Photo of Susan LaMotte on

Susan LaMotte, HR Examiner Editorial Advisory Board Member

Everywhere you look there are numbers. Percentages, graphs, charts, rankings, infographics—it’s enough to make your head spin. But as leaders will tell us, data drives decisions.

As a result, every presentation—from the conference ballroom to the executive boardroom—is full of data. Powerful data points like:

  • Only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work! (Gallup)
  • 1 in 5 companies have no leadership programs! (Deloitte)
  • 60% of millennials are open to new job opportunities! (Gallup)
  • 58% of employers don’t use selection tests to hire entry-level employees! (SHRM)

The response? “Wow! Let’s do something!” So we jump into reaction mode.

A CHRO sends an email to his direct reports wondering: “maybe we need to start that leadership program up again?”  Another makes employer brand an immediate priority initiative: “we can’t lose millennials!” she exclaims.

HR leaders, often not confident enough to speak up or push back, jump into action.

As a consultant, I see it all the time. Our obsession with broad data trends and benchmarking leads to a flurry of often unnecessary activity. As HR leaders we’re so worried that we’re not doing enough our strategy isn’t strategy at all. It’s knee-jerk reaction.

Of course it is helpful to have a pulse on your industry, field or target audience.  But until you know your own specific audience, you simply cannot drive meaningful change to your organization.

Let’s say you’re that CHRO spurred into employer brand action by those scary millennial numbers.  Are you sure it’s a real problem for your organization? It’s important to know if your millennials are actually exiting or planning to exit and why. It may be a broad trend, but not for your millennial high-performers. And that’s who you want to keep and replicate.

Every organization is different. There’s only one Google, one Netflix and one Wal-Mart. And each of those companies has a different business strategy because they’re delivering to customers in different ways.  That means you can’t do what exactly Google does. And you shouldn’t.

If we get scared by data and rush to adopt a brand-name approach, we’re failing our own employees.

Your company has it’s own business strategy specific to your business. And your employees have their own unique wants and needs. So you should have your own carefully-crafted people strategy distinctive to your organization.

It’s not to say you should never benchmark or consider best practices. But what if you didn’t do that first? Stop for a moment and ignore your competitors, those best-in-class companies and top-ranked organizations. Look inward first:

  • What are your biggest people problems?

Do you truly have a grasp on what your biggest people problems are? Many companies assume they’re they same ones everyone is facing. But that’s not always the case. Start with data you already have (take your engagement survey for example) and then dig in further. Look for where scores are low and instead of worrying about the benchmark and how you compare to other companies, worry about why they’re low.

For example, we had a client trying to compete with other brand names for talent and worried they couldn’t match the cool perks those companies could offer. But when we actually spoke to employees, we learned that those who were most engaged and the highest performers didn’t care about perks at all.

Get follow-up qualitative data (the unbiased kind) from your high-performing employees to get at the root of the problem, understand how much they even care, and whether the real fix is worth the investment.

  • How would field leaders prioritize problems and solutions?

You never have a true view of the field from the Boardroom. Your frontline leaders have a better understanding. Plus, they also have an eye on your business strategy too. That means they are best equipped to help prioritize problems. You can’t solve everything from the ivory tower.

In once instance, we worked with a well-known global service brand whose leaders assumed the brand was the retention driver. But in talking to field leaders, they emphasized the importance of the relationships they had with staff. And employees verified that importance and impact as primary to retention.

So what’s most important based on the business that will also address key employee challenges? Field leaders are uniquely positioned for the right perspective.

  • For problem areas, why do employees feel the way they do?

Numbers are great, but we’re so busy focused on getting our scores up, we forget our employees are human beings. And they have emotions, feelings and a real interest in making things better. You have to balance out the quantitative data with real, unbiased qualitative insights.

One of our clients was sure (based on survey data) that call center dissatisfaction was coming from the pressure to meet metrics. But by talking to employees, we learned that was only half the problem. Employees wanted to attain high scores and perform well, but their commutes and work-life challenges meant schedule maintenance was difficult. In reality, it was so much more than just fixing a metrics problem.

Powerful data points get attention—there’s no doubt about it. But when they’re generic and broad, they can lead to a “keeping up with the Joneses” HR strategy.

Instead, keep up with yourself and the goals you’ve set for your company and your people.

Instead of starting your next presentation with a vague statistic about diverse talent for example, get specific:

“At our company, only 18% of managers are women…”

“High-performing women at our company think it’s low because…”

“They also say this makes them feel….”

“We need more women managers because…”

“Therefore our goal should be….”

“The feedback on how we can bridge this gap is….”

“The impact to our business will be….”

The easiest solution is to collect regular data on how your employees think and feel and marry that back to your business strategy. Where are the biggest opportunities for impact? Then, use your own data to your own advantage and craft your own solutions for once.

Read previous post:
HRExaminer Radio: Episode #203: Jeanne Achille

Devon’s CEO, Jeanne Achille, founded the award-winning PR agency in 1994. Considered by many to be “one of the best...