John Ingham has written some great posts on Imagination Based Management and Evidence Based Management, which got me thinking about how to balance the two in workforce planning. Both are necessary, but both have shortcomings, including:

  • What's wrong with depending on evidence alone: To start with, evidence can only really be found for things that already happened...and as we all know history doesn't always repeat itself! This is really important - and with workforce planning sticking with evidence alone tends to end up with a purely metrics driven approach....missing many, many important things that either haven't happened yet or are outside the scope of what we are able to measure. That's not the only shortcoming, but it's a pretty big one.
  • What's wrong with depending on imagination alone: First, as we've doubtless all experienced, people can come up with theories with absolutely no basis in truth. Pfeffer's book Hard Facts (to which Jon refers in his posts) mentions some doozies. Another problem

So, in workforce planning as in life, you need a balance of the two - but I confess we come across more people suffering from the first challenge (evidence only) than we come across the second. Usually it's because metrics are something we can get our heads around...and sadly because making decisions based on things we can prove takes less courage than making decisions based on judgement or "intuition" (I have my suspicions that intuition is really the subconscious synthesis of facts of which we aren't entirely consciously aware, but that's another matter...) - and that's problematic, because it means that if we can't prove or project it, we might leave it out. Ooops. So much for exploring alternate futures.

This issue also makes me think of the work of Roger Martin, to whom we always refer people, particularly his work on Validity vs Reliability:

Reliability seeks to produce consistent, predictable outcomes by utilizing a system that is restricted to the use of objective data...

Validity, on the other hand, seeks to produce outcomes that meet the desired objective, even if the system employed can’t produce a consistent, predictable outcome...

Pursuit of more reliability entails dropping variables – like customer mood – that can’t be objectively measured, and eliminating any judgment from the system that would cause one user of the system to come up with a different answer than another. Pursuit of more validity means adding ‘squishy’ variables and applying judgment – or ‘gut feel’.

Now I would never advocate that workforce planning should be done with no evidence (I'm a big fan of the use of evidence-based techniques - in balance!), but I wholeheartedly support Jon's assertion that evidence is only part of any picture....and we at Aruspex always assert that validity is more important than reliability in any decision about the future. What's the blend of these things you think perfect?