#PAWorld18: Using people analytics to drive employee engagement and retention

People analytics is rapidly evolving, delegates at the April 2018 Tucana People Analytics World conference in London heard. As people analytics technology and processes mature and become embedded in organisations, the fundamental nature of people analytics work itself is changing and its potential value to the organisation is increasing.

“The focus of people analytics teams is moving away from just analytics to developing products for employers and employees.” This is according to David Green, who chaired the Tucana conference. “The big opportunity for people analytics in 2018 is to improve employee experience and help make the workplace more humane”, he says.

The conference line-up included HR professionals from across the globe, who explained how they are using people analytics to improve employee experience, engagement and retention – and thereby boost business performance.

Four key themes emerged during the conference. To achieve people analytics success, HR must:

  1. Use people analytics to identify and solve problems for the business. “People analytics has no intrinsic value if it doesn’t lead to action.” So says Nicky Clement, VP of HR, organisation effectiveness and people analytics at Unilever. The starting point for people analytics initiatives must always be a specific business problem, she says. Clement recommends that HR first take an analytical approach to identifying the precise problem that the organisation faces, and create a clear brief upfront. “The initial diagnosis stage is essential”, she says. “When a business leader comes to you with a question, it is the role of people analytics to get to the question behind the question. Before we start exploring the data, let’s be really clear on what they want.” Katie Minton, director in people and workforce analytics at Deloitte, agrees: “People analytics heroes should go to their bosses and ask: ‘What do our colleagues really want?’ They should then assess the people data available to them and work back to identify how people analytics tech can help them achieve this.” By doing this, Minton argues that HR can “use data and analytics to understand what our employees want and really drive the HR function of the future.”
  2. Combine cutting-edge people analytics with traditional communication methods. “Some of the most meaningful, actionable insights come from simply speaking to people”, says Vanessa Lammers, global director of people analytics and insights at Nestlé Waters. Lammers explained how her team are using a combination of sophisticated people analytics tools and old-fashioned face-to-face communications to tackle high levels of voluntary turnover among employees in North America. She summarises the challenge facing her team as follows: “How can we proactively gather and act on data to treat employees as people and retain them?” Lammers recognised that improving employee engagement was key to boosting retention. She decided to do away with exit interviews as they are a “lagging” indicator of reasons for turnover: “The person’s gone, so you can’t fix the problem now.” Exit interviews were replaced with “stay interviews” – which Nestlé Waters refers to as “engagement check-ins”. The engagement check-in process is a two-way conversation in which employees are free to talk to managers about what they like and dislike about their role. These discussions are designed to generate actionable insights, to improve organisational effectiveness, and to help retain the most valued employees by enhancing the manager/employee relationship. Lammers’ team used predictive analytics to focus on and identify the organisation’s delivery drivers who were at greatest risk of resigning. They targeted these employees for the initial wave of engagement check-ins. The engagement check-in process is now generating what Lammers terms “leading indicator” data. This data has helped Nestlé Waters identify employee “pain points” and amend managerial processes accordingly. Her team is also using the Qualtrics Vocalize online survey tool to gather a wealth of supporting data on employee engagement. The next step is to use these insights to generate video content for “people promise branding and testimonials”, and to roll out engagement check-ins to other functions and markets in North America. She says that this combination of cutting-edge people analytics and traditional communication techniques revealed a simple truth: “People like to be listened to, believe it or not. They particularly like to be listened to by their managers.”
  3. Build allies across the business. “Data is not native to HR. It is not what HR teams get excited about”, says author Bernard Marr. Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, agrees: “The problem with HR is that they bring too much PowerPoint and not enough Excel. We need a mixture of both.” HR should therefore be willing to build strategic alliances with other departments within the organisation that have the required skills and specialisms. It is also important that HR recognise that ownership of people management processes is not always the sole responsibility of HR. “Creating a positive work experience doesn’t purely sit with HR”, says Minton. She argues that other departments such as communications, marketing, finance and facilities can all play an important role.
  4. Communicate people analytics insights and recommendations clearly and precisely. Storytelling skills are critical to the success or failure of people analytics initiatives, argues Clement. HR has to be able to communicate the findings of people analytics activities in a compelling manner that will inspire business leaders to buy in. When putting together a people analytics narrative, she recommends that HR always ask a simple question: “What’s the hook? How can you articulate it for people who might have no data background?” Return on investment (ROI) is a particularly compelling “hook” for communicating the benefits that people analytics can bring, says Swati Chawla, global head of HR analytics, strategy and planning at Syngenta. “To measure the impact of what we are doing, we should always be looking at the ROI of solutions”, she says. Chawla described how she used people analytics data to boost performance at lower-performing sites across Syngenta’s Asia-Pacific operations. She used people analytics data to cross-reference local team structures against productivity and sales metrics. She described how one local manager in Indonesia at first rejected the concept of people analytics data outright. Chawla persisted, taking a different tack by explaining to him that her data showed how a simple reorganisation of responsibilities within his team would free up 544 hours of sales time per month. The manager immediately recognised the efficiencies this would bring, and became an enthusiastic supporter of people analytics.

By following these four steps, HR professionals can tap into the huge potential of people analytics to transform organisational performance. “This people data shifts business thinking”, says Gareth Jones, who hosted many of the conference sessions. “There’s no doubt about it.” But Jones believes that HR must always be clear as to the end goal of people analytics activities: “We’re at an inflection point in terms of where the value is. The solutions have to be aimed toward the individual to really add value.”

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