Good article from McKinsey about the major global forces impacting business today…and it starts with a great paragraph:

“I never think of the future,” Albert Einstein once observed. “It comes soon enough.” Most business managers, confronted with the global forces shaping the business landscape, also assume that their ability to sculpt the future is minimal. They are right that they can do little to change a demographic trend or a widespread shift in consumer consciousness. But they can react to such forces or, even better, anticipate them to their own advantage. Above all, they ignore these forces at their peril.

The article lists the five forces, and shows some figures on how many executives think that the forces are being actively addressed (funnily enough for four of the five forces, more executives think they are being addressed than think they are important…).  But the issue for strategic planning, including workforce planning, is that we accept we can’t predict or quantify the exact impact of these things, but we can explore them, and compare alternative models.  As the authors say:

Even the most talented strategists will have, at best, incomplete knowledge of what comes next. But from our experience, we know that an understanding of the forces defining the future will also provide the best chance for seizing it.

It is perfectly ok to resist the urge to quantify this stuff, but it’s not ok to ignore it because it’s imprecise.  Introducing this into your discussions about the future workforce can help to inform decisions about all kinds of things – including your numerical models!  It also increases your credibility substantially, and helps to dissolve the objections to workforce planning itself.  Oh, and it’s very interesting to have these conversations with leaders – which might be the benefit we forget most!