Once again I find a marketing concept that is beneficial to the Workforce Planning agenda. In a marketing e-letter the following caught my attention: “… a loosely designed program—whether qualitative or quantitative—may not appear as ‘scientific’ at first glance, yet sometimes can do far more to reveal real truths than more carefully crafted and comprehensive research programs.”

My interest piqued, I read on. The article spoke about qualitative research that never deviates from a specific set of questions, and quantitative research that doesn't give respondents an opportunity to expand their answers. This often results in a scientific-seeming, but actually superficial, understanding of your marketplace. It is the stray answer, the unexpected insight, and the uncategorizable response that often creates the greatest opportunity for genuine insight.

The same rings true for Workforce Planning: we can spend a lot of time trying to be accurate about the future workforce but ultimately these results are only possibilities. Subsequent discussions between Workforce Planners and executive are the opportunity to attain insight about probabilities.

Neither is an end unto themselves—you need a combination of the two techniques. Workforce Planning needs to be a menu (a loosely designed program) that allows for exploration and expansion to gain insight about the future workforce. And glimmers of true insight are most likely to be visible via discussions, in between the lines and in the cracks, places where many quantitative techniques don’t go and qualitative approaches scratch the surface of. Our paper, Operational vs. Strategic Workforce Planning: Understanding the Difference and When to Use Each, may help explore this further.