Use Your People Data to Create Happier (and More Productive) Teams

The science of engagement is a hot topic in the HR world. Engaged employees, after all, have been shown to be happier, more productive, and more loyal in the long run. But how does one break down engagement? How do you create a culture where people want to work, as opposed to simply meeting the obligations of their role?

Part of the answer lies in the analysis of workplace relationships. In recent surveys, 44 percent of employees who had a positive relationship with their bosses had lower stress levels, and 54 percent of those who were proud of what their company contributed to the outside world were more engaged in their work.

The relationships employees have with both their companies and their colleagues will affect their performance in a major way. Companies that are serious about creating a culture to attract, engage and retain their best employees need to focus on improving the relationships their employees experience in every aspect of their jobs.

Engagement and Culture Metrics Intersect

Engagement can be boiled down to how we feel about our work experience, and culture is the collection of behaviors we demonstrate in the workplace. The analytics relevant to these two areas relate almost entirely to relationships:

• Quantity and quality of engagement with other employees
• Sentiment of people and communities of people
• Influence and authority within networks
• Who is recognized and to what degree for certain behaviors

 Follow an agile development model that uses lots of small, iterative steps that can be continually improved upon  

Of course, it’s one thing to say engagement is driven by employees’ relationships, but quite another to actually do anything about it. Understanding these relationship networks, the quality of the relationships, how people feel within these networks, and the behaviors most valued in them is a good start. But to actively change a company’s culture— and, thus, improve engagement—HR must have business intelligence systems in place that can not only collect and analyze employee feedback, but distribute that information broadly so that many people can take action.

By leveraging new data collection and visualization tools that can integrate these data points with a broad range of others such as time, job function, retention, and skills, new patterns and correlations can be understood. In this way, management can better test and understand the effects of existing and potential programs and continuously improve upon each one’s effectiveness. Employees across the organization can feel more informed and empowered connecting their individual actions with the broader objectives of the company.

From Analysis to Action

Anyone who has recently completed a culture and planning strategy process knows how challenging it can be. Although a few dozen people have been part of the process (and perhaps many employees had the opportunity to give input), only the handful of people closely involved really understand the new culture objectives enough to be able to take action.

How do you get the other 10,000 employees on board? What if you could:

  • Create custom badges that champion and “gamify” the new behaviors?
  • Distribute information, and collect feedback from hundreds or thousands of people in real-time?
  • Understand how people feel about changes being made, or whether a change in the culture is affecting retention and productivity?
  • Create virtual competitions that help people understand the underlying concepts of a new brand?
  • Or champion and celebrate people who exemplify this new brand?

Not only are all of these things possible, they’re already being done within companies that have people analytics in place. Information gleaned from people analytics may come in many different forms, and often in unexpected ways.

Take Xerox’s recent woes with customer retention as an example. When it came to hiring employees for its call centers, the company did what any company would do—it looked for experienced candidates to fill the positions, assuming more experienced candidates would perform at the highest level and stay the longest. Instead, employees quit so quickly after being hired that, in many cases, Xerox wasn’t able to recoup the $5,000 spent training each one.

When the company stopped following what it assumed was common sense and started actually looking at the data, it discovered there was no correlation between experience and performance or retention.

What did help them reduce attrition rates? Hiring creative types and active social media users; according to the data, these candidates were most likely to excel in the position.

While the impact is clear, even more compelling is the fact that within a few years, people analytic tools will be able to proactively identify these types of opportunities, helping companies address problems before they become significant.

Embracing People Analytics in Your Workplace

Without the right analytics, you have no idea whether your systems are broken. The fact is, nearly 90 percent of companies use ineffective and outdated engagement systems. People analytics could not only help create new, effective systems reducing investment in largely ineffective programs, but it could also prevent you from getting left in the dust.

The first step is to organize a team to collect this data and put it to use. In many companies, HR departments hire specialists or train existing employees to improve their data capabilities. Think about who you want involved, and then form your team.  Many companies realize people analytics is not their strength and look to partners like Maritz EX who are global leaders in people analytics and understanding human behavior.

As you plan, identify a few questions you would like to have answered to give your team solid goals and boundaries. It’s easy to get lost in the data and find lots of interesting but less valuable insights. But with clear objectives in mind, your team can navigate their way through it without getting caught up in the weeds.

Rather than create one master plan that tries to encompass everything (and leaves plenty of room for error), follow an agile development model that uses lots of small, iterative steps that can be continually improved upon. You can then celebrate milestones achieved along the way, gradually building support within the organization.

Building people analytics capabilities to analyze employee behavior and relationships is not an easy task—if it were, everyone would already be doing it—but it provides tremendous value across the entire organization. When you have an ongoing, detailed understanding of what motivates your employees, it makes creating better relationships and a culture where people actually want to work that much easier.

(Updated from original article that appeared in CIO Review in 2016)

5 Things Smart Entrepreneurs Can Do to Engage Their Workforces

Article originally appeared in Entrepreneur, November 1, 2016

Leaders usually do a better job of telling employees what they do wrong than championing the behavior they want to see.

Having worked for a global corporation, a university, a local government, a nonprofit and several startups over my 20-year career, I’ve noticed one thing in particular that’s increasingly clear: Company leaders can have very different ideas of what constitutes success.

Some focus on maximizing profits or advancing technology over building a great culture. Others are more mission-focused, working to solve societal problems.

However, no matter what they’re striving toward, most agree that success begins and ends with a highly engaged workforce. So, why, then, are so few employees engaged?

