With the staggering amount of data at business leaders' fingertips both inside and outside their organizations, the possibilities for business analytics are endless. But since time is still a limited resource, workforce analytics managers must pick and choose their projects. How can they determine which initiatives will drive the most value?
Kathleen Creech, senior HR business partner and global workforce strategy lead at NCR, shared her team's three-pronged approach to workforce analytics at the Human Capital Institute's Workforce Planning and Analytics Conference held in Alexandria, Va. last week. Creech explained that NCR, a global consumer transaction technology company headquartered in Duluth, Ga., has an extremely varied employee base, which is why workforce analytics are particularly important. The company's approximately 30,000 workers are divided into hardware and software engineers, salespeople, consultants and service representatives, who are called customer engineers.
Step one in Creech's process was echoed throughout the conference: Start with the business strategy.
"I'm sure you have noticed there's lots of data and there's a lot of great HR initiatives, so everything looks like something you should do," Creech said. "It's about going back and thinking about [the] business strategy, and then selecting those programs and initiatives that we think most directly will drive it." She showed a linkage analysis chart that NCR's CEO devised to help business leaders connect projects and decisions back to the overarching strategy.
Often, the initial request takes the form of a question from a business leader. But instead of just running with the question as is, Creech said framing the issue correctly sometimes takes massaging.
"We have to be careful about making sure they really understand what they're asking us. Sometimes it's even about reshaping that question," she said.
From there, the workforce analytics team defines the strategic priorities and desired outcomes of the project. The final step is to determine the metrics that will be used to tackle the problem.
Creech admitted that this last step can sometimes be a challenge at NCR, a data-loving organization. "I have received 27 page dashboards before as a start," she said. "So it's always a question for us of how you narrow down those metrics and get the business to focus on the ones that are most important."
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After outlining the workforce analytics process, Creech gave examples using real NCR business problems to illustrate how it works.
One project focused on the company's customer engineers (CEs). "We were struggling with our customer metrics and our customer service levels in the U.S., and the business asked us, 'What do we do?' Let's focus on customer engineers and solve the problem -- that was basically the question," Creech said.
With the initiative in mind, the workforce analytics team set the business imperative to improve service levels for North American customers. Desired outcomes included reducing contract penalties, more effectively delivering on service-level agreements and raising customer engineers' employee engagement.
Determining the metrics was a bit trickier. Creech explained that it's an ongoing process that's currently being recalibrated. "We started with what we thought the metrics should be and we pulled some levers, and [they] didn't make a difference on the business metrics," she said. "Sometimes you don't get the right answer the first time, even with a good starting point."
Creech's team started with four metrics that were reported on a dashboard each month: customer revisits within three days, first-visit resolution, attrition within the first year of employment, and training.
To address the first two metrics, the team looked to the customer engineers' pre-hire assessments to see if any connections existed between test results and future job performance on these measures. Creech found that "the three-days visit [metric] was significantly better for those that did well on the pre-hire assessment compared to those that didn't." However, only a slight relationship existed with first visit resolution.
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From there, they were able to correlate specific questions that were the most accurate indicators of future performance, and tweaked the pre-hire assessment accordingly. With data in hand, they also reminded hiring managers to give appropriate weight to assessment results because they had a bearing on future performance.
Regarding the first-year attrition metric, the workforce analytics team discovered that customer engineers with bachelor's and master's degrees were more likely to leave after just a short period of time, a finding they relayed to hiring managers. "It was important to have that data point to feed back to the business: Listen, you're doing better when you hire someone with a two-year degree because they've actually bent themselves toward this career, whereas a person [with a] master's degree is going to move on very quickly," Creech said.
Training was an area of focus due to exit interview feedback: Customer engineers on their way out said they didn't have adequate training or interaction with managers. Although the company adjusted the training processes and began to more closely track who was taking the training, in addition to making manager coaching goals more explicit, Creech said the results weren't exactly what they hoped for.
"While we improved the training programs and the consistency of people attending them this year, it didn't actually consistently change our business metrics," she said. "We're not seeing a visible difference between a CE that's gone and a CE that hasn't gone to the training."
But although the project is still under way, some compelling results have already emerged.
"We did reduce turnover by 9%, and just from a hard-cost basis, that saved the business $375,000," Creech said. In addition, new hires are demonstrating a better understanding of their role and are getting more time with their managers, according to surveys.
And these improvements speak to what Creech believes is the ideal blend in workforce analytics initiatives -- both short- and long-term impact.
Pick "things that give you some quick wins because those are always necessary to keep the business going and keep your credibility [up], but also with a long-term focus -- initiatives that you know are going to have that longer-term impact," Creech said. "That CE example? We're going to be working on that for another couple years before we really see the outcomes."
This was first published in February 2014