Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Using employee data – it really isn’t rocket science

Any organisation employing more than a hand full of employees has employee data. They may not record it well, and therefore struggle to use it, but simple metrics such as Tenure/Turnover, Sickness, Absence and some basic form of Performance Data should be available to almost any business. The larger the outfit, the more metrics will be at hand: sales, new leads, customer feedback, team performance, detailed performance feedback, employee engagement data; the list is potentially endless. And so are the opportunities to use the data to aid improving performance.

And yet, ask a random (senior) manager in any organisation – large or small – what they learn from their people data, and the answer is likely to be: “What do you mean?”, or “Best to ask HR”. Managers in a Sales environment may just about be able to offer some ‘sales per employee’ insight (as this usually impacts on Sales staff remuneration), but that may well be as far as it goes. Sadly, more often than not, HR doesn’t have many answers either.

Compare this with how the average Finance department deals with dozens of performance, market and economic indicators it has within its reach, and the contrast could hardly be more pronounced. Before the working day has even properly started, Finance will have looked at the overnight market trends from the Far East, absorbed the latest currency forecasts, written a report or two about potential financial advantages to changes in sourcing, collected yesterday’s sales figures, and made a raft of decisions on the basis of what it has learned.And as a thank you for their numerical diligence, we call them Bean Counters. Of course, we have all seen examples where the accountant’s desire to achieve ‘best value for money’ lead to results that can best be described as ‘Penny wise and Pound foolish’, but the point should be clear: data is there to be used. Sadly, many of us aren’t very good at it.

Or are we? Is (employee) data really that difficult to understand or interpret? Or do we tend to MAKE it difficult? Or just BELIEVE it is difficult? Comparing one percentage with another, checking to see whether we can discover patterns or relationships, reflecting on why there has been a sudden drop in a particular figure, discussing why Team A is selling so much more than Team B; all of this really shouldn’t be hard. And nor should it be difficult to type up a page or so of what we have discovered, what we believe the impact may be of these findings, and what we propose to do in response. And yet, too often, we don’t seem to see the need to do it.

A good example, and one close to my heart, is when organisations collect employee engagement data. Data which, even to the not massively trained eye, can highlight fascinating dynamics in an organisation, flag up huge inconsistencies in how the business is managed and led, and offer countless opportunities helping turn the organisation into a more successful enterprise. More often than not though, much more time and money is spent collecting this information than effectively using it.

Yet, as said, it really isn’t that hard to do, and do it well. Allow me to offer some suggestions that can possibly help change this for you:

  • Questionnaire – your questionnaire should reflect what your business stands for and wants to achieve. If your questions can’t all be related back to your main objectives, you will struggle following up on them. This is an area where professional expertise may be required
  • Involvement – make sure you keep managers and employees in the loop as to what is happening with your survey, what they can do to help get a high response rate, and when they can expect to receive results for their areas
  • Analysing the main findings – try and obtain benchmarks, allowing you to put your data in context, and set aside some quality time to understand the findings and what these mean to the organisation moving forward. This is usually best done in a small team (as one person’s inevitable bias may impact too heavily on the analysis), where needed supported by an expert from outside.
  • Reporting – try and keep the period between receiving the feedback and reporting the main findings to a minimum. Make sure all managers and staff have seen an overall and balanced summary before they sit down with their own findings, and ideally, finish of this summary with some guidance to next steps. The latter would benefit from some pointers to what Senior Management is going to do in response to these findings.
  • Less is more – keep follow up areas to a minimum (2 – 3 max. per organisational level /group), and make sure you pick those areas where you expect general impact will be high and sustainable. Just 'sticking plasters' on issues is not going to help you in the long term.
  • Integrating findings with day-to-day business practice, vision, values and strategy – a lot of what you learn from your employee feedback should not come as a huge surprise, and you will probably find that much of what you learn can be connected with initiatives already in place, or about to be launched. If so: do precisely that! Just make sure you remember to close the loop by telling staff that this is what you have done, and that their survey feedback was a key contribution.
  • Have help at hand – once ‘lower level’ results (think Business Unit, Department, Location) are being disseminated into the organisation, having some form of help at hand (i.e. a trained internal specialist who can help answer questions managers may have) will dramatically increase your chances of success. And if this person also keeps a little bit of ‘friendly heat’ under the process, chances people will deliver are likely to improve significantly.

And finally: keep it simple! Try and dissuade your managers from over-analysing, or taking on more than is realistically manageable. It is much better to focus on two or three areas, and do these well, then to have a spreadsheet full of well-intended plans, and find none of them actually bear fruit.

Go for it!

Ruud Jansen Venneboer
Managing Partner
Think the Unthinkable

Think the Unthinkable helps organisations better understand the dynamics between their organisation and its various stakeholders. We can help measure, analyse and interpret, facilitate dialogue, and – where relevant – assist in sourcing relevant 3rd party providers. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you believe we may be able to be of assistance.

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