How Employee Insight Can Transform A Business

24 August 2015

Employee insight is all about understanding how employees interact with their employment environment and how that information can be leveraged to the benefit of employees and the business. Understanding your employees means understanding their life cycle, career and socioeconomic pressures that underlie so many aspects of attitude, choice and behaviour. If you can get a good feel for what’s driving your employees you are in a much better position to think about how business decisions can be made to maximize employee potential, sometimes in very counter intuitive ways.

This is about more than engagement, moral and productivity and is definitely not the HR equivalent of that beer and nappies thing supermarkets discovered. Understanding who and what your workforce are in terms of where they are in life and the socioeconomic pressures that drive work and life decisions can be instrumental in helping HR professionals balance cost, corporate strategy and employee preferences in the context of a wide range of business challenges such as M&A, harmonisation, strategic reviews, retention crises and HR policy rethinks in times of significant corporate stress.

HR professionals can and should be doing more in this regard by thinking about how the above factors drive employee desires and attitudes and how these pressures can dictate the success or failure of HR decisions and policy. If done right and respectfully, thinking about the implications of who your employees are and where they are in life can be transformative.

I’ll give you an example of how employee preference analytics and insight can be critical to solving strategic issues:

A government advisory firm we recently worked with was having severe retention issues. After an analysis of employee demographics and exit surveys, we helped the client realise that their retention issues should be looked at in the context of where they as a business fit into the career trajectories of their employees.

The client’s employees are highly educated and dedicated careerists who as a group pursue their goals with all the power and strength of a force of nature. So, rather than resisting a force of nature, our client decided to figure out a way to harness it to the benefit of the business.

This is where the employee analytics came in. We helped them understand and demonstrate that their strength was their ability to attract high quality, motivated graduates as well as a significant and under-utilised capacity to attract talented senior people with extensive experience. Their retention problems were primarily with people in the middle who were leaving to earn higher salaries in private sector professional services firms but valued our client as a stepping stone employer. We also found that older employees saw our client as appealing when they wanted to shift down a gear later in their careers whilst still doing something fulfilling, often driven by the realisation that work life balance is important once one has established a family.

In the end, the client saw that their retention issues were not a problem to be solved but an asset to be embraced by focusing on two things; 1) ensuring that both they and their younger hires received maximum value from their time together and that both parties understood and celebrated the stepping stone opportunities, and 2) creating an active and positive alumni program that ensured ex-employees knew they were valued, were aware of the opportunities available and were encouraged to return after acquiring new skills and experiences with other employers.

Just like how any good retailer analyses and segments their customers and then designs products to suit them, this client took the same approach to their employees and the skills market by designing an employee strategy to meet the needs of that market within the context of their business strategy and related constraints.

That was a pretty profound change – the client rejected the traditional “What can our employees do to better help the business?” in favour of a more modern and sophisticated   “How can we build and enhance the business by better helping our employees?” There’s a Silicon Valley view that the wise manager does not really manage talented people – they nourish and guide them via interesting projects  accepting the fact that talent generally does not stay put for long as they journey onwards, upwards and sideways  to other interesting projects, people and pastures. Our client found that this particularly applied to them and they took it to heart. All it took to make that realisation was a little bit of data and some insight.

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