I attended an HR analytics conference in 2014, and was very impressed by the HR analytics work done in excel by Elouise Leonard-Cross, then of Home Group, in the North-East of England.
The Home Group HR team did a great job by keeping things simple. They did the basics of HR right, they ran a range of HR initiatives, from normal – training, team sizing, balancing demographics – to some fun extras such as branded fruit juices. The really impressive thing was strategic focus: they tracked each initiative against a few key variables that their organization had agreed were strategically important: customer impact, individual performance, absence. For each initiative, they were able to identify which had an impact, and which not.
I thought back to Elouise’s work when considering the question for this series of articles: how can the HR function give analytics value in 1 week, 1 month and 1 year? I also had a chance to catch up with Elouise again, and her subsequent work & career development is an exciting story for anyone who values HR Analytics.
Driving HR analytics value in 1 week
Let’s start with one week. In a week, you have to keep things simple. You cannot implement a clever new software system. You cannot change any policy in the organization. You can, however, do a lot to set the direction and confirm the value of the HR Analytics function. Here is a shortlist of 5 steps, one per day, to deliver some immediate and long-lasting value.
- What single over-riding business purpose would motivate everyone in the business?
- What are the business’s strategic priorities? (owners?) shouldn’t we know these already?
- What existing analytics are being done, who looks at them and what do they think and do?
- How much is being spent on internal & external people analytics?
- What is the regular schedule over the next 12 months for reviewing the outputs & connecting to new priorities?
Let’s go over these one by one to see how they can deliver the most value.
1. Monday: A Single Over-Riding Purpose
The challenge of thinking through a single over-riding purpose is a good one for any organization, and it can orient all other analytical questions.
At our company OrgVue, a platform for business transformation, we focus on the value people are getting. For that, people using the platform per month is a key metric. It’s up on the wall for reference when discussing our internal analytics, product direction, and client support.
Other organizations have transformed themselves by using a shared reference point to co-ordinate change. Alcoa, a U.S. aluminum producer, saw a deep and successful transformation when a new CEO took office and focused all conversations on safety. As one aim that everyone could agree on, it helped the organization to discuss the other things that were needed: joint working, analyzing, tracking, learning from errors, simplification, training. The result was a transformation in performance along with a significant improvement in safety.
Similarly, when Atul Gawande sought to implement the World Health Organization’s checklists for better health, he oriented hospitals around simple goals, such as reducing the number of deaths. It was a clear target and it motivated everyone to get behind new ways of working.
2. Tuesday: Strategic priorities
Even when the overall purpose is clear and aligned, how to achieve it is up for grabs.
Not everyone has the same understanding of strategic targets. Should we prioritize sales of product or sales of services? Should we focus more on new customers or customer retention? New features, or usability? There will be different answers from each person in the organization, and from each executive, until an explicit discussion is had about strategic priorities.
Setting strategic priorities can’t be sorted out in one day, but if the Head of HR Analytics can have the conversation with the HR Director (or the HRD with the CEO), it helps to set the scene for all that follows. Should the executive team already be aligned on the priorities? Perhaps. But all too often there are different views, so go as high as you can to get the best view that you can. The output should be a list of ‘assumed strategic priorities for the business.’ That’s Tuesday done.
3. Wednesday: The existing analytics landscape
What existing people analytics are going on in the business? How often (regular or ad hoc?) Who looks at them? And the old classic question: if you were to stop doing this report for a month or two, would anyone notice? What do your customers think of the HR analysis that is being produced? What decisions are they changing because of what the reports say?
On Wednesday, you should be able to populate a list of all the analytics that are happening, who uses them, whether they find them useful, and what they actually do with them. Your target should be to find the 3 least used reports and to stop them!
4. Thursday: How much is being spent on internal and external analytics?
How much do you spend on all this analytical work? Of course, it’s not only your internal team that carries out People analytics. Most large organizations see a rotating carousel of consultants coming in to offer insight – spans, layers, pay vs. benchmarks or the opportunities to restructure or off-shore.
Can you map the spend to the existing analytics landscape from yesterday? Don’t know the spend? Don’t sweat it. Assume a day rate per consultant and make a rough estimate of how much is going where. The aim here is to get a rough idea of where the organization is putting its time and money, and the returns it gets for each line item of analytics.
5. Friday: Healthy review cycle
What is the regular schedule over the next 12 months for reviewing the outputs & connecting to new priorities? Would it work for you and your boss to sit down once every 3 months to review what analytics are happening, and how they connect to the strategic aims of the business?
How about if you knew how many decisions were getting changed on the basis of the analysis, and how much it was costing you to produce? Are there any systems you could switch off, because they are simply not needed anymore? Are there strategic questions that are important for the business that are not being addressed with analytical insight? Could you redirect your resources there?
At the end of one week, you should have a much better idea of your strategic direction than you had at the start. You should have reached out to your directors or managers and re-aligned your team’s work with their aims. You may have produced a populated template that will stand as a point-in-time report on your analytics, its cost and its impact – and a foundation for adding even more value in the future.
Back to Home Group
So what became of the approach that was developed at Home Group? I caught up with Elouise Leonard-Cross recently (pictured below). She is now working in the UK at NCG, one of the UK’s largest national college groups. She has gone from HR Analytics, to Learning and Organisational Development Director, to Strategy Director, has completed her doctorate on organizational analytics, had a child, and developed a new theory called Orgscaping. A busy 5 years!
Her career has focused on using people data to help the organization think strategically –and it is notable that she has now been asked to work directly with the Chief Executive on strategy setting & the consequences of that for organizational data, analysis, and action.
Leonard-Cross sees the context setting for analytics as being just as important as the right software package:
“A lot of organizations don’t have a budget to buy in software, but can get started with a way of thinking. I call it ‘orgscaping.’ You get the psychology right, then you work with a specialist analyst further down the line. People say that ‘our data is a mess’ but unless you know what you need, what questions you want to answer, what you’re willing to do with the answers, there is no point.“
“For example, at Home Group, we did the basics on getting the data right. Then we drilled down further into how people were actually performing. That showed that the compliance data of some of the people who looked like great leaders – often they were strong extroverts – were not actually very good. They did not always do the basics right. The organization has to be ready to face up to that and take action to address it. It’s just like coaching an individual: you have to get the organization ready, get them prepared to use the data, get them psychologically ready…”
“As a good coach, the person has the solution and you have to hold the mirror up. My big issue is that many organizations don’t really want to face the pain of what they want to know and what they are willing to do with what it throws up. You can have the best software in the world, but the business has to be ready to look at the data and take action from it!”
I’m really pleased with the approach that Leonard-Cross is taking because it is strongly rooted in the strategy and the business impact. This strongly aligns with our approach to getting the Vision and Mission clear as a precursor to data-driven organization design.
If you are interested in downloading the one week HR analytics impact template you can get it here. In a follow-up article, we will look in more detail at the Orgscaping approach developed by Leonard-Cross, and this time will offer a 12-month action plan, with new HR Analytics value each month.