Employee Experience

People analytics: How to use HR data to drive business results

People analytics deliver actionable insights to improve the way your organization does business – and the impact HR has on the bottom line.

Today’s CHROs make data-driven decisions that have a ripple impact on the entire organization. This new generation of HR professionals understands the key categories of organizational data, how people analytics fits within the overall operational data strategy, and most importantly, the workplace strategies that actively influence the overall performance of their company.

New to the world of people analytics? Here’s a closer look at what it is, the metrics you should measure, how to get started, and a case study demonstrating people analytics in action.

What is people analytics?

In the not-so-distant past, HR departments would attempt to justify investments, programs, and strategies by recording and tracking impact on retention. They would use abstract “cost of replacement” calculations based on outside research to show how employee engagement or participation in leadership development programs would save money through more retained employees.

Essentially, they tried to indirectly show correlation to profitability.

Nowadays, savvy HR professionals leverage rapid data gathering techniques and data analytics platforms like Qualtrics to acquire and demonstrate where there are direct correlations between their actions and the overall performance of the business.

Get started with your free Qualtrics account.

The data collected via these techniques and platforms is people analytics, also commonly known as HR analytics or workforce analytics. With people analytics, organizations are able to make smarter, more strategic, and data-backed talent decisions throughout the employee lifecycle – from more diverse hiring decisions and better performance management to improved retention rates. People analytics deliver actionable insights to improve the way your organization does business – and the impact HR has on the bottom line.

“At Rogers Communications, we take people data seriously. We do rigorous analytics with this data so we can decide what people programs to build, what people strategies to implement, and what ultimately will take our organization to the next level."

We’re trying to help our leaders do the right thing for our employees, our customers, and the company, based on the best evidence and people data.”

Geoff Ho, PhD, Director of Organization Development Research at Rogers Communications

What types of people analytics should I measure?

In order to use people analytics to support your organization, you must look at four different types of data across the organization:

Organizational performance metrics, such as:

  • Revenue per employee – revenue divided by the number of employees in the organization.
  • Operating margin – profit represented by the percentage of revenue left over after all operating expenses are subtracted.
  • Earnings per share and total shareholder return – a measurement of the amount of profit or value a holder of one share of the company would receive.
  • Return on assets (ROA) – net income divided by assets.

Workplace monitoring metrics form the basis of what people typically call a “big data” set when merged with the other data sets to see which individual and combined elements influence the key organizational metrics. These metrics include:

  • Open hiring requisitions
  • Time to fill open requisitions
  • Cost per hire
  • Number of candidates/interviews per hire
  • Worker productivity
  • Worker quality
  • Absentee rate
  • Safety incidents
  • Voluntary vs. involuntary terminations
  • Average performance rating

Key customer metrics are typically gathered and tracked by marketing or customer experience (CX) teams. A centralized and combined database of HR and CX data is integral to analyzing and tracking the impact your team has on the metrics that define (and better and refine) the outcomes of your work. Some of the most common customer metrics are:

Voice of the employee data helps organizations understand behavioral, opinion, and other qualitative data about employees to allow them to draw new conclusions and pinpoint actions, management techniques, and operational changes. These metrics are gathered via:

Each of these data elements will inform and influence different areas of the organization, but when analyzed together, they will allow you to make a compelling business case for how and why you want to execute any sort of initiative, project, or program. Identify which metrics you hope to influence at each level and how you hope to influence them by showing the correlations (or connections) between each effort and metric.

Learn more about collecting voice of the employee data with an Employee Pulse Survey.

What are the benefits of people analytics?

Now that you’re familiar with which HR data to gather and measure, you’re probably wondering about the benefits of doing so.

