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What if you are looking at the wrong kind of data for business success?

AnonymousBy John Daut 6 years ago
Home  /  Consulting  /  What if you are looking at the wrong kind of data for business success?

Unless you were hiding under a rock, you are probably aware that people analytics has emerged as a big piece of the business data landscape – not just in HR departments, but across organizations! While businesses have long realized that their people are their greatest asset, it is only now that we are really starting to capitalize our workforce through people analytics. Not only do employees hold increasingly valuable intellectual property, but each employee knows something about the business better than anyone else. Identifying these internal experts in businesses and mining for crucial information or big ideas give executives a better understanding of their organizations. Simply put, the intelligence the workforce holds sets businesses up for success by keeping employees engaged and allowing businesses to make more informed decisions.

In fact, a 2013 study by Deloitte noted that businesses that placed an emphasis on people analytics had stock market returns that were 30 percent higher than the S&P 500, and leadership pipelines that were 2.5 times healthier. Companies that build capabilities in people analytics outperform their peers in quality of hire, retention and leadership capabilities, and are generally higher ranked in their employment brand.

Big Data alone could be the wrong kind of data for business success

Big data is still the business topic du jour. And although I’m convinced that most people don’t really know what it is, it has become a part of the business intelligence toolkit, and for good reason. Data is everywhere and comes from everything and everyone. If collected, analyzed, and shared properly, data has the power to inform decisions and positively impact organizations.

But the real value of people analytics isn’t found in yesterday’s approach to big data, with huge spreadsheets full of passively gained data about personnel behavior. However, think about this, no one pays for data for data’s sake – decision makers want insight and information they can act! Hence, enterprises should instead focus on “thick data”— real insights gained by actively engaging employees in ways not possible until now. The path forward is garnering the context of quantitative data. By doing so, executives will improve organizational efficiency, employee performance, make employees happier and businesses more successful.

Turning to thick data to understand “why” and “how”

Businesses today have access to tons of data as it relates to their employees. Every organization has the traditional information about headcount, salary, benefits and workforce costs. More progressive employers are also gathering data on employees’ physical activity, interactions with other staff members, collaboration habits and much more. The most in-tune organizations regularly survey employees to gather additional information directly from them. All of this data, however, only answers the “who,” “what,” “when” and “where” of business.

The result is often a flood of disconnected data that can overwhelm organizations, and render the very data completely useless. More importantly, this data lacks the rich insights that business leaders seek and limits their ability to derive meaningful enterprise value. Respondents often don’t have the opportunity to openly answer questions, let alone provide solutions. In addition, the traditional response rate of surveys are between 12 and 20 percent, hardly providing a representative sample of even large organizations.

A better approach is to hone in on the thick data, which provides insights to the allusive “why” and “how.” Instead of trying to gather as much data as possible, organizations should pick specific focus areas and dive deep into them. Historically, this has been accomplished through in-depth, in-person interviews, typically conducted by external consultants. The interview format provides context, allowing answers to be multi-dimensional. However, interviews take a lot of time, can be very expensive and, not to mention, are subject to bias. Further, more often than not, interviews result in more spreadsheets and notebooks for executives to sort through.

How do you get thick data?

While the traditional one-on-one, face-to-face interview might not be feasible for today’s large enterprises, businesses still need access to this valuable thick data. Thankfully, technology offers an answer. Properly designed software can combine the ease of online surveys with the rigor of business intelligence and the depth of interviews. Such a tool can optimize efficiencies and accelerate insight discovery with the ability to scale to any size. In addition, purpose-built applications can navigate insight discovery for specific business needs and areas.

These software platforms can function as an interview with multiple automated follow-up questions to a single query, allowing businesses to consistently collect and connect this thick data – the feelings and deeper thoughts about particular business areas. In many cases, decisions-makers are also able to identify potential root causes and plausible solutions to some of their biggest challenges. And, because it is software, it is accessible and available across the enterprise. HR executives can immediately see training gaps and engagement statistics; the CEO can see challenges and communication gaps; the COO can see operation bottlenecks; the CFO can see predictions of financial performance; and managers can compare their own departments with others to find best practices.  

The benefits of thick data

Software-harvested thick data has numerous benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Improved information and result sharing;
  • Elimination of communication barriers;
  • Simpler and better hiring practices; and
  • Streamlined executive assimilation.

What’s more, employees are happier. Our client, a top-tier consulting firm recently used 9Lenses to better understand its struggle with engaging its employees. This consulting firm had historically used surveys to figure out how employees wanted to be engaged. The surveys were successful in identifying surface level reasons for why employees were or were not involved in the organization, but it didn’t explain why. With 9Lenses they received that context. They knew how employees wanted to be engaged, why and even if they were willing to contribute to the solutions and help make it happen. Within 45 days, this consulting firm was able to collect and dissect the information it needed to create a new employee engagement plan.

Another user had a 75-percent participation rate in their latest employee engagement effort, which is far higher than the typical survey engagement rate noted earlier. The return on investment (ROI) was more obvious for another user; a Fortune-500 company experienced a 25-percent decrease in management overhead based on the thick data that it garnered from the platform.

I understand that the drive for big data is tempting, but companies cannot rely solely on numbers and statistics. Enterprises must delve deeper to understand the context of their data; or the “why” behind the “what.” Harnessing these insights will help organizations create a workplace their employees will feel connected to and dedicated to helping succeed. Software can help companies unlock the full value of organizational data in ways never previously possible and move them from insight to value-creating action.


  Consulting, Data
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