Last week, we hosted the first of a new meetup series – Pancakes and People Analytics – that does exactly as the name suggests. Here’s what I learned sharing delicious pancakes with some of the brightest minds in people analytics.

First off, let me just say the pancakes were phenomenal. But beyond that, we had Geoff Ho from Roger’s Communications, who shared how he’s driving employee experience with data while the rest of us HR folk ate pancakes, mingled, and shared insights and tips about employee experience and people analytics programs.

Here are 5 things I learned:

1. “People Analytics” is hotter than ever. We just can’t afford to operate without data anymore

With a booming economy and a tight talent market, organizations are scrambling to understand exactly what will attract talent, keep people engaged and developing at work, and ensure that the culture and workplace they build drives optimal business outcomes. All of that is impossible if you don’t have access to people data. The good news is that for the first time in HR’s history, data is proliferating — and data about people has never been more available.

This is a pivotal moment for HR because if we don’t leverage the data in strategic ways (i.e, drive frontline management change while driving strategic HR at the very top of the org) this proliferation of data will just add to the noise. We’re at a point where HR’s chance to be truly seen as the strategic group in the business could slip if we don’t learn how to leverage this data.

2. People analytics leaders need to see themselves as storytellers

“Great data analysts tell stories” Geoff proclaimed to the group of pancake eaters, “And we’ve got to really know our audience when we present data.

Data is only as powerful as the story we use it to tell and the outcomes it drives. I’m by no means saying make your data say something it doesn’t, but when you talk with the Head of Engineering, that’s when you talk about the statistical modeling used to identify the employee experience gaps within your org. When you share data with the Marketing org or the CEO, you’ll want to take a different approach.

If you’re in people analytics, the most overlooked skill is storytelling and ‘translating’. It’s our job to bring the data to life and make it meaningful and usable for leaders across the organization. That’s how you get people to act on it.

3. Great people analytics teams aren’t made of data analysts

For many of the attendees at the event, standing up a people analytics team started with data analysts but the most effective starting point begins with I/O psychologists and organizational behavior specialists because they understand statistics, research theory, and even a little bit of data visualization.

If you start with just data analysts, you may not even have enough data to do analysis— an I/O psychologist can help you get the right amount and right type of data. These people also tend to have a passion for the HR issues as well. So start hiring I/O psychologists and when you’re ready, pair them with data scientists to drive maximum team effectiveness.

4. Action planning matters. Interpreting data matters more.

We’re hearing a lot about the importance of action planning in the Employee Experience field — but if your managers struggle to even interpret the data, taking action will be just as hard.

Today, HR business partners work to close the gap for managers when it comes to interpreting data and insights, and turning them to action with leaders. But what if your HRBPs can’t interpret the data, and what if you don’t even have HRBPs? When you launch an employee listening program, make sure you’re using technology, services, and communication tools that empower managers to interpret results first — that way they can take even better action.

5. Benchmarking effectiveness depends on your organization’s maturity

You either love, hate, or aren’t quite sure how to use employee engagement benchmarks. The consensus at the event was that the effectiveness of benchmarks really varies based on your organization’s maturity.

Let me explain… If you don’t have trending data or a historic record of your employee experience data, you need to know industry-wide what key things people are focusing on, how people are scoring, etc. Once you get that depth of data, you might always need certain areas where you want to benchmark (e.g., compensation benchmarks) but you won’t need them in other areas once you have your own data and you can internally benchmark against previous years.”

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