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Transform data into stories and engage executives

In the past we have explored the value of visualizations in bringing workforce data to life and simplifying understanding. So what comes next once we have robust people data, great visualizations, and deeper understanding? It’s time to start sharing insight with executives.

What’s the best way to do this? It’s through storytelling.

That’s right… good old-fashioned storytelling.

Good old fashioned story telling

Image: Martianne Stranger

Studies show that we are wired to remember stories much more than data, facts, and figures. When data, visuals and context are combined in story, the brain is engaged both emotionally and intellectually. Through stories, people grasp things more quickly and retain them longer. Because of their emotional element, stories, more than fact and information alone, have the ability to persuade and inspire action.

For stories to be compelling to our executives they need to be crafted with purpose and directed towards business results. We need to use workforce analytics to build stories that can make a difference.

This may sound challenging but here are 6 steps to get you there:

  1. Identify top business priorities: Spend time thinking about what matters to the business. What do the executives really want and need to hear from a people point of view? Consider what information will resonate the most. What questions have been raised in the past? Select areas that are financially relevant – you can guarantee these will matter to key stakeholders. If you don’t know what they want… ask your executives the question “what 2 pieces of people information would you most like to know?” Draw up a list of the top 1 or 2 areas of most importance to the executives and the business. Think of your strategy here as going an inch wide and mile deep. Don’t tackle too much – keep the focus to a minimum and be targeted.
  2. Know your data inside and out: With your key objectives identified, start exploring the people and business data you have. Make note of interesting peaks, valleys, trends and anomalies. Connect relevant data sources to build understanding. Use segmentation to go beyond generic, company-wide numbers and get granular and specific. Take a 15% overall turnover rate and dissect it. What is top performer turnover? What is turnover by tenure? By geography? By Department? By source of hire? You get the idea. [for more on the power of segmenting, click here]. Look for themes. Identify areas where the data matches up with assumptions and those where it does not. Note too, any questions the data raises. Think through other data sources that would be good to have integrated for richer understanding.
  3. Transform the data into stories: With your priority areas and relevant data in hand, begin crafting your story. Approach the area with the objective of putting the numbers in context. This involves situating specific data points or measures within the bigger picture. Think about your turnover numbers within the context of who they impact and how they interact with productivity, engagement, recruiting ROI, etc.?Don’t make the mistake of letting the numbers speak for themselves – they’ve proven time and again that they aren’t very good at it. Help the numbers out by putting them in context and using the visuals to bring them to life. Remind everyone why you’re presenting turnover numbers and why it’s important to focus on them. Draw people in by telling your story about people, not numbers. Make it matter to your audience. First year turnover of 30% means 3 out of 10 of your new employees are leaving – this means Janet, Kyle and Gord are out the door. Add more context… go further by explaining that Janet and Kyle were top performers. Build out the story further by attaching a dollar figure to this. And then once you’ve got their attention, you can focus on ways to change the story. This is crafting the story with your audience in mind. From here, build meaningful and impactful visualizations and dashboards to support your stories.
  4. Leverage your visualizations: With your story created, it’s time to build dashboards and visuals that pack a punch. Remember, a picture tells a 1000 words and seeing is believing. If you want your audience engaged, interested and listening, make sure you have solid visuals to support your story. You’ll be amazed at how this can draw the audience in and change the dynamic. [read this blog for more on visualizations].
  5. Share your stories: Whether you are starting small and sharing the same information you always have but doing so with a more visual approach (headcount, turnover) or going big and presenting something completely new to your executives (a new view on succession planning, or a view of turnover connected to performance, engagement, learning, or recruitment data connected to first year outcomes), the important thing is to be sure you change the way you tell it. This time, tell a story. Progress with confidence through the beginning (why it’s important), the middle (what’s going on), and the end (how we might fix it).Shake things up by talking about what we don’t know in addition to what we do know. Don’t be afraid to point to gaps where we could benefit from knowing more. In our turnover example: What is it really like to be a new employee in your company? What are the real reasons people are leaving and what can we do about it? How much is this really costing us? This stimulates dialogue and generates shared ownership of the problem.
  6. Continue onwards and upwards: With the executives paying attention and engaged, be sure you stay in motion. Make a plan and take action where needed. This may require delving deep to understand an area more fully. In these cases, you may decide to execute a survey or have some qualitative research carried out (interviews, focus groups) to get at the heart of matters and flesh out your story more fully. In other areas, you may decide to go ahead and make a change and begin to track progress. In both cases, your efforts are guided by data and context, and supported by the executive.From here, you can continue to add different data sources, seek more context, raise more questions and build deeper understanding. You’re in the business of continually telling the stories about your people, adding chapters and creating happy endings. It’s onwards and upwards for you, the employees and the organization. Isn’t that a happy ending worth working towards?

Remember: Stories help establish a common ground for shared understanding. As such, they pull listeners in and invite them to co-create the ending. Because they stimulate emotion stories can be a strong catalyst to action.

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PeopleInsight

Workforce Analytics at PeopleInsight
John Pensom is CEO of PeopleInsight with 20 years’ experience in the "people" business and gained deep knowledge in how technology, information and analytics drives business and culture change. PeopleInsight is a Canadian company delivering cloud-based workforce and business analytics; it connects and unlocks traditionally disparate HR, talent, engagement, business results and external market data to deliver rich insight through analytics in clear, visually appealing and actionable ways. Read more
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