HR Operations, Technology and Analytics

Blog: HR and Big Data Rule 5 – Tell the Story

  • July 19, 2021
Nick Holley

Nick Holley, CRF Director of Learning

Rule 5: How you present the data is as important as the data – insightful, impactful, simple and relevant.

In reality, most HR analytics is sophisticated data-driven reporting that is HR focused rather than true analytics. The key to successful HR analytics is to use data to report on things that critical to the business, and use predictive analytics to persuade decision makers to take action on business critical issues.

We therefore need to be clear who will be using the data (business leaders), to do what (address business issues). Whilst the analysis is critical – it is equally important to translate it into actionable insights. 

Ahead of the launch of CRF Learning’s latest On Demand course Workforce Analytics and Storytelling, I outline 10 crucial considerations when presenting your data:

1 UNDERSTAND WHAT IS RELEVANT TO THE AUDIENCE: present data that is relevant to the business strategy and operational challenges in a way that makes the links obvious. Sometimes this means using their data not your data because they recognise theirs and are immediately in tune with the message.

Who is the audience, and how will it read and interpret the information?” asked Jim Stikeleather, executive strategist for Dell Services in his article The Three Elements of Successful Data Visualisation for HBR. “Can you assume it has knowledge of the terminology and concepts you’ll use, or do you need to guide it with clues in the visualization (e.g., indicate good is up with a green arrow)? An audience of experts will have different expectations than a general audience.”

2 START WITH THE BURNING PLATFORM: what is the problem we are trying to fix, what are the two or three killer things they need to know to fix it? 

As best-selling authors on HR Analytics Scott Mondore and Shane Douthitt put it: “You will be a real business partner when you start bringing people strategies to drive sales, profits etc with the evidence to back it up. Make the evidence practical and actionable for front-line leaders, and you will be the HR rock star!”

3 KEEP IT SIMPLE: no one wants to wade through 60 or 70 pages of irrelevant HR metrics that are basically the same every month searching for a relevant insight. Twitter provides an interesting model. Can you get your message across in 140 characters before you lose your audience? This means spending time getting to the right level of simplicity. 

“Presentation skills are vitally important, you can produce great data, but the way they look and feel isn’t good enough,”one HR Director told me as part of my research.

4 MAKE IT IMPACTFUL: “What’s interesting is that I’ve noticed that the likelihood that any insight will be acted upon is related to how you present it and if they trust you, not the data,” pointed out one senior HR professional.

5 PROVIDE CLEAR ACTIONABLE MESSAGES: business people understand numbers and respond positively if you answer the question ‘so what are you asking me to do that will help me achieve my objectives?’ 

As one CHRO advised: “What is critical is the way you present the data: a way that gets the audience engaged and willing to act on it.”

6 SOFTEN UP THE DATA: is it easily consumed? Make it user friendly, attractive and obvious.

The CHRO added: “Employ creativity and more lateral thinking to get message across, the tendency is to deliver everything in a very dry way.”

7 TELL STORIES: move from ‘here’s lots of data, then, in case you’re still awake, here’s some more statistics’ (by which time no one can see the wood for the trees) to ‘what is the story behind the numbers and what are the key messages?’ and using the data to back them up.

In his HBR article, Stikeleather advised: “Visualisation in its educational or confirmational role is really a dynamic form of persuasion. Few forms of communication are as persuasive as a compelling narrative. To this end, the visualisation needs to tell a story to the audience. Stories package information into a structure that is easily remembered. Storytelling helps the viewer gain insight from the data.”

8 USE RELEVANT LANGUAGE: During my research I read an example where after detailed analysis HR had reduced the time to hire from 58 to 37 days. On presenting this to the CEO he exploded ‘what do you mean it takes 37 days to hire, that’s way too long?’ If instead they had said ‘the analysis has resulted in reducing the time to hire by 36% and reduced overall costs by $400,000’ might the same analysis have had a different impact?

9 PREPARE FOR THEIR QUESTIONS: there is a danger that they will be better at the analytics than you are and will ask questions you can’t answer so think through what they might ask before they do, or get someone to do it for you and prepare answers.

10 GET THE TIMING RIGHT: there is a danger that they will be better at the analytics than you are and will ask questions you can’t answer so think through what they might ask before they do or get someone to do it for you and prepare answers.

It is not enough to produce a great analysis if you cannot persuade key decision makers to do something different and better as a result.  Analytics is not enough it must be combined with storytelling to make your point come alive and generate commitment to implementing your recommendations.  

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