Five Questions You're Not Asking About Your People Data

Quick quiz--how many presentations have you given with percentages or pie charts?  Business has always been a numbers game.  Every proposal, every case, every request for funding--data drives decisions and we know it. And now we gone big. Big data.

Sure, big data is all the rage, but employing advanced techniques or technology won't be valuable unless you have the right foundation to begin with.  It's easy to get excited about the prospect of advanced data science, predictive analytics and algorithms.

None of that matters unless you have your data in order to begin with. Human resources teams collect buckets of metrics from numerous systems and sometimes never bother to wade through what the metrics actually mean. 

Before you go big, take a good look at your existing measures for an all-important reality check. Ask these five questions about your key people metrics:

1) Why are you measuring what you're measuring?

Technology has been a blessing and a curse for HR. We have more information at our fingertips, but we rely on systems to tell us what we should measure. And behind those systems are people who are great at technology but have zero HR experience. How do they know what should be measured? They don't know HR or your company like you do.

Try this: do an internal review of key metrics asking "why?" for every single measure. If there's not a good business reason for the metric or it's not a component of an important correlation, dump it.  Fewer measures with impact can tell a much better story than a slide deck full of numbers.

2) Do you have your own benchmarks?

It's tempting to go into the boardroom showcasing where your company stands against others. But what does that actually tell you about your own organization? Vendors entice us with huge repositories of competitive data--which can be valuable.  However, looking only externally means you're not focused on specific company goals. What's good for another organization might not be the right focus for you.

Try this: set several benchmarks that have zero to do with the outside world. Consider goals that align with other areas of your business like revenue, market share or brand awareness.

3) Do you have any measures that are future focused?

When we measure success we have a tendency to look in the past: what happened what is happening now and why did it happen? But sometimes the past doesn't reflect where you're headed. Take the metaphor of buying stock. You don't buy a stock based on past performance. You buy it based on future potential. This is the crux of predictive analytics--the measurement technique that firms like Amazon are applying with rigor to their business and talent processes. 

Try this: you may not have the data scientists on staff that big tech firms do, but you can evaluate your people and workforce dashboards to evaluate if any of the measures are focused on predicting potential of what might happen. If they're not, explore what one future-focused measure might matter the most and try that first.

4) Are you correlating your data sources?

Data dumps can result in those long PowerPoint decks full of pie charts. But alone, metrics don't tell a story. Instead of just measuring where applicants come from, cross-correlate that with demographic data, social network use or years of work experience. Understanding those correlations allow you to better target marketing efforts and spend in certain regions (as one example.)

Try this: take one job requisition you typically have trouble filling and pull five to ten data points about past applicants for that job and employees hired for the role. Experiment correlating each of the data points with each other to see what interesting stories arise. That's where the real insight happens.

5) Are you looking outside HR for examples of the right measures? 

In recruiting, the old "source of hire" metric is a standby. Technically though, it tells you almost nothing. There's not one candidate in this day and age who finds a job and decides to apply based on a single source. With this perspective in hand, we learned from our consumer marketing colleagues and created the first "source of influence" measure for our clients. We look to see what influenced a candidate along the way, and where that influence occurred. 

Try this: instead of asking applicants where they found the job posting or heard about the job, ask about their primary influence instead. What most motivated the applicant to apply?

Sure, it's tempting to think big. But a tower of data without a strong foundation is really just a workforce house of cards.

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps  companies build cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.

Image Credit: By DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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