I recently read an interview with a business leader about how people analytics drives business outcomes. The interviewee said that “Insight without outcome is simply overhead.” While this is absolutely true, the comment leaves out another key component of effective people analytics: “Analytics without action is simply overhead.”
At Visier, we recognize there is a path for people analytics projects that begins with the need to identify the specific business challenge (such as minimizing high performer turnover or improving female leadership equality), followed by conducting an analysis to gather more information, gleaning insights from the analytics, taking action on these insights, and achieving results based on that action.
Laid bare, this “analytics path” shows that you don’t simply perform an analysis and get the desired results – there are crucial steps in between analytics and outcomes. I’ve written extensively about these analytics paths, where I share numerous real-life examples.
What is the nature of successful action?
After publishing the first set of analytics paths, I took a deeper look at actions, made two observations, and drew one conclusion:
- Analytics is a journey. It is not a “one-and-done” process that is complete once a cool-looking visualization is achieved. Rather, it’s an iterative practice, where one analysis generates another. Digging deeper often reveals that a completely new set of analysis needs to be done, which can create value your team might not have envisioned when addressing your business challenge.
For example, you decide one action to reduce turnover is to train the retained employees to sell new products, which leads to increased revenue. As you’ll see in the real-world examples below, continuously digging deeper into your data reveals new layers – new actions – that may produce better outcomes than what you initially expected.
- Taking action is the hardest part to create results. The reality is that we can’t just wave a magic wand once we have insights and immediately execute the actions we need to get to the results we want. One reason is that effective, meaningful action starts with a culture change.
Our brilliant Visier customers almost always need to engage in some form of change management (I’ve compiled leading practices for this here). It may take the form of convincing the right stakeholders to put HR’s suggestions into action or require an enterprise-wide push towards a data-driven culture, one where everyone from the top level to front line managers are acting on insights from analytics every day.
- Action requires conversation!
Action requires you to speak up
Though change management may seem intimidating, it really starts with mastering one simple practice: conversation.
Conversation is the common word appearing in almost every set of actions taken in the analytics path research. Customers take action through “a discussion” – a form of conversation. Sometimes, they get from insights to results by first “coming to an agreement” – another form of conversation.
To achieve the right outcomes, you will have to talk about your insights with key stakeholders and in that talking, that conversation, you will come to the actions necessary to create results.
- An action taken by Sabre to reduce turnover of high performers included creating engagement plans for employees at risk of leaving, such as holding discussions between the manager and the employee about career paths. Further, through exit interviews, the team of the people manager, the HR Business Partner, and talent managers found that intentional one-on-one engagement (a conversation) had a more powerful impact on retention than a financial incentive.
- Actions taken to improve diversity and inclusion at an industrial manufacturer consisted of programs for hiring managers to mitigate unconscious bias, such as workshops on how to have inclusive conversations with job candidates. The latter resulted in improved hiring experiences for women and minority candidates.
- At BBVA, reducing turnover for a key revenue-producing role included the development of branch-level action plans to address issues with compensation, employee onboarding, new hire training, and training managers to set expectations with employees on career progression – all during conversations with stakeholders.
- At Merck KGaA, their analysis efforts confirmed that no magic number exists for a span of control. But from this, the people analytics team and HRBPs had conversations with business leaders on the right solutions to implement based on this insight. They asked a myriad of questions that led to more analyses and people leaders began to be able to make their own fact-based decisions on how best to adapt their organization.
- Celgene has a people analytics and workforce planning methodology that engages all stakeholders involved in planning with fact-based conversations. This methodology improved headcount plans equal to tens of millions of dollars in operating expense reclassification and a 20% reduction in their annual recruiting budget. The promise of more savings as the analytics and business teams partner to improve onboarding, IT, and facilities provisioning processes is there as they continue their conversations backed with data.
- At a financial services firm, their ongoing monitoring of optimized spans and layers has fostered accountability on cost control. If leaders see staff augmentation creeping up to avoid an employee-based span of control increase beyond a 15% manager population target, they have conversations to determine if the managers can bring it down. They have one of the highest efficiency ratios of their peer group.
In all these cases, the action stems from conversations based on insights from data and analytics. Actions require conversations between the analytics team and the HRBP community, between the HRBP community and their people leaders, between managers and their employees.
To master the art of data-driven conversations, HR must become data journalists. This involves helping busy managers and C-suite leaders quickly understand the meaning and value of the insights being provided.
For the average person, data without a narrative is like a trip into the wilderness without a compass: overwhelming and disorienting. That’s why data journalism – a kind of factual storytelling based on data – is a vital skill for everyone in HR.
When the facts are tied together by a good story, an otherwise intimidating journey turns into an enriching experience. With the right data visualizations, key insights revealing cause-and-effect relationships can be woven into narratives that are accessible even to non-technical audiences.
Making moments matter
It’s worth mastering the art of conversation through data journalism, as hopefully demonstrated by the stories I’ve shared. Visier provides the technology that makes it easy to bring out our innate ability to tell stories, ones that not only engage but persuade -a key driver of change.
Insights without action will never lead to improved outcomes. Action doesn’t happen without conversations.
The stories above have one other key component: The narrative stems from connecting the workforce data and insights to business results. This enables key stakeholders to tell the stories through conversations with the right people to promote improved decisions – taking action. Through having the right data visualizations that answer key questions, they can weave together narratives showing the relationship between the data findings and how they improve business outcomes in ways that are accessible to non-technical audiences.
The business outcomes are phenomenal as documented from the above stories in key moments that matter that drive value from people analytics and workforce planning and summarized below.
We see business outcomes of improved revenue and cost savings first across the range of employee life cycle processes where so many organizations are focusing on improving employee experience. We see even greater financial impact stemming from organizational effectiveness activities focused on optimizing plans, structure, and productivity. Now isn’t this the kind of summary story you want to be able to tell your key stakeholders to drive them to action?