APQC Survey Finds Strategic Workforce Planning is Underperforming at Nearly Half of Organizations

Best-in-class performers reveal roadmap with five ways to improve workforce planning in a post-COVID world

According to recent APQC research, developing a standardized workforce planning process is not an issue for most organizations, as 89 percent have integrated workforce planning with business planning. However, APQC’s survey of 236 organizations does indicate a divide in the effectiveness of those workforce planning efforts. Specifically, 54% of organizations report that their workforce planning is highly effective, but the remaining 46% report it is moderately or less effective. Fortunately, APQC’s research also uncovered key drivers to improve workforce planning effectiveness, especially in a post-COVID world.

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“We compared the practices of the best workforce planners in the survey to the responses of all other organizations,” says Elissa Tucker, principal research lead for APQC. “To be considered best-in-class, an organization needed to have consistently superior responses across a range of survey questions indicating workforce planning effectiveness. Forty-six organizations fell into this best-in-class group, and their experience provides a roadmap for how other organizations can better execute and drive desired results from their workforce planning efforts.”

1. Standardize and integrate the workforce planning process,
2. Use “real-time,” responsive practices,
3. Use methods that go beyond forecasting,
4. Leverage a broad solution set to address skills gaps and surpluses, and
5. Get support from the right people and technologies.

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Best-in-class workforce planners are more likely to have enterprise standardization of the workforce planning process, with minimal local customization. This means that all areas of the organization use the same sub-processes, methods, technology, and training to support and carryout workforce planning. In addition, best-in-class workforce planners are more likely to create workforce and business plans together with each equally informing the other.


Best-in-class organizations are significantly more likely to use workforce planning practices that allow them to be responsive and agile, such as including planning for less than six months into the future among their workforce planning time horizons; using real-time internal and external data; and using prescriptive analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI).


Best-in-class organizations use forecasting but also make use of a wider array of workforce planning methodologies, such as structured interviews and workforce segmentation.


Best-in-class workforce planners use significantly more approaches to address skills gaps and surpluses, including Development (87% vs 50%); Work Redesign (85% vs 38%); Automation (80% vs 41%); Contract Work (76% vs 42%); and Moving Employees (74% vs 40%).


Best-in-class organizations are more likely to purchase workforce planning software from a vendor and then customize it, rather than developing solutions in-house or using spreadsheets. Such software can save time and money; automate manual and repetitive tasks; provide access to the latest analytics capabilities; and provide enterprise-wide access to consistent data and reports.


APQC’s research also uncovered a positive impact of workforce planning on best-in-class organizations’ response to COVID. These organizations were significantly more likely to say that, during COVID, workforce planning enabled their organization to:

  • Keep workers safe,
  • Fare better than competitors,
  • Identify roles that can be performed remotely,
  • Avoid layoffs, and
  • Continue business operations.

Because of the positive impact of workforce planning on their COVID response, the best-in-class are significantly more likely to say that they will increase investment and support for workforce planning post-COVID. “The COVID-19 experience is an opportunity to build the business case for workforce planning. Business leaders are primed to see the value of this process as they face workforce-related pain points and the need for timely workforce data to make decisions about staffing, remote work, and so on,” notes Tucker.

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