Why HR Needs to Have More Data-Driven Conversations

 
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People interact. We communicate. It’s what we do. Over eons, we as humans have improved the means and effectiveness in which we’ve conversed. We’ve needed to do so to perpetuate our species… to survive. In more civilised times and situations, we’ve needed to converse well in order to thrive. This is true in both personal and professional relationships. Regarding the latter: Most organisations -- whether they be commercial, governmental, non-profit, or other -- conversations about goals, processes, resourcing, development, rewards, etc. have remained esoteric and, in many cases, have proven personally deflating.

But, why? And what’s being done to improve these dynamics?

My recent discussion with Archana Ramesh & Amy Lavoie of Glint’s People Science Team projected a clear light on the issue and offered some really cool ideas that, if adopted, would create better, more impactful experiences for both people leaders and those they support. The essence of these very well thought through, research-based ideas was that inter-personal, workplace conversations need to be safefocused, and purposeful. Upon hearing this my reaction, potentially like yours right now was, “This makes perfect sense… Doesn’t everyone know this?”. 

The answer: No. And even if an individual cognitively “knows” approaching conversations this way is a good thing to do, there’s often a significant gap between what’s going on in an individual’s head and the habitual behaviours they exhibit day-to-day. Even more elusive is the ability to inspire desired behaviours across an organisation over time. If this can be done, desired behaviours become the norm, thus serving as a cornerstone of an organisation’s culture.

So, how to fill this knowing-doing gap?

To break it down simply, according to Archana and Amy:

  1. The goal of the people leader (a.k.a., manager) needs to be clearly understood -- what the role is and what it’s not.

  2. The focus of the discussion needs to be based on fact, yet it also needs to appreciate the diverse qualitative perspectives of others, including the individual themselves.

  3. The conversation needs to drive to positive, productive outcomes for the individual, team, colleagues, the organisation, and any other key stakeholders.

 To elaborate on these three with their insights and ideas:

  1. The goal of the people leader/manager is not to fix engagement for their team, it’s to hold a safe place for authentic, curious, creative conversations and to model the behaviour they would like to see in others.

  2. Data needs to be relevant and actionable to the individual. When they are, the data can actually help create the safe place, particularly when there is curiosity and compassion around the data versus criticism and a “fix you” mentality.

  3. Once the challenge or opportunity has been clearly identified and generally agreed upon, the people leader/manager can offer ideas that will help the individual. In turn, the individual chooses the best way forward.

This approach is captured in the acronym ACT:

  • Acknowledge

  • Collaborate

  • Take one step forward

 Acknowledge involves quieting one’s inner critic, that know-it-all, been-there-done-that fixed mindset, and elevating the compassionate witness, the lens that merely observes what’s happening. 

Collaborate speaks to seeking to understand through conversation and relevant data; applying a growth mindset -- the insatiable curiosity and willingness to learn. 

Take one step forward means just that: start. Move in an intentional direction with courage, clarity, and confidence -- genuine feelings that are earned through this process.

Imagine the power of this construct applied effectively throughout an enterprise, and applied effectively over time. The conversations had would serve as the fuel for positive, ongoing change. They would contribute to organisational agility, heightened levels of focus, and elevated levels of engagement. And, after such conversations are practiced repeatedly over time, healthy habits would form. These habits would be seen at individual, team, and organisational levels. In the end, the organisation and people within it would benefit. Simple…

Not so fast. If it were simple everyone would be doing it, and doing it well. This isn’t the case, and it’s not the case by a long shot. Again, knowing is one thing. Doing is another.

The doing part now is enabled by technology, automation, digitisation, data, analytics, AI, or a combination of a few or all of these. This is where solution providers are disrupting legacy processes significantly. For example, employee surveys used to be annual events that just focused on employees at a point in time. Now, survey data is captured more frequently, questions are more relevant, response options provide more meaningful variability, and questions are asked and answered over the course of a candidate and employee life cycle. Add to this that most survey data are, in turn, quickly aligned with other data assets (text data, operational data, etc.). This means insights are more confidence-inspiring, thus actionable. 

Now, while I’m not in the business of endorsing products, I am in the business of highlighting what needs to be considered to improve worker experiences, organisational outcomes, and positive social change. Also, having been in the employee survey space in one form or another for nearly 20 years, I now see patterns; patterns driven by innovators like Archana, Amy, and the Glint team, that are sure to be adopted more in the months and years ahead. One such pattern is the through-line of this post: we, as humans, after the basics of food and shelter, want to be seenheard, and empowered. We don’t want to be overlooked, ignored, or demeaned. Unfortunately, many legacy talent processes have done just this, and the costs of perpetuating them will only become higher as the scarcity of new talent, and the need to retain and develop existing talent, becomes even more critical. 

In the end, we as people need to communicate well to be peaceful, focused, productive contributors. This is true amongst family, friends, and professional associates… and such conversations don’t happen by accident. They have to be consciously created with commonly understood and respected ground-rules and purpose. They have to be supported, when possible, by dispassionate facts that shed light on a situation. In turn, these facts can be further qualified and understood through safe, honest conversations. With the problem or opportunity clearly identified, what to do – the appropriate action – often emerges without much additional effort. Even so, additional resources are often helpful, especially coming from highly credible sources. This is how people leaders, and those they serve, can learn. Learning does happen, though, by applying a process over and over and over again. The positive conversation muscle is built through practice, and practice takes conscious effort.


 
 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Al Adamsen is a globally known adviser, educator and thought leader in the areas of talent strategy, workforce planning and analytics, talent measurement, and organisational change. He is also the founder of Talent Strategy Institute and the PAFOW conferences and has held HR leadership roles at Ernst & Young, Gap Inc., Infohrm, and Kenexa (now IBM).