Not because companies don’t care — they spend billions on wellness, engagement and professional development programs. Forward-thinking managers at Deere & Company even measure their teams’ morale and motivation every two weeks.

You probably don’t need to survey that often to reap the rewards. But looking at — and acting upon — engagement metrics is as critical to success as the analysis of any financial or production data. That’s why, for so many companies, conducting and then ignoring these surveys represents a gigantic missed opportunity. The reason: Keeping teams engaged requires a dynamic approach and close attention to this data.

Strong-willed leaders, in fact, devote as much energy to building a sound culture as they do to driving performance. As an entrepreneur leader, you should emulate their example.

Which came first: performance or engagement?

Although employee engagement is tied to culture, many leaders struggle to understand how to use engagement data to grow a sustainable business.

In The Living Company, Arie de Geus wrote that the average life expectancy of a corporation is less than 20 years. A preoccupation with profits over people leads companies to die prematurely — they calcify culturally by focusing too heavily on financial metrics. And while, certainly, a well-managed, incentivized sales team is critical to the success of any company, it is no more so than the other parts of the organization.

The roots of the engagement problem are key: They may well extend beyond management to the investor marketplace and to boards that are heavily pressured to push revenue. While short-term financial performance may result, it’s often at the expense of long-term (and often more significant) gains.

Companies can reach their full potential only if leadership values all people.

Thriving organizations value all members

Some companies defy the 20-year lifespan de Geus described. Recognizing that fact, de Geus identified a key characteristic of those that thrived for decades or even centuries: Each completely altered its business portfolio.

Take 200-year-old DuPont, for example: a manufacturer that started out making gunpowder and gradually evolved into specialty chemicals. Mitsui is even older. It began as a shop selling drapery, became a bank, operated mines and eventually went into manufacturing. The products and even the types of businesses these companies offer have continued to evolve.

But what these companies have in common is that they value people more than assets; and that’s an even more important concept now than it was centuries ago. In a digital, knowledge-based economy, technology and processes are commodities. People are the competitive differentiator.

Here are five ways to effectively engage your own employees and see positive returns on the investments you make in your company’s greatest resource and asset: its people.

Read the entire original article on Entrepreneur


Don’t build an Employee Engagement Program, Engage People

Entrepreneur Magazine recently published an article entitled “5 Inexpensive Ways to Create a Company Culture like Google’s”. The pieces lives up to its title by providing a ‘quick hit’ list of fun office challenges, a weight loss/health initiative and celebrations as the missing pieces building a great culture.

The article is a great reminder how many people think employee engagement and great culture is a byproduct of a new mission statement and better birthday parties for employees.  If engagement is that easy, every company would have incredible culture, engaged employees and no one would want to leave their job.  But that is not the case, in fact according to a recentGallup survey; only about 29% of US employees are actively engaged in the workplace. Continue reading →

Do companies talk more then they listen?

You have two years, two eyes and one mouth so you should be listening and observing twice as much as you should be talking” is a phrase often used by elementary school teachers to convey one of the most basic principles of learning: it does not happen when you are talking,

Imagine if companies followed this advice when communicating with employees?

From the Intranet to newsletters to kiosks, companies use lots of tools to communicate an even broader array of topics to employees – wellness programs learning opportunities, activities and more.

But as one CFO recently lamented incredulously to me, “We make everything available to employees but they still complain about not being informed.” Continue reading →

Start Up Missouri Connecting Entrepreneurs Across the State

Start Up Missouri is an effort being organized by a group of entrepreneurs and organizations supporting entrepreneurs from across the State.  The project leverages the infrastructure and resources of the Start Up America Partnership, a national effort to connect entrepreneurs to valuable resources, each other and create regional start-up ecosystems around the country.

The kick-off event will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 31 at 611 Olive St. in downtown St. Louis and interested entrepreneurs can sign up at the Eventbrite page.  The agenda will focus on connecting entrepreneurs, sharing ideas how we can support entrepreneurs and developing goals for Start Up Missouri.

The event’s hosts include Barbara Brinkman of Innovate St. LouisJay DeLong of St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association; Chris Dornfeld of Dornfeld Management GroupTrey Goede of Affinity WindGreg Kratofil of Polsinelli Shughart, PCBrian Matthews of River City Internet Group and Judy Sindecuse of Capital Innovators.

Should be a great event and I hope you can join!

Entrepreneurs Create Jobs, Not the Wealthy

Guest blogger today for Patch:

Driving home today I was listening to the radio and yet another discussion of the politics of the debt ceiling and financial challenges facing our country.  On more than one occasion I heard the comment “wealthy people create jobs” as an argument to against increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

The tax policy debate aside, the statement is just wrong.  Entrepreneurs create jobs, not the wealthy.

Read the entire post here.

83% of Startups Hiring in 2011

Silicon Valley Bank recently published “Startup Outlook 2011” with results from 375 interviews of private and VC backed hardware, software and clean-tech companies.  Across the board the startup companies are reporting better results than in the past with increases in expected hiring, economic perception, profitability and overall growth.

Startup Outlook on Business Conditions from SVB

Continue reading →

Golden Triangle of Search

One of my favorite graphics is the result of a study done by Enquiro Research that tracks the eyeball movement of people as they used an Internet browser.  Clearly shows the impact of the top three search results and the obscurity of not showing up in the top five results.

Image showing density of eye tracking as users search through a typical search page on Google.