How to Effectively Embed a People Analytics Function
Melissa Kantor, Vice President of People Analytics and Insights at LEGO, led a session at the Inspired HR conference discussing how to effectively embed a people analytics function, exploring concepts of data literacy, influence by design and credibility building.
Melissa begins her workshop with an introduction to influence. “I like to think of influence as ‘inspiring others to take action’,” she says. Many people do not immediately see the link between data and influence, but Melissa believes that influence is the purpose of an analytics function: “I would argue that my entire function exists to influence our board and our executive leaders to make decisions,” she explains. “Whether it’s giving basic HR MI about the current state of the business, or understanding our trends and trying to predict the future.”
Melissa recommends that everything should be viewed through the lens of influence: “What is it we’re trying to learn from the information that we have? How do we want people to react when they see it? How do I want my business partners to react when they see the information? What action do I want them to take with the senior leaders they’re engaging with in the business? When I produce a report for the board, how do I want them to feel when they see that report? What action do I want them to take? What discussions do I want that to elicit?”
Melissa suggests that a function should work through a basic emotional competency model. “In order to influence someone, you have to emotionally connect with them,” she says. “To emotionally connect, you have to manage your own emotions. And to manage your own emotions, you have to be emotionally aware.”
Melissa explains that two people can understand each other – they may not agree, but understanding allows them to build a rapport that can start to build discussions and influence. Putting this into a business context, a people analytics function needs to identify and understand other functions within the business – partnering with finance, IT and other colleagues with reporting functions.
“We have to make sure that as a function, we establish our credibility,” Melissa says. “We do that by understanding, in detail, the purposes and intent of other functions within the organisation.”
The next stage after an emotional connection is emotional management. “Managing yourself and understanding your own emotions,” Melissa explains. “Being authentic, seeking to understand, making sure that you’re understood, and always having integrity.”
Looking at this from a business perspective, Melissa believes that anyone working with an analytics function should operate in the same way. “We need to make sure we are consistent in everything we do – in our approaches to everything,” she explains. “Consistent in the definition of ‘headcount’ and how we calculate that number – it should be delivered consistently in all reports and at all levels of the organisation.”
Melissa states that if we can’t understand our own feelings, we can’t personally work up our emotional ladder – and a function should also understand its feelings. “As a function, know your values,” Melissa says. “What is your purpose? What is your mission statement? Is everyone in your function bought into that and comfortable articulating it? Can you articulate that with your peers within the organisation, outside of your function? Do other functions understand what your purpose is?”
A people analytics function needs to be respected and has the credibility to drive influence at the highest levels of an organisation. “It’s understanding how you as an individual within that function relate to your peers across the organisation,” Melissa says. “But also how the function you’re building relates to all the peers across an organisation.”
Showing a series of detailed charts, Melissa states that many visualisations are too complicated – “I don’t even know what some of those things mean,” she says.
While people often want to create something new and visually impressive, it’s vital that the information is easily understood. “If you show a report to your board and their initial reaction is, ‘OK, what am I looking at?’ you’ve missed your mark,” Melissa says. “You think it’s cool, you think it’s simple – but it’s really only cool and simple for the data geek in the corner who crunched all the numbers, who actually knows what they’re looking at already.”
Melissa advises starting with the basics: a clear alignment and understanding of the terms and concepts. “Have a really clear taxonomy,” she says. “There are so many different definitions of headcount – planned baseline headcount, costed headcount, empty seats – everyone uses these terms interchangeably. Within your organisation, you need to have a clear taxonomy across your function within HR, but also across your colleagues in other parts of the business to use the same terms consistently.”
Melissa says people often believe more information is better, creating a 50-page dashboard that includes every measure they can think of. “I saw one the other day that, I kid you not, had 30 different filters on the left column,” she says. “That is not helpful. That is not going to help people analytics to embed well, because no one’s going to know how to filter what they need to do. The value of an analytics team is pre-doing those filters; thinking through what key bits of information is relevant, and socialising that out in a way that is understandable.”
Instead of looking at data literacy from a broad perspective, Melissa recommends looking at just a few measures in depth. “Pick a few and go really deep,” she says. “Try not to do too much. Keep it simple, but what you do, do really well, in-depth and at high quality.”
Melissa also advises to always go back to your analytics team. “The whole point of having an analytics team is to crunch the numbers and do the heavy lifting,” she says. “I always tell my business partners and my colleagues across the business, if they see some data that doesn’t look right, ask us to look into it. If you have a hypothesis – ‘I think our high potentials are leaving because of a certain manager’, for example, come to your analytics team. We’ll see if we can find some information to support that.”
People can sometimes be put in an awkward position when data is requested to support a decision that is already going ahead. “I think we’ve all been asked to find data to back up a decision that’s already been made,” Melissa says. “What I would urge and stress, is when you are asked to provide information, look at it holistically. You have to try to look at the data and see what most measures tell you, and pick the ones that you believe give the most realistic interpretation of the data for the business.”
Melissa states that a people analytics function should ensure instant credibility: “You don’t want to walk into the room with headcount numbers and have your finance colleague walk in with a different number, and then you lose credibility – both of you do.” Credibility building relies on consistency – consistent definitions and numbers across all of the different reports used.
Accuracy is also important, including footnotes to identify any areas where the data is not perfect. “I can tell you today that there is no such thing as perfect data,” Melissa says. “You need ‘good enough’ data to generate some really good insights. But where you don’t have perfect data, you do need to declare that and disclose that information.”
The information should be dependable: “You can’t be late, you can’t miss it, you can’t have a tech glitch. All of that lessens your credibility to deliver.” The information should be provided on a cadence that fits the business – whether that’s weekly, monthly or quarterly – and then delivered on time, every time.
Melissa also highlights the importance of relevant data. “You really have to make sure you spend the time within your team to understand the data and pick out the key themes that you’re seeing and storyboard them and articulate them in a way that can be consumed by your business leaders,” she says. “You have to partner with your business partners to co-author storyboarding.”
Finally, credibility relies on timeliness. Melissa recommends choosing key measures that can be delivered in a timely way: “If you spend the bulk of your time working on numbers that are six months out of date, by the time you produce your actual insights the business has evolved and not much can happen.”
Melissa finishes her masterclass with the concept of ‘influence by design’. She describes true people analytics as both an art and a science: “You have the raw data which is the science, and then the art form – how do you storyboard that information? How do you use that to influence people? How do you get a dashboard to make some sort of emotional connection with someone who sees the information?”
Melissa recommends structuring everything from a people analytics function perspective, with the intention of trying to influence various stakeholders within the organisation. “Make sure that the information you provide to them is in a way that’s usable and simple; in a way that they can understand it; in a way that tells the business story,” she says. “It’s really important.”
There are many simple ways to trigger an emotional connection, including gamification and heat maps. “How many of us see a heatmap and if we see our project red, our tummies clench,” Melissa explains. “That’s an emotional connection. Then you can have a discussion and it triggers people to action.”
Check out Melissa Kantor’s Masterclass Presentation at the HR & LD Conference in 2019.