People Analytics: how small wins make all the difference

and how to make true impact leveraging the data you already have at your disposal
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Try a Google-search on ‘People Analytics’ and soon you’ll find yourself lost in a flood of mostly very abstract content on how business should be driven by data and why proper analytics supposedly can take away all uncertainty around our decision-making. One-liners like “Don’t do People Analytics, but do Business Analytics”, “Don’t report on today, but predict tomorrow” and “Don’t count the people, make the people count” are the kind of bumper stickers that you will find in most blogs and articles

For teams that are already very mature in using data around people processes these mantra’s are potentially useful, but what if, like the vast majority of HR teams, your organization is not there yet? Even though it all sounds great of a slide, these big statements don’t do anything if you are still struggling to report on a solid monthly headcount for Finance to execute payroll. Or your executives just want a monthly check-in on training compliance or new recruits.

A more useful statement in that case is ‘start small, simple and move fast’. Effectively this means starting small with a simple, but highly intuitive interactive dashboard in a BI tool and use it to initiate a data-dialogue with the people around you. Use a dashboard to have a structured conversation around fairly simple questions. Are we on the same page that these metrics are meaningful? Do you trust the data used as input? How do these metrics impact our decision-making? What insights do we need to be better?

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This doesn’t only help you to eliminate the endless back and forth with Excel sheets and the continuous misunderstanding about what it really is you and your stakeholders are talking about. More importantly it will engage people to re-think processes and ingrained ways of working. You will find that even the simplest HR dashboard makes people start to ask questions that actually matter. Is our academy making the learning impact we aim for? What does these performance ratings actually tell us? Does that employee well-being initiative actually bring our absenteeism rate down? Did that new benefit scheme affect our employee turn-over? What media investments actually make us hire successful applicants?

Big questions to answer and they even sometimes feel almost impossible to answer when you have made your analytics objectives too big too soon.  But answering these questions is very feasible without spending weeks on trying to connect different excels and databases together. The key is to start small, but broad and build from there in steps that are driven by user feedback. Having set-up dozens of companies with meaningful reporting solutions and dashboards, we have identified the following three steps.

1.      Create an interactive, siloed dashboard with trustworthy data that is available to you

Without realizing it, you can already do a lot of impactful data storytelling with the data you currently have. Most likely all your basic people processes around onboarding, job changes, performance reviews, etc. are captured in your HR solution. Making meaningful visuals on basic numbers, trends, attention points, etc. will already allow you to have a productive conversation. Maybe you even have registrations on training sessions in some spreadsheet, or a recruitment tool that holds statuses of candidates in procedure. Even though very basic, this is all data that can provide a clear direction to decisions.

Available data needs to be extracted, combined, sometimes transformed and loaded into a BI tool to create a robust and flexible data model. Doing this is always not easy but will lay the groundwork for any future reporting ambitions you have. And with data structured combined and in useful relation to each other 75% of the work is already done.

After this, you can visualise the data in simple, but intuitive data visuals on your dashboards. Basic insight like spend learning hours per department, turn-over per business unit or conversion of applicants into new hires might already carry you a long way.

And of course, these are not predictive analytics already. Also, these insight might not tell you how all people and culture processes as a whole boost the wider company performance, but remember;  start small, create a data mindset and work from there.  And while you are at it, reflect on the amount of low-value reporting work you have eliminated…

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2.      Clean data & collect missing data

Soon you will realize that you are missing data or that some of the data you do have available is of poor quality. Consider this a good opportunity! Being data-driven starts with seeing the possibilities on how to build out People Analytics and your team is currently discovering just that.

Talk to your users and your management. Sanity-check and prioritize their wishes for new metrics and reports and extend your dashboards step-by-step. Try to find an answer to that one important question within your organisation that is always a recurring topic. Using limited data in order to work to a solid answer to that question that seems to be important in your organisation or industry is way more effective then collecting data without a vision. Start small, engage and extend from there, right.

3.      Bring HR data together

So far, we’ve looked at mostly siloed dashboards for different people processes. For most organisations these are already a giant leap forward in managing human resource functions. But bringing data on different people processes together is of course the end game. How does our learning offering affect employee performance within specific teams? Does employee engagement drive employee retention? What recruitment channels bring us candidates that turn out to be promotable employees with the best talent review scores? Big questions that really can make big shifts.

But be careful, throwing around random statistics without any context and without HR experts telling the story is not a successful way forward. No matter how well prepared your data is and no matter how stunning your dashboard looks, it is key to deeply understand the users questions and dig out that insight that really tells them something.

It will take time and significant effort but following the order of things and involving the right skills will make your impact the organisation in a big way. In the end these big statements on people analytics will apply. Until that time, a mantra to keep close is “start predicting tomorrow by starting reporting yesterday”

For more good conversations on people analytics reach out to Konstantinos Ioannou and Remco Schenk of worldofwork™