With a people analytics program, you can:

  • Enhance business performance. Leveraging people analytics improves revenue per employee by four percent.
  • Improve diversity and inclusion. Identifying metrics for diversity ratios at every stage of the hiring process helps ensure equity throughout it. With metrics, you can also set tangible goals for fostering a culture of belonging.
  • Tackle your turnover problem. People analytics allow you to identify the cost savings of retention programs by analyzing the direct and indirect costs of turnover in relation to compensation, absenteeism, productivity, and learning and development.
  • Solicit investment in your programs. Show your executives the impact of your initiatives over time and convince them to keep investing in your work by predicting the outcomes of your efforts.
  • Build a world-class employee experience. Every interaction an employee has with an organization is a data point that can be utilized to glean insights – and improve EX.

“Many companies strive to make their sales force more effective and efficient, but few look at them through the lens of people data to do so."

Piyush Mathur, Global Head of Workforce Analytics at Johnson & Johnson

"At Johnson & Johnson, we ask ourselves: what characteristics do successful salespeople have in common? How can we recruit and develop our people to replicate traits that will lead to success? People analytics can help answer these questions in a way that drives direct business impact.”

What does a people analytics program look like?

Like many organizations, Ford Motor Company had relied on broad, traditional surveys to understand how employees were feeling.

“After extensive research, we realized the organization would benefit from more focused, frequent, and comprehensive employee sentiment data,” said Dr. Marina Pearce, Global Talent Analytics Lead at Ford.

As a result, Ford developed an ‘ask-listen-observe’ approach — this involves compiling active and passive data elements to tell a more comprehensive story (versus the data collected from just one survey per year, as an example).

What Ford does Where (and how) Ford collects data
Ask In a very structured way, Ford explicitly asks people to give their opinions and feedback on a particular thing.
  • Focus groups
  • Pulses
  • Surveys
  • Polls
  • Interviews
Listen Ford listens to employees, which is a very unstructured way to learn what your employees are naturally talking about in a public forum.
  • Social media posts
  • Glassdoor reviews
  • Informal discussions during meetings
Observe Observing is about quantifying behavior around a specific sentiment topic (such as culture change). Ex. culture change — if Ford wants to know the employee behaviors around culture, they measure:

  • Are employees attending events about culture?
  • Are they watching videos about culture?
  • Are they downloading culture playbooks?
  • Are they interacting with culture-related content in a positive and expected way?

Combining those ‘ask-listen-observe’ results, Dr. Pearce and her global talent analytics team then share them with Ford’s internal decision-makers to help shape new programs to meet the needs and desires of employees.

How do I get started with people analytics?

Feeling inspired to make data-driven decisions and improve employee experience at your organization? Here’s a quick guide for getting started with people analytics:

  1. Assess the readiness of your organization. Are members of your board or C-suite asking about ways to improve efficiencies? Have leaders (in other departments) discussed the positive ROI of analytics and technology? If the answers to these questions are yes, your people analytics program is already in good company.
  2. Identify your data champions. Finding fellow (internal) data champions can help you get buy-in, build your business case, and navigate any potential culture change around putting people analytics to use.
  3. Formulate impactful questions. To draw insight into your organization, look at your overall business goals. Determine how HR and EX fit into those goals, then work backwards to the types of questions you’d like answered – and the areas you want to improve on.
  4. Be prepared to look deeper in your data. People analytics will enable you to go beyond typical HR questions to understand the “why” – such as:
  • Why are you overspending on your overtime budget?
  • Why aren’t total rewards aligned with the actual needs and wants of your employees?
  • Why are voluntary terminations increasing?
  1. Choose your people analytics software. Qualtrics offers a suite of HR and EX tools for gathering and analyzing your people data.

Trends in the field of people analytics to keep on your radar

Underestimate People Analytics at your peril. The market size is currently estimated to be worth $1.7 billion (and growing quickly). So where are the opportunities, and what do you need to keep on your radar?

1. AI, AI and more AI

AI has permeated into every facet of HR, from recruitment, to employee experience, right through to L&D and, of course, People Analytics.

