can materially alter certain futures’ probability.2

As the shared view of the future takes shape, the focus shifts to the implications for the business. What kind of business can create the most value and occupy a privileged position in that evolving future? Here tools such as the “strategic choice cascade” can play an important role, but questions like where to play? and how to play? are framed in thecontext of the anticipated zoom-out future. The goal is to gain alignment within the leadership team on what the company will need to look like 10–20 years from now to capture the most value and reduce vulnerability to competitors.

Zoom in. This is often the most difficult part: identifying and agreeing on the few near-term initiatives that can most help to accelerate the organization toward the future position. While the specific initiatives will clearly differ based on the company’s context, our suggestion is that for large, traditional companies, the three zoom-in initiatives ideally cover these three fronts:

  • Identify and begin to scale the “edge” of the company that could drive the transformation required to become the zoom-out business3
  • Determine the one near-term initiative that would have the greatest ability to strengthen the business’s existing core—after all, the core is generating the near-term profits required to accelerate the journey
  • Determine what marginally performing activities the company could stop doing in the next six to 12 months that would free up the most resources to fund initiatives on the other two fronts

In developing the zoom-in initiatives, here are some things to watch out for:

  • Clustering many initiatives into one “umbrella” initiative—instead, be rigorous about focusing on impact and singling out the one near-term initiative with the greatest potential to deliver that impact
  • Favoring the incremental—because the focus is on results in six to 12 months, there is a temptation to fall back to initiatives that are more modest in scope. Even if the chosen zoom-in initiative may take longer to deliver its full impact, the key is to identify a meaningful milestone within this shorter time frame to demonstrate progress. For example, in bringing a major new technology to market, the zoom-in initiative might be the development of a functioning prototype.

Reflect and refine. This is all part of an initial effort to clarify and build alignment around the zoom-out perspective and the zoom-in initiatives. But that’s just the beginning.

The leadership of companies pursuing this strategic approach regularly step back to reflect on what they have learned, both in terms of monitoring the outside world and, more importantly, about the zoom-in initiatives they are pursuing. They typically hold regular sessions to evolve their zoom out/zoom in approach every six to 12 months, driven by the opportunity to assess the results of the zoom-in initiatives. But many of the leadership meetings throughout the year include discussions of both the zoom-out and zoom-in horizons to test and refine the approach on an ongoing basis.

This strategy approach can be a powerful vehicle for learning about the future and how to get there. Such learning requires ongoing reflection and refinement, however, and the pressures of the immediate can make it easier to avoid making that effort. Resist the temptation.

Potential objections to this approach

There’s a natural skepticism that materializes in any effort to expand executives’ horizons. Some of the most common objections:

“The future’s too uncertain.” While we certainly don’t want to be interpreted as saying that anticipating the future is easy, we suggest that looking ahead is becoming increasingly essential. If we lack a clear sense of direction, we risk being consumed by the accelerating pace of change. A key is to focus on reasonably predictable factors such as certain technological and demographic trends.

“Our investors just want short-term results—don’t distract me with the future.” Here’s the paradox: Investors may focus on quarterly earnings, but anticipation of future earnings—that is, the multiple of today’s earnings—drives most of any large company’s stock price. The more a company can be persuasive about significant future opportunities and demonstrate tangible short-term progress toward addressing those opportunities, the better the stock price is likely to perform.

“Any near-term economic impact of this approach to strategy is likely to be marginal; the payback will take too long.” While a view of the future drives strategy, that view can be helpful in achieving greater short-term focus that is likely to improve economic performance. If we have a clearer view of what the future might look like, we are better positioned to take steps that will reduce our vulnerability to near-term disruptions—and to make difficult choices about shedding portions of our business that are currently underperforming. Done right, this approach to strategy has the potential to significantly improve near-term economic performance.

The opportunity ahead

Zoom out/zoom in is a great example of combining and amplifying two competing goals: preparing for the future and achieving greater near-term impact. By focusing on these two in tandem, we have greater potential to accelerate our movement toward the most promising future opportunities and delivering near-term impact that matters to stakeholders. Maybe strategy is less about position or movement than about trajectory: having a sense of destination and committing to accelerating movement to reach that destination.

This approach can be used for an entire corporation; for diversified companies, it can also be applied at the business-unit level.

But it’s not just for companies. Every institution—and every individual—can use this approach to increase impact. What’s our zoom-out opportunity? And what should be our most important zoom-in priorities? Until we can answer those questions, we are at risk of getting buffeted about by an increasingly demanding world and experience more and more stress as we spread ourselves too thinly.