Corporate Executive Board

Preventing 'Analysis Paralysis'


If your organization is like most, your human resources department is trapped somewhere between endlessly tracking employee metrics and providing sophisticated and impactful analytics. In either case, it’s likely providing these metrics without a clear objective or connection to business performance. Meanwhile, executives are fielding increasingly urgent demands for more data, despite lacking clarity on what to do with the data they already have.

Through our work at Corporate Executive Board, we often hear one or more of the following responses when we ask executives how effectively companies use employee data to drive better business outcomes:
• “We track metrics such as employee engagement, but we don’t really know what to do with them.”
• “We collect data on everything, and spend more time analyzing them than doing anything about them.”
• “Employee data can be related to business outcomes?”

Today we can store, access, and analyze more data than ever before, which has made decision-making increasingly intricate and exhausting. We have found that while the volume of data will continue to grow at 60 percent a year, barely 38 percent of employees can make effective decisions based on the overwhelming number of facts and figures. With so much information and so weak a grasp of how it plays into the big picture, we have become obsessed with getting access to more and more numbers, believing that increasing our data intake will solve our daily work challenges.

We recommend an approach oriented toward business impact that uncovers the specific data needed to draw insights your organization will find valuable, thus eliminating “analysis paralysis.”

Collect the “right” data: Organizations often deploy lengthy employee surveys, which yield informative data but consume significant resources and don’t ultimately link to strategic business priorities. The result: a trove of expensive data that sits mostly unused. Instead, HR needs to begin with the end in mind, starting with your firm’s ultimate corporate objectives and the strategies in place to achieve them. Then, design your survey as a tool to diagnose how your workforce is aligned with the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and capabilities that support those objectives and strategies.

Unclutter dashboards for managers: Even the most relevant and informative survey data won’t get very far in your organization if managers cannot readily access them. Our research shows that managers who transform data into usable information for their teams can increase business performance by 24 percent. So, focus managers on what matters by providing them with personalized views of the data they need to be effective. Streamlined online dashboards provide managers with instant access to aggregate survey results from their team and organization overall. Ideally, they highlight areas of strong performance and opportunities for improvement for each manager, and equip them with the resources to improve.

Move from insight to action: Beyond showing managers what they need to improve, you also need to show them how. Survey results dashboards should seamlessly integrate data with resources for action planning. These resources should come from your organization’s internal learning and development archive as well as from your survey partner’s research and expertise. Keep the resources brief, action-oriented, and focused on the things individual managers have the capacity to change.

Link people metrics to business performance and critical decisions: Move beyond measuring engagement for engagement’s sake. More advanced analytics can uncover powerful relationships between employee survey data and business performance outcomes like customer satisfaction and profit margin. For example:
• A restaurant chain found that employees at its most profitable stores showed 25 percent higher levels of engagement than those at its least profitable locations.
• At a retail store chain, higher levels of discretionary effort drove a 10 percent improvement in store profitability.
• Business leaders who score high on ability to engage employees can have 6 percent higher impact on revenue and profits, compared with business leaders who score low on ability to engage employees.

By taking these critical steps, you’ll give data the power to deliver critical insights that drive stronger business performance. Why get mired in data overload? Instead, get the most from your investment by incorporating business outcomes into the front-end survey design and back-end data analysis, and putting data into managers’ hands along with resources to help them take action. Your survey data have the potential to become a critical business input to achieve maximum impact across your organization.

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CEB specializes in helping companies drive corporate performance by identifying and building on best practices. The organization offers data analysis, research, and advisory services relevant to business leadership. CEB's client and member network includes 85 percent of the Fortune 500, 50 percent of the Dow Jones Asian Titans, 70 percent of the FTSE 100, and 80 percent of the DAX-30. CEB membership encompasses 50 countries, 5,300 individual organizations, and 225,000 business professionals.

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