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How to Create a Great HR Data Story

On October 31, 2012, in Cathy Missildine, Editorial Advisory Board, by Cathy Missildine

Cathy Missildine-Martin, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Cathy Missildine-Martin, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

I have been “preaching” for the last few years for HR to get on the metrics train.  I am happy to report that the train is going somewhere.

When HR professionals grapple with all the people related data for awhile, I always get the following question:

“How do I make sense of all this?”

Well, the answer is not as simple as you may think.  Data visualization has been a huge challenge for our company, many of my colleagues that focus on HR data, and for me.

The problem is that HR data resides in many different places that just obtaining the data is exhausting.  Then, once you have all the requisite data in one repository, you have to figure out what it is saying, trending and/or predicting.

You then have to prepare the data so it is usable and meaningful to the leaders in the organization.  The good news is we have come a LONG way since I first started focusing on HR data.  We now have technology like Visier Analytics that, with a click of a button, produce beautiful charts and graphs that can be sent to anyone that needs the information.

Yet just having great technology that can analyze and visualize the data is not the end game.  You have to be able to tell a compelling data story that leads to ACTION or CHANGE in the organization.

According to the author Daniel Pink, from his book, A Whole New Mind, “When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.” “And that is the essence of the aptitude of Story–context enriched by emotion.”

By researching what makes a great story and sprinkling in some of my own successes and failures, I believe a good data story has the following five elements:

  1.  Setting/Backstory
  2.  Plot
  3. Conflict
  4. Resolution
  5. Call to action

The setting or backstory is a description of the current situation. For example, if you are going to build a case for a rewards and recognition program that you know will reduce turnover, you must give the company history on turnover and what that costs the company.

The plot is a sequence of events.  Back to our example, by showing events like customer attrition, high performer turnover and increased turnover related costs the plot begins to thicken.

The conflict is a struggle between to or more forces in a story.  The conflict is where it can get tricky.  I often use the competition as the opposing force.  I also use the “remaining the status quo” vs. “fixing what’s wrong” as the opposing forces.  So, in our turnover example, I might quote average turnover figures for the industry and show where the company stands in relation to its competitors.  Also, painting the picture of “what will happen if this trend continues” often works very well.

The resolution occurs when the problem is solved.  This is where HR can gain credibility.  Don’t just tell leadership a great data story, but show them the potential solutions that you have created and what the anticipated ROI is for the chosen solution.

The call to action is just that, asking for something different to happen.  In the turnover example, the call to action would be an investment in a new rewards recognition program in order to increase performance, which in turn will increase revenues.

Gone are the days of rows and columns of data in an excel spreadsheet.  Using compelling “pictures” and a great relatable story are two ways to be an HR Rockstar in your organization.

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