Understanding Your Employees with People Analytics


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Monday, May 28, 2018

Understanding your workforce is half the battle when you're trying to motivate them but can people analytics really help?

Article 4 Minutes
Understanding Your Employees with People Analytics

Data is being used almost every day in the workplace but many people are still struggling to get a grasp on how to make the most of it. This is especially true when it comes to employers trying to better understand their employees.

Good employers know that the heart of their business is the people making it run. But finding the solutions - and even asking the right questions - to keep them motivated and engaged over the years can be a challenge.

People analytics can be an effective way for businesses of all sizes to improve employee retention, while also boosting the morale and productivity of the workforce. However, many management teams still struggle when it comes to what sort of metrics and KPIs they should be setting themselves.

Moreover, interpreting the data in the right way is a crucial element to understanding employees, and this is often the most challenging part.

So what data should you be finding out about your employees and how can it help you understand them?

The biggest obstacle

Perhaps the biggest problem in people analytics is that the information is usually submitted manually by the employees themselves. There's an obvious issue here about the accuracy of the data that employers receive in this way. Professionals who are disillusioned with the company may fail to engage with the survey at all or give unfairly low marks, while others may score it overly high out of fear of retaliation from their employer.

The simplest way to try to remove these concerns is to make the surveys anonymous but this then prevents managers from being able to apply context to their findings, limiting the amount of action that can be taken.

"Employee Engagement Surveys are the business equivalent of giving the prisoners in a penitentiary a survey to complete once a year and slide through the bars of their cells. The survey process cements an unequal power relationship." - Liz Ryan, Forbes contributor and Founder/CEO of Human Workplace.


So what's the answer?

People analytics that relate directly to productivity can help employers understand what professionals are doing during their working day and how initiatives to boost efficiency are being implemented.

Some of the most common metrics that are recorded for employees are:

  • Time spent on tasks, such as meetings, emails or client calls
  • Attendance
  • Participation in activities (social events, training sessions)
  • Employee retention
  • Errors made
  • Client complaints
  • Sales

But for metrics that are more about understanding how employees feel, it may be wise to look at other options. If you're concerned about the accuracy of the responses you're receiving directly from professionals themselves, you may want to look at different ways to engage with staff.

"A big part of leading is listening. Too many higher-ups don't believe that their managers can listen, and that may be because they have trouble listening themselves. That's shameful. A person who doesn't trust him or herself enough to hire capable middle managers and set them loose is unqualified to hold a senior leadership position." - Liz Ryan, Forbes contributor and Founder/CEO of Human Workplace.


Being an effective manager is one of the most difficult tasks. You need to be able to understand the people on your team and what motivates them, while also ensuring they hit their targets and achieve the company's wider goals.

Empowering your management team to build close relationships with their employees is an essential part of people analytics. Through one-to-ones and regular development meetings, they are ideally placed to understand the individuals they work closely with and find out how their situation can be improved.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Laszlo Bock, Google's former Head of People Operations (previously HR), explained how the search engine's strategy to people analytics changed;

"Google's approach combined qualitative and quantitative data, allowing managers to take the lead when it comes to introducing new initiatives and judging their success. Feedback surveys are used to optimize company culture and the processes that allow them to do their jobs. There is a major focus on the value of interpersonal relationships and putting effort in to maintaining or improving them."


Bock lists four steps all leaders can take to improve their processes around people analytics:

  1. Ask employees to identify the company's most pressing people issues
  2. Suggest ways to improve
  3. Encourage the analytics team to share feedback with the entire company
  4. Empower leaders to run pilots to test which data-supported theories work best

Google's team also used data to try and define the characteristics they needed from managers. This allowed them to improve their recruitment process, making it more effective and enabling their management team to be the drivers of the dynamic teams they were looking for.

What are the next steps?

An effective people analytics strategy focuses on the human element of HR and, as such, relying solely on performance data isn't enough. However, this doesn't mean that it doesn't have a very real, and necessary, role.

The most important element of it, though, is having the right employee-centric people to interpret the data and take the right actions. For many companies, the first step to having the best people analytics strategy is reaching out to your employees and asking them where you need to start.

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