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Post-Pandemic People Decisions: Why Exploratory Analysis is a Must-Have

A look at how exploratory analysis will help HR leaders navigate a post-pandemic world that will be anything but normal.

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Post-Pandemic People Decisions

Vaccination campaigns are now well underway, but ramping up for a recovery won’t simply be a matter of “returning to normal.” The workplace has been permanently altered.

The hybrid working model is becoming standard. Stigmas about openly discussing mental health have broken down. Activist shareholders, customers, employees, and candidates are demanding diverse and inclusive workforces, and the bar for DEI transparency has never been higher. 

Since the spring of 2020, your people’s needs and expectations have changed dramatically. And change can be good. But new drivers could be contributing to employee dissatisfaction, churn, and disengagement at your company. This makes it all the more challenging to deliver the right talent decisions, whether you are building a strategy or determining how to react in the moment.

These challenges can be tackled with exploratory analysis, a topic that came up frequently during our recent Outsmart Global Digital Summit

What is exploratory analysis?

Exploratory analysis for people leaders is about freely investigating patterns, trends and outliers as they relate to things like engagement, diversity and attrition. 

With this approach, you don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for until you find it. 

Sometimes, organizations have a specific hypothesis they want to put to the test with people data–but this is not the case with exploratory analysis, which is best supported by visualizations that enable dynamic interaction with the data. 

Most importantly, modern analytic applications also enable HR leaders to connect the insights gleaned from free exploration to outcomes like productivity and profitability–a must-have for organizations as they navigate new challenges.

3 tips for putting exploratory analysis to work

The capacity to interact with the numbers in an agile way allows HR leaders to spot problems, develop targeted interventions and share insights that matter to the business. Here are three tips to get you started with exploratory analysis and keep you on the right track: 

Tip #1. Get the right tool for the job

During one of the Outsmart panel discussions, Melissa Kantor, Vice President of People Analytics and Insights from The LEGO Group, talked about the importance of getting tools that “are fit for purpose.” 

This is a particularly important consideration when seeking the capability to explore data in an agile way: There are so many systems in the HR tech landscape. While they do hold the transactional data, very few of them have any capabilities that support exploratory analysis.

For example, the data generated from an HRIS can help with transactional reporting–the opposite of performing an exploratory analysis. A report on hundreds of employees only tells you the limited and pre-specified information about that group that is available within one system. It won’t illustrate the connection between things like new hire training and turnover. You have to run multiple reports, from multiple systems, to try and string together a glimmer of insight from this data–a process that is error prone, prohibitively clunky and time consuming.

people analytics platform, on the other hand, supports trending and forecasting analysis and incorporates data as a natural part of a facilitated journey with clear data visualizations that invite exploration. The application has been built with exploration in mind so it already contains the reference and linkages that align data sources (like talent acquisition data) with key events of the employee lifecycle (such as pay changes or promotions).

It is important to note that there is a huge benefit in having a specific application available to respond to the business questions that require exploratory analysis. It is not necessary to have the HRIS prior to engaging in exploratory analysis, and in fact, according to leaders in this space, it often makes sense to deploy the analytic application before the new HRIS. 

As Melissa explained recently, her organization implemented Visier people analytics in 2019 and is planning on going live with Workday’s HRIS in October of 2021. Lego has reduced the risks inherent in a new HRIS implementation through the use and analysis of their people data pre-project.

Rob Etheridge, Managing Director, Global Head of Workforce Management and Analytics for Deutsche Bank, also participated in the same panel discussion as Melissa, and agreed that going with people analytics first is the right approach. 

“It’s much better to have a firm foundation for the decisions you’re making and then change the processes,” he said.

Tip #2. Ask questions. Lots of questions.

As the late organizational theorist Russell Ackoff stated many years ago: “We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem.” It’s a bit of an awkward statement to say out loud–but it’s true. 

Spotting problems is a big part of developing the right HR interventions. And nailing the root of the problem means asking questions–lots of questions. 

For example, says Rob, a broad question like, “How do we improve gender diversity within our organization?,” quickly evolves into more questions, and this moves into exploring the drivers of why diversity is moving in a particular direction.

From there, it leads into even more questions. “What’s our history been like? What’s the behavior of people making these types of decisions around hiring, for example? And actually, no, it’s not just about hiring, it’s about our applicants. Are we getting diverse applicants?” Rob added.

This kind of rapid-fire questioning is possible with analytic applications, which include all of the metrics, visualizations, security and storytelling required for non-technical users to get an unlimited number of insights. This is typically where dashboard approaches fall short. 

By their nature, a dashboard will include a constrained set of insights with limited levels of investigation. This is the opposite of exploration. While dashboards are useful in terms of problem identification, they are too constrained to support the type of analytic exploration required to understand why the problem exists and how to fix it.

Tip #3. Be aware of confirmation bias

Giving more people the power to explore data comes with a few caveats, however. The first relates to confirmation bias, a phenomenon Matt Stevenson from Mercer covered during an Outsmart session about empowering CHROs with data.

“We’re trained to look for things that we agree with, it’s built into our DNA. And when you provide everyone with almost limitless data that can be looked at in a limitless way, you open the aperture for that behavior,” Matt explained.  

Starting with the decision, and then looking for the data to support that decision, will hinder your ability to effectively solve the problem. It’s important, then, to come at the specific challenge being faced with an open mind and ask yourself whether you are searching for data that reinforces a point of view you already have.

Also consider the lens through which you are looking at the data. As Matt said, sometimes HR leaders find things that are interesting to HR, but irrelevant to the business problem. 

“There’s a gap there and you actually lose your audience, and that’s one of the things I think CHROs really have to focus on, is connecting the analytics to the business problem,” he said.

One way to get around this is to ask questions that map back to the business, such as: what are the drivers of turnover for people in revenue producing roles? This will help yield a finding that resonates with business leaders. 

People decisions for a post-Covid world

The global health crisis has changed the rules of talent management for good. Navigating a post-pandemic world will require agility, and the ability to spot problems starting from the broadest vantage point possible

This way HR leaders and managers can intervene and move the needle on what matters most to the business–and their people.

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