When you read ‘people analytics’, does your heart sink? Often, when we talk about people analytics we think of the missed opportunities. Turnover rate, exit surveys, and disengaged employees often take up more than their fair share of space in these conversations. As tools for collecting workplace data become more advanced, I think it’s time we shift the narrative on people analytics.

In every other area of business, data is life-critical. My C-Suite clients often explain that responding to metrics is relatively easy with cut-and-dry matters concerning products and services. Metrics on how employees operate, on the other hand, is a totally different ballgame.

At and within all levels of the org chart, people have completely subjective experiences. Marrying a hard science like data analysis with a soft science like HR has the real potential to produce shoddy results if poorly executed. With the right tools, however, people analytics has the potential to provide highly candid, constructive insight into how the organization’s gears are turning, and how we might tune them up.

The Trouble with People Analytics

Often, the most tenuous metrics result from poor planning and goal-setting. Polling your employees with a general “how are we doing” survey is only as useful as the system you have for filtering through these reports. There’s a significant difference between asking an open-ended question and asking an open-ended question with a goal in mind.

Let’s examine a hypothetical example, which is one I’ve seen come up time and time again. A large organization submits a blanket survey to every employee with simple, open-ended questions. Half of them are vague ratings from 1-10. Many are optional comments boxes. The questions are often to the tune of ‘How are we doing?’, ‘What could we do better?’, and ‘How happy are you with your manager?’.

The results are in – hundreds, maybe thousands, of them. Half of them involve vague ratings of 4, 5, and 6 with no comments to fill in the rationale. Many comment boxes involve complaints of lunch smells or spats between colleagues. Essentially, all we’ve done is ask ‘what’s it like to be you?’ and our teams answer accordingly. Unaware what comments are of value, they simply vent.

In these cases, the comment boxes left blank actually tell us the most. They tell us our teams are not confident that their response will have a desirable impact. Frankly, if we are not strategic with the questions we ask and the action we take, they’re right.

People Analytics as a Process Building Tool

To retrieve value from our analytical efforts, we must approach analysis the way we do when building new products and services. Our methods should be sandboxed within the realm of the problems we aim to solve. By narrowing the focus of our research, we can draw valuable insights from every angle of a challenge.

This approach becomes the basis for a bottom-up cultural transformation. Analytics give us the intelligence to observe how our obstacles affect teams individually, and whether any of them have already given thought to a solution. These metrics also allow us to gain a high-level view of cultural issues at the root, such as broken feedback loops and underdeveloped processes.

Do you have the tools you need to lead your team through a bottom-up cultural transformation? Our complimentary insights article, “Performance Management Innovation”, can help you translate feedback into action. Download your copy today.

The Impact of Processes on Culture

Whatever the size of your organization, process is the foundation of culture. The way ‘things are done around here’ is codified into each team member’s expectations of the work environment from their first day forward. As your people become more senior, these expectations solidify and cultural transformation becomes harder to achieve.

For most people, a change in behavior is most effectively attained when the rationale for the change is clear, and the benefits are tangible. When a bid for cultural transformation is based on data, whether via direct polling of the organization or from metrics pulled using people analytics tools, most people sit up and listen.

Even with analytics on your side, there are bound to be the naysayers and status-quo protectors who may fear, or even rally against, significant changes in the day-to-day. These people are why I recommend a solution-oriented approach.

When a cultural transformation is framed as a translation of people analytics into actions that benefit everyone, it’s much easier to earn buy-in from the more steadfast people on your team.

Strategy is Thoughtfulness

People analytics can also be invaluable for re-evaluating strategies. When pivoting strategically, it is crucial to align all departments towards common objectives. People analytics serve as a quantitative basis for aligning the goals and direction of each team.

Ultimately, strategy implies thoughtfulness. It is necessary to consider a realistic rendering of the organization as it currently is, before setting realistic benchmarks toward where it should be. People analytics enables us to do that using all the data sets that exist within the organization, along with the historical data that gives us a sense of the average pace of change.

How to Get Smart about People Analytics

As leaders, we’re in control of our investment in obtaining these key pieces of business intelligence. We can start by:

  • Narrowing the language when seeking insights from teams – rather than asking “How are we doing?”, asking “What could we be doing more efficiently?”
  • Using people analytics metrics and exercising transparency when seeking team input and buy-in for cultural transformation
  • Giving voice to both quantitative and qualitative data in the strategy-building process

If you’re intrigued by this approach but unsure how to introduce your teams to these tools, take East Tenth Group’s Balanced Leadership™ Assessment to identify how your leadership style intersects with your desire to implement cultural and strategic transformation.

For further guidance on using people analytics to lead change within your organization, I encourage you to contact my team and I at East Tenth Group today.

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