Employee engagement

3 steps to maximising employee engagement through analytics

Written by Rob Scott for InsideHR on November 25, 2019

HR professionals and data analysts should work closely together in developing employee engagement programmes in order to drive stronger and more sustainable outcomes, writes Rob Scott

We all know that data analytics and employee engagement are two of the hottest topics of discussion among HR and business leaders. And for good reason. Many organisations are transforming operations into digitally-enabled businesses, which is ushering in significant changes to the way we work, how we remain an attractive employer, and how we keep the workforce engaged, motivated and productive.

There is also a growing acceptance that the so-called ‘soft-science’ label associated with human behaviour and the accompanying mystique of psychology are no longer valid reasons to dismiss the powerful role data and analytics play in improving people-related decision-making.

When used appropriately to understand business problems and expose opportunities in HR, analytics enhance trust, allow executive teams to position HR functions strategically and builds credibility and fact-based support for programmes such as employee engagement.

In many of my client interactions, analytics is an afterthought for employee engagement custodians. It’s often seen as a simple means to report their programme’s progress, and success or failure is often based on simple point-in-time survey results.

“Rather than guessing, your data analyst can work with you to determine the most effective length of time for your engagement interventions”

But in many respects, this is short-sighted. The data analyst should be part of the conceptual planning, because data outcomes can inform and shape the design of the employee engagement initiatives and help facilitate its continuous improvement. Your data analyst can credibly test outcomes on existing HR datasets or run pre-design trials to determine the best options or recommend changes or tweaks to an existing programme based on analytical results.

For example, how would you develop or modify your engagement programme if you knew the following:

  • The effectiveness of most engagement programmes is generally marginal
  • That engagement effectiveness decreases over time
  • Your intervention method impacts success, and
  • The length of the intervention is critical

These are findings from recent investigations by the University of Timişoara, Romania and offer some important guidance and examples for both design of the engagement programme and key points of measurement and analytical assessment.

For example, rather than guessing, your data analyst can work with you to determine the most effective length of time for your engagement interventions. There are constant battles in most companies fighting for an employee’s attention. A two-week engagement programme may be far more successful that one that runs over six months.

“Analysts can help you figure out which soft skills are the best intervention method to apply within the programme to give you maximum effect”

Analysts can figure out how many ‘nudges’ or ‘refreshers/reminder sessions’ are best in your work environment to mitigate the ‘decrease of effectiveness over time’ risk. If you knew without reminders, the engagement effects all but disappear after three months, you could build in appropriate actions, tests and measures.

Analysts can help you figure out which soft skills are the best intervention method to apply within the programme to give you maximum effect. This could be pre-tested and analysed based on existing LMS (learning management system), training and performance management datasets.

Using analytics appropriately in HR is critical and we need to get comfortable applying it in order to remain effective in our HR leadership roles. Al Adamsen, a global people analytics thought leader has this great saying: “Effective analytics is like a great football player, they don’t run to the ball, they run to where the ball is going to be”. That’s how we need to see the value of data.

3 steps to maximising employee engagement through analytics

  1. Engage your analytics team or service early in employee engagement programme design. Their input is likely to change how you develop the interventions.
  2. As an HR leader, building the right level of understanding of analytics and its application. This is an HR leadership risk mitigation factor.
  3. Using people analytics appropriately, empowers HR and managers, builds credibility and trust through evidence, without having to lose your human-centric style

In Search of Imperfection

written for InsideHR

People leaders need to get the balance between technology, environments and human irrationality right in an increasingly digital world, writes Rob Scott, who explains that there are a number of considerations in optimising employee performance in the process

I recently attended a presentation by Alexander Kjerulf, the Chief Happiness Officer at Danish company Woohoo Inc. He makes the point that we very often, but incorrectly assume employees are happy at work when they have job satisfaction. According to Kjerulf, job satisfaction is what we “think” about our jobs, while happiness is what we “feel” about our jobs and work environment.

The employee performance conundrum
This was timely as I have been engaging with several leading-edge clients who are struggling to find appropriate ways of improving their employee performance and engagement levels. These companies have all the great benefits and perks such as free food, zone-out pods, wellness programs and gym membership which attract talent, they have tier-1 HR technology and collaboration tools, use and explore automation, robotics and AI to augment employee capability and remove humans from work which is done better by machines. Wow, everyone should be happy, satisfied and engaged. But they’re not.

Josh Bersin, a leading global HR technology analyst cites challenges with engagement, productivity and employee experience as one of four forces disrupting organisations today. In his presentation A Wild New World of HR Technology, he alludes to the lack of employee performance and productivity improvement, overwhelmed employees and marginal improvements in employee engagement despite all the great technology we continually introduce into our lives and workplaces.

“Wow, everyone should be happy, satisfied and engaged. But they’re not”

Why leaders need to empower people to improve employee performance
For several years, I’ve been driving the point that effective digital work environments are not about throwing more technology at people and problems. Unless you empower people to do more with the technology in a modified human behavioural way, you are likely to create the challenges Josh Bersin highlights.

Furthermore, as people leaders, it’s important that we figuratively step back to see the broader technical environments we are busy creating – not just from a software and apps perspective, but inclusive of the steel, concrete, glass, noise, space and technical gadgetry we combine to form our “happy” work environments.

Often these environments are created to serve rationality and optimisation but can unintentionally become “technology concentration camps” – an environment which is perfectly rational, but dreadfully unliveable.

In my view, we have become singularly focused on building environments and supporting processes using modern and emerging technical assets in order to attract, retain, engage and develop people. But we have overlooked the potential mismatch between these creations and the fact that people are not perfectly rational and don’t operate well in sterile, passionless environments.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a technology fan – it underpins our human desire to constantly progress and improve. However, we should realise as human beings, we are at our happiest when we can be irrational, make mistakes, share emotions, be spontaneous, indulge in passions, seek out the mysterious and have faith.

Allowing employees to be human
It was the French writer Ellul who said “The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries made an enormous error in misunderstanding this aspect of human nature and presumed to exorcise all that was not rational.”

“As human beings, we are at our happiest when we can be irrational, make mistakes, share emotions, be spontaneous, indulge in passions, seek out the mysterious and have faith”

As we evolve our digital work environments, shifting tasks to robotics and AI away from human jobs which we are not good at, are less accurate at, or are slow to do in comparison to technology, we will be left with a ‘perfectly optimised’ human worker, but perhaps not a happy or engaged one. The ‘perfect’ technology environment may be producing the opposite effects of employee performance, happiness, engagement and productivity.

Our challenge as people leaders is to get the balance between technology, our environments and human irrationality right – building the perfect ‘imperfect’ environment is the goal. Those that succeed will be the attractive organisations of the future, sought out by talented people.

3 key insights: employee performance in the digital world

  • Our digital work environments are increasingly becoming optimised and rational, driven by technology. But when we put humans, who are not perfectly rational, into these environments, we are impacting engagement and happiness.
  • We have an abundance of technology in our personal and work lives, yet evidence suggests that employee performance, human productivity and engagement has only marginally improved.
  • Our desire to remain competitive organisations has necessitated leveraging modern technologies and shifting human tasks to machines and AI. Organisations who understand how to optimise, but at the same time not dehumanise will be the successful companies of the future.