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Skills-Based Workforce Planning

4B's Approach in Strategic Workforce Planning

Workforce requirements are complex. They will constantly demand interventions like build-buy-borrow-bot to prepare organizations for unforeseen challenges.

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Nestlé was struggling with integrating systems, goals and people into a cohesive strategy. This challenge made it clear to them that a new approach was needed. But how could they simplify a complex process into something that made sense to the teams responsible for implementing it? 

The team reduced the objectives into basic concepts that would resonate with everyone. When they heard the business leaders reflecting the same language back to them, they realized they had something that made sense. 

4B’s Approach in Strategic Workforce Planning

Before building a new strategy, industry leaders had to clarify the business needs. And the topic of skills was at the core of the plan. They needed to ensure that they weren’t still hiring for the skills of yesterday but for the skills needed for today and the future. Read more in this comprehensive guide on embracing skills-based hiring to workforce planning

It is important to ensure that skills are consistently labelled the same across different platforms and teams. In addition to lack of uniformity, the possibility of errors, and general confusion, measuring skills differently would risk alienating employees. 


After addressing those issues, the team identified the following 4B’s of strategic planning. 

  • Build: Train people. 
    • Developing and upskilling current employees is key to the “build” step of this strategy. It means to provide employees with training and professional development. That ensures that the organization has a constant flow of talent to meet future skills and knowledge needs. 
  • Buy: Hire new people. 
    • This means attracting the talent they will need for the future to bring new skills that support the organization’s strategic plan. 
  • Borrow: Hire a consultant to help. 
    • Companies can get help from talent acquisition specialists in finding the talent for their future workforce needs. Outsourcing this function to experts enables leaders to focus on meeting their goals. 
  • Bot: Implement Technology and AI.
    • Companies must recognize the critical role that technology plays in their business strategy. Leaders adopt advancements in technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence. They can utilize AI and technology with advanced analytics, scenario modeling, and automation to optimize workforce planning. Read how AI can prepare your workforce for the future.

Nestlé later expanded the concept into two additional B’s which are generally used for internal purposes. 

  • Boost: Develop skilled people.

    • Building on the first step of the 4B’s enables the organization to develop detailed career paths for its workforce. It benefits the employees’ development while continuing to feed the talent pipeline. 

  • Bounce: Downsize based on requirement criteria.

    • It’s important to follow a set of standards in hiring but they frequently eliminate workers who don’t exactly match the requirements. Flexibility in hiring requirements broadens the field of potential candidates and facilitates hiring. 

What Makes 4B's Approach So Effective?

Organizations are experienced in addressing gaps and shortages in their workforce through systems. But the plans are often so comprehensive that it can slow down the end result – ensuring that the right resources are in place. 

Nestlé simplified this approach to help them identify and address gaps in the strategic workforce planning process. The 4B’s serve as quick reference points for managers to focus on the immediate issues and clarify the resources needed to address them. Perhaps most importantly, the simple methodology could translate into actionable direction. 

Agentnoon's workforce demand and supply analysis graph


Unlike other detailed strategies, the 4B’s are brief and understandable to leaders and workers alike. The one-word points reinforce the objective and serve as a measure to ensure teams are meeting their goals. 

Challenges of Implementing the 4B’s Approach

Having a great solution that teams rally around doesn’t always translate into seamless integration. Trying to reduce complex concepts to a simple formula brings its challenges. It’s critical to identify all of the different platforms and technologies that must be integrated for the strategy to work seamlessly. 

In a global organization, there will inevitably be obstacles to overcome. The question is how to integrate it across all of the systems as well as planning cycles apart from Human Resources. 

It is critical to ensure that senior management understands how strategic workforce planning aligns with the overall strategy. The team must help senior leaders understand the key risks and how the new strategy would drive overall success for the organization. 

A solution to this challenge would be to begin with a change in structure. The team can create a hybrid, more decentralized bottom-up approach. HR is still a critical component, but the team can get input and involvement from all levels of the organization. 

Interview with Alex Browne

Alex Browne, Head of People Analytics Innovation and Data Science was one of the architects of the 4B’s plan. He was charged with reviving strategic workforce planning and focusing on a skills-based approach. And he had the perfect background to lead this innovation. Browne benefited from the Nestlé approach as he went through various roles throughout the organization.

Browne described HR as the “co-pilot” that is responsible for driving the change for a successful Strategic Workforce Planning. He believes that the core is a belief in diversity of thought which drives productivity. 

“Now we buy in those skills, making sure that we're not still hiring for the skills of yesterday but we're hiring for the skills of tomorrow. But as part of those skills pieces and all of those components, you've got to be talking the same skills language.

“I think understanding how leadership and people leaders will impact our business initiatives, and how they deliver business success. I would also almost describe them as a multiplier; they'll either accelerate and amplify what we're trying to achieve, or they'll reduce and derail.” Alex Browne's interview with myHRfuture.com

The Triggers for Change and the Successful Outcome

Of course, the genius of Nestle's 4B method didn’t happen in a vacuum. Two main triggers propelled the need to change their approach to Strategic Workforce Planning. 

  1. Global organizations have a unique problem of managing multiple functions. They also manage thousands of employees across time zones. Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to maintain consistency across functions. As a result, there were differing approaches that didn’t always align with the goals of Strategic Workforce Planning. Workforce planning generally needs more investment of resources, not less. 

  2. New challenges in the workforce accelerated the need to reduce skill gaps and utilize technology to make the work easier.

The 4B’s framework almost immediately resonated with business leaders. It directly correlated the concept with its implementation strategy. Nestlé leaders began incorporating the 4B’s into their discussions on workforce needs. Distilling it into four short words, emphasized how skills correlated with individual roles but also how to identify future skill needs. 

All stakeholders understood the importance of discussing skills within the context of roles. This helped to foster and increase employee engagement and effectiveness in workforce planning. This helped to foster and increase employee engagement and effectiveness in workforce planning.


Strategic Workforce Planning can be a challenging process for any organization. But, the example of Nestlé’s 4B’s methodology illustrates that it doesn’t have to be. Although it was a significant overhaul of their Strategic Workforce Planning, it was critical to their ability to remain competitive and prepare for the future. 

Current and future workforce requirements are complex. They will constantly demand innovative and integrated approaches. The 4B's solution is an example of how organizations can prepare themselves for unforeseen challenges. And truly thrive. 

Agentnoon is proud to serve 100+ enterprise customers in over 15+ countries. Our solution simplifies the decision-making process with a fast, easy, and interactive tool to help your organization’s strategic decision-making, workforce planning and people analytics. 

Book a demo to see how Agentnoon can help you with strategic workforce planning.

Daniya Batool Soomro

Daniya Batool Soomro

Product Marketing Associate


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