Rework Work

Wednesday 16th January 2019, 11:15am

People analytics could be the most important new data science you’ve never heard of.

If you believe the myth, beer and nappies played a starring role in the genesis of customer analytics.

The story goes that, when the science was shiny and new, a checkout analysis of supermarket baskets revealed a head-scratchingly close sales link between these two products, confirmed by a spike when the beer was stacked right next to the nappies. That sales jump could have been the one-off effect of a stag night stock-up, but the more plausible connection was baggy-eyed new dads hunting for paediatric products late at night and failing to resist the temptation of a sleep-inducing tinnie or two.  

However or whenever it came about, the realisation that customer behaviour could be influenced in commercially productive ways was a eureka moment. Putting pale ales next to the Pampers would probably be frowned upon today, but analysing buying patterns through data visualisation, predictive modelling and machine learning has become routine in the retail industry.

Now, through the transfer of these techniques from products to personnel, a new business tool has emerged: people analytics.

In terms of understanding staff performance and what drives it, this hybrid of data and behavioural science offers a brilliant why-didn’t-we-think-of that-before alternative to the flashy but limited performance measure we know as dashboard reporting. Professionally applied by experts such as Optima, people analytics can revolutionise your entire business – and not just financially. Revenue boosts for the same costs, reduced costs without reduced output and efficiently spent training money are side attractions to the main event, which is the win-win creation of a happier, more settled and more productive workforce.

Dashboard reporting is useful if you want specific answers to specific questions, but people analytics approaches the three key staffing pillars of performance, engagement and attrition in a much more holistic manner.

On the performance side, it shines a spotlight on what works and what doesn’t. It will not only show you how performance drivers impact on call-handling times and transfer rates, sales conversions and customer satisfaction scores, but also how you can use your new insight to supercharge staff performance and drive a material improvement in those business KPIs. In addition, by highlighting the skills of your best performers it will sharpen up your recruitment process as you’ll be able to recognise and lock down those attributes in applicants.

Of course, getting the right people to work for you is only half the battle. Once they’re on board, you need them to stay on board. Here's where engagement and attrition come in. People analytics will point up the things that generate happiness in the workplace. That includes taking staff surveys and training seriously, properly analysing survey responses and making sure that training is more than just an opportunity to kick back for a day or two with unlimited hot drinks and biscuits. It also helps to crystallise your employees’ thoughts on benefits and facilities, on the value of your training, and on the suitability of working practices.  

In a work context, the word ‘attrition’ may seem a bit extreme, but if you’re a business owner looking at an annual staff loss rate of 75% – which, shockingly, is far from unusual – it’s all too appropriate. Here, people analytics is the flying doctor of HR, proactively identifying the symptoms of impending departure – patterns of lateness, sickness, customer complaints and (in a call centre environment) call length stats – and working through a combination of data analysis and care conversations to identify and mend whatever issues may be causing them, from ‘square peg in a round hole’ syndrome to shift patterns, bothersome commutes or problems at home.

Which companies are best placed to benefit from people analytics? Well, multisite organisations with high numbers of customer-facing staff are obvious candidates. Besides banks and contact centres, recruitment organisations can use this science to filter top candidates through the analysis of key words on CVs and job applications.

The downsides of poor staffing are as hard to spot as a dodgy stag do outfit. Anything that can clean up horrific attrition rates and cut out new employee integration costs of around £6,000 per person has got to be worth a look, especially when the process brings with it the enhanced sense of wellbeing and the sort of work-life balance that we’d all like to enjoy. The cost of implementing people analytics is small beer compared to what we all – employees as well as employers – might lose by ignoring it.

Written by Tony Middlehurst