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Bring your HR data to life – The why behind the what

Image: Stuart Miles |

There’s a lot of focus today on Big Data and analytics and this extends into all areas of business, HR included. We get it and we’re huge proponents of its value—in fact we’ve built our business on workforce analytics and insight. We know that numbers can tell us what’s working and what’s not within an organization. They can identify how much it costs and how long it takes to recruit a new employee; where, when and who is leaving the organization; who the top performers are; where we experience the highest productivity, and so much more. So data can tell us a great deal about what, who and where things are happening in an organization.

We also know that numbers alone cannot tell us the whole story—they cannot tell us why these things are happening and what can be done about it. Numbers cannot tell us the experience of those involved. To get to that level of understanding, you need to engage in qualitative research with employees—that is, you need to get up close and personal with employees. This involves asking, listening, and observing what life is really like for those within the organization.

With the heavy focus and high value placed on data and analytics, it’s critical to keep reminding ourselves that, in the end, the data and the numbers are a representation of the people, their experiences, their behaviours, and the outcomes of their activities. Without the people, there is no data and there are no numbers.

Bringing the two perspectives together—qualitative and quantitative—enables you to have a 360 view of any business issue or area. Not only that, but the simple act of involving employees in the process can have a positive impact—leaving employees feeling respected, heard, and valued.

You may be thinking you don’t have the time or the resources to engage in this type of investigation. It’s a common objection—but the reality is, getting to this level of understanding is not as difficult as it may seem. It doesn’t need to take huge amounts of time, resources or money—in fact, it shouldn’t. You need to change the mindset that everything is a big undertaking requiring weeks or months of planning, design and implementation. In most cases, you can be two weeks (or less) away from a richer, more nuanced and actionable perspective on a business problem you’ve been facing.

Take one priority or high-value area you are focused on this year. Maybe it’s reducing First Year Turnover or profiling Top Performers or Succession Planning. No matter what the area, you can get started very quickly building holistic insight and understanding that will lead to targeted action and business results.

  1. Start with the data you have. Take the data you have and begin to segment it in meaningful ways. What does the data tell you? What’s missing? Figure out what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’d like to know about the issue at hand. Don’t spend too much time in the weeds of Excel—if you can’t find information easily, move onto #2 and start building insight.
  2. Design and distribute a survey for the specific employee group. Don’t make this a big survey project—consider it a quick touch-point or pulse check. In terms of First Year Turnover, start with a general survey to all new employees. This will give you some insight into the experiences of new hires at different points during the first year with your company. Over time, you may want to develop a more rigorous, automated and multi-pronged survey program that touches New Hires at several points during the first year and focuses on different milestones –e.g. the candidate experience, onboarding, 90-day check-in, 6 month check-in, etc. As well, you should consider implementing a Quality of Hire survey, sent to hiring managers at the 90-120 day mark of an employee’s tenure.
  3. Analyze and segment the data. As the survey data starts to roll in, identify different areas where context and clarity would be valuable. Taking our First Year Turnover example explore: Which areas of the first year experience are getting rave reviews, which are not? In which groups/departments/regions are new hires most and least satisfied? What is the profile of new hires that are exceeding expectations?
  4. Go to the source with qualitative research. Pick an area or two where you need more information to move forward. Give a voice to employees—ask questions, listen hard, and observe first-hand the employee experience. This involves letting go of preconceived notions, biases or stereotypes. Ideally, this is done by someone outside the organization with expertise in qualitative research—this gives employees the chance to be as open as they can be. There are several options for qualitative discovery:
    • Focus groups or interviews (to uncover perceptions, beliefs, attitudes)
    • Ethnographic or contextual research (in situ observation, exploration of behaviours, uncovering informal culture)
    • Online immersions (using online research tools to delve into experiences, great for capturing the First Year experience of employees from Day 1 to Day 365 and beyond, fantastic for younger employees who live/breathe online interactions)
  5. Connect the numbers with the stories for a comprehensive, 360 picture of the area under study. By combining the numbers (survey) with the experience (qualitative), you have a rich story to tell, one grounded in real experiences. It’s not just a turnover number on a page any longer, but now you can say that First Year Turnover peaks at 9 months and you can talk about the contributing factors that lead to this. Then, you can start to talk about ways in which you can curb this trend.
  6. Take action. Whatever the focus, you are now armed with powerful insight that can be turned into meaningful action.
    • With an in-depth understanding of the New Hire journey you can begin to think of compelling ways to nurture those new to the organization throughout their first year and beyond
    • With a rich profile of the most successful New Hires you can think of ways to attract more of these types of people, and ways to move others in the organization along the path to top performance.
  7. Keep connected. Now that you’ve established a connection with a group of employees, nurture that relationship. Connect with them every few months via survey to take the pulse. Embrace the feedback they can provide. Engage in qualitative as necessary to flesh out areas that need more context… or just to keep in touch. Demonstrating genuine interest and listening to employees in an ongoing manner can go a long way.

While data is king these days, it’s important to remember that the algorithms, the analytics, the numbers, and the charts and graphs are only part of the story. Engaging with the people who make up the numbers is essential if we want to fully understand an issue. When analytics and qualitative understanding collide, beautiful things happen—like seeing an issue clearly, knowing what to do about it, and driving towards engaged employees and elevated people performance. So whether you have a robust workforce analytics solution in place that points to an area for more investigation or you’ve identified an issue you need to understand more, consider complementing your data with qualitative research – you’ll be amazed at the insight.

It’s your workforce data. You should use it.

Lynne Russell
VP Research & Insights, PeopleInsight

Lynne is a corporate anthropologist—and, over the past 15 years, has had some pretty cool gigs in the consumer and employee space. With PeopleInsight clients, Lynne spends her time conducting focus groups, interviews, online immersions and ethnography. Through qualitative research with employees, Lynne unearths the experiences, beliefs and behaviours that, when combined with the numbers, tell a rich and full story. Read more about PeopleInsight below.

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PeopleInsight Workforce Analytics

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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