Power Your People Analytics with Storytelling 

In our last post, we explored the value of visualizations in bringing workforce data to life and simplifying understanding. So what comes next once we have robust people data, deeper understanding, and great visualizations? It’s time to start using people analytics to share insight and drive decision making with executives and LOBs.

What’s the best way to do this? It’s through storytelling. That’s right… good old-fashioned storytelling.

Remember storytime as a kid? Remember being so enthralled, so engaged, you hung on every word? Now think about today… have you ever had a reaction anywhere remotely like the one in the above picture? Ever had an audience that enthralled or engaged in your HR slides? Sure, maybe we can’t (and don’t need to) aspire to kindergarten levels of rapt interest and unbridled enthusiasm, but if you think you could be doing better in telling your HR story, read on!

Studies show that we are wired to remember stories much more than data, facts, and figures. When data, visuals and context are combined in story, the brain is engaged both emotionally and intellectually. Through stories, people grasp things more quickly and retain them longer. Because of their emotional element, stories, more than fact and information alone, have the ability to persuade and inspire action.

For stories to be compelling to our audience they need to be crafted with purpose and directed towards business results. We need to use HR analytics to build stories that can make a difference.

This may sound challenging but here are the 5 best practices to get you there:

1. Know your Audience:

Spend time thinking about what your audience wants and needs to hear from HR. Always keep the lens on your audience, frame your thinking this way. Consider what information will resonate the most. Think about what business priorities are most important to them? What questions have been raised in the past? What problems would they most like to solve/what insight do they need? What keeps them up at night? To be relevant you need to share the HR story in a context that matters to your audience.

2. Go deep into your data and analytics:

With your business questions in hand, explore the people and business data you have. Make connections across your data sources for powerful insight. Make note of interesting peaks, valleys, trends and anomalies. Look for themes. Notice areas where the data matches with assumptions, and those where it does not. Note too, any questions the data raises. Think through other data sources that would be good to have integrated for richer understanding.

3. Visualize your data:

Make sure you have the best visual representations of your data. As we discussed in our last blog, the human brain is wired to process information visually, making visualization one of the best ways to understand data. When done right, visualizations have the power to change the dynamic in the meeting room and result in a faster path to material business decisions. For more on this topic, for examples of visualization tools available, and for best practices, click here.

4. Build the story to accompany the visuals:

Even the best visualization can be improved by way of a compelling narrative. Let’s keep it as simple as possible for our purposes – as with all good stories you need a beginning, a middle and an end. And remember, you need to write this story for your audience, not for you.

The beginning – this is your set-up.

  • Start with a headline that matters. Don’t say you’re going to talk about turnover, say you’re going to explore the question Why we’re ineffective at retaining top performers?  or Why first year outcomes are below expectations?  Introduce the business question and re-iterate why it’s important to your audience. If you’re talking to an audience motivated by making money, saving money, innovation, customer satisfaction, or some other key focus, make sure you frame the story so it matters to them and their goals.  
  • Don’t let the numbers speak for themselves – they’ve proven time and again that they aren’t very good at it. Help the numbers out by putting them in context and using the visuals to bring them to life. Remind everyone why you’re presenting turnover numbers, why you’re presenting a new view of turnover by age/gender/tenure/LOB/performance, and why it’s important to focus on this. 

The middle – this is where you situate the problem in context.

  • Here, you can provide examples. Use the data to show what’s going on and the significance of it.  You can get granular and segment by LOB, by geography, by hiring manager, you name it. You can articulate what will happen if no action is taken or things don’t change. 
  • Draw people in by telling your story about people, not numbers. Make it matter to your audience. First Year Turnover of 30% means 3 out of 10 of your new employees are leaving – this means Janet, Kyle and Gord are out the door. Add more context… go further by explaining that Janet and Kyle were top performers.
  • Shake things up by talking about what we don’t know in addition to what we do know. Don’t be afraid to point to gaps where you could benefit from knowing more. In our turnover example: What is it really like to be a new employee in your company? What hiring source did these new hires come from?  What are the real reasons people are leaving and what can we do about it? How much is this really costing us? This stimulates dialogue and generates shared ownership of the problem.

The end – move on from the problem to solutions.

  • Don’t dwell on problems – once you’ve got the attention of the audience and they are engaged, it’s time to move on to action and decisions. Circle back to the business questions you had at the outset. What answers or direction do you have? Where could you go from here? What plan do you have? How will you measure success? What other questions do you have now?  What else does your audience want to know?  What are the next steps? 
  • Remember, a good story helps establish a common ground for shared understanding. As such, it pulls listeners in and invites them to co-create the ending. It’s no longer HR on its own, you’ve engaged the business and this can be a strong catalyst to action.
  • With a simple change in how you present – by telling a story rather than presenting dry facts and figures, you’ll be amazed at the reaction you receive.

5. Moving Forward:

With the executives or your LOBs paying attention and engaged, be sure you stay in motion. Make a plan and take action where needed. This may require delving deep to understand an area more fully. In these cases, you may decide to execute a survey or have some qualitative research carried out (interviews, focus groups) to get at the heart of matters and flesh out your story more fully. In other areas, you may decide to go ahead and make a change and begin to track progress. In both cases, your efforts are guided by data and context, and supported by your audience.

By following these 5 best practices, you can start transforming communication with executives and LOBs. From here, you continue to add different data sources, seek more context, raise more questions and build deeper understanding. You’re in the business of continually sharing the stories about your people and people programs, adding chapters, and working towards those happy endings.