It’s going to free up HR to focus on problem solving

Excitingly, People Analytics is embracing AI. One way it’s doing this is by leveraging predictive algorithms and modeling to do the heavy data lifting — freeing up leaders to focus on the strategy and big-picture problem solving.

AI is not going to replace us

Although AI is becoming ubiquitous within EX, the general consensus is that it can never fully replace humans. The best results will be achieved with humans and AI complementing each other. This is necessary as AI is missing a fundamentally crucial aspect of HR: empathy.

This includes things like being able to predict resilience and emotional intelligence. Despite this, we’ll undoubtedly still try — but by using AI to predict these aspects of potential, we run the risk of falling further into an already deep human-based bias hole.

Potential skills gap

Although the emergence of AI in these areas is making some roles redundant, it’s also creating new roles in its wake. According to one speaker, for every job that’s currently eliminated, 2-3+ jobs are created to support the building of an AI infrastructure.

However, the main thing to watch out for is the potential skills gap within this area, as the expertise that’s needed for these new roles is different and often more advanced. The need for upskilling may become more urgent with time, so it’s crucial to get ahead of the curve.

An exciting EX opportunity

Ultimately, AI offers a great opportunity for improving EX when done right. For example, AI-powered chatbots, libraries and knowledge bases are perfectly placed to provide answers to HR-related topics and questions frequently asked by employees — allowing them to self-serve and get the information they need faster.

2. Use people analytics to build stories

Want leaders to pay attention to your analyses? Then humanize and tell stories around data. Help decision-makers understand the meaning behind the numbers. However, one watchout: these must always tie back to the business challenge or they risk being overlooked.

Create strong narratives

The way to do this is by developing confident, coherent narratives. Direct these at those you’re trying to influence. But a word of warning: don’t get bogged down with the tools and methodology.

Humanize data

In the past, the goal was to democratize data and insights. Now the goal should be humanize the data. This can be achieved through storytelling and making people aware of the impact this work can have for good. It’s not just fundamental, People Analytics teams have a responsibility to do it.

Be realistic

There is a need to strike a healthy balance between ambition and reality — and some even say there’s no such thing as “big data” in HR due to limits in data sets.
For example, predictors or high-po employees, manager bias, etc. aren't yet as reliable as we need them to be. As AI and big data continue to evolve, HR leaders need to strike a balance between relying on these data sets and making human decisions to drive their workforce forward.

3. Organizational shifts are happening in HR

There’s long been a complicated relationship between traditional HR and People Analytics.

Intuition and analytics

Originally seen as a marketing fad or re-brand of HR, People Analytics is now gaining credibility and effectiveness. However, there’s still a disconnect between people science “geeks in the basement” and HR leaders. Working together is the only way to bridge this gap.

New management models needed

There was a call for new management models, given the disruption of digital work environment and AI. And a prediction that HR, operations and IT will come together to be part of a larger work strategy.

EX should be a priority

Employees are making a much bigger commitment to their employer than consumers commit to a company and brand, so why aren’t we spending just as much on the employee experience?

4. Taking a user-centric approach to ‘work tech’

“HR tech” is for HR people. Instead, we should be thinking about the technologies that facilitate EX as “work tech”.

Work tech is for everyone in the organization (including employees and candidates). And this is the way we should be viewing EX. It’s important that it’s adopted at all levels.

The importance of journey mapping

The next steps for People Analytics teams could be journey-mapping workshops and techniques to co-design processes and experiences — all with the end users in mind and part of the process.

Personalize

Just as CX cottoned onto personalization creating a more engaging experience for consumers, so must employers with the EX solutions.

Employees increasingly expect their employer’s tech to reflect their consumer experiences. But the more vendors, interfaces and applications you plug in, the greater the risk you have to negatively impact EX. Make simple, make it seamless.

Want to know more about how we can help?

Take a look at how our People Analytics software can help you surface insights and take action on employee feedback.


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