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Businesses fail to unlock the insights available in the interactions, behaviors and content consumption happening across digital workspaces PHOTO: Pedro de Sousa

HR professionals (like myself) have long been fighting what feels like an uphill battle: gaining employee loyalty and engagement.

People want their work to offer the same opportunities for growth and meaning they’ve come to expect in their personal lives. If they don’t find those opportunities at your company, they’ll sign on with the shiny new suitor they discovered on Glassdoor. 

Digital job-hopping has become one more burden for already-strained human resources (HR) professionals to bear.

Some organizations are turning to analytics to help capture the hearts and minds of workers. Although people are complex and their motivations aren’t always obvious, valuable new employee engagement analytics offer HR leaders a deeper understanding of the employee experience than ever before. 

5 Ways Employee Analytics Improves Engagement

Organizations fail to unlock the treasure trove of insights that can be unearthed from all the interactions, behaviors and content consumption happening across digital workspaces. 

Instead of relying on guesswork to make assessments about recruitment, engagement and attrition, people analytics uses hard science. It uncovers trends our brains can’t yet comprehend, while also helping us overcome normal biases. 

By adopting data-driven approaches to HR in 2017, companies will improve several key areas of their HR operations, including:

1. Better Hiring

Interviews can be a poor predictor of culture fit, wrote former Google Senior Advisor Laszlo Bock in an article on Wired

He pointed to a study showing that hiring managers often make judgments about a potential hire within the first 10 seconds. The problem is these predictions are useless, he says. 

By using end-to-end talent acquisition solutions from companies like Gild and others instead, more organizations will reduce turnover due to poor hiring decisions, avoid expensive so-called “toxic” employees and cut down on time to hire by 3.5 times.

2. Improved Onboarding and Training

Management professor Rob Cross cites the staggering costs of training new hires — an estimated 25 percent to 500 percent of the employee’s salary — as one good reason to leave decisions regarding learning to network analytics. 

By relying on data gleaned from your intranet, leaders will be able to quickly identify the effectiveness of their onboarding and training initiatives and adjust accordingly — with potential savings in the millions.

3. Flexible Staffing

A few years ago, stalwart Fortune 500 company GE reinvented itself by initiating a program called FastWorks, which allows employees to “make rapid changes to their projects or quickly switch direction.” 

In the future, people analytics will use a collaboration hub’s contextual meta-knowledge to help HR leaders understand how work really gets done, and identify those workers best suited to a project or role. This will let companies behave like agile startups, no matter their size — a must in an era when non-routine, cross-disciplinary work is becoming the norm. 

4. Identifying and Addressing Flight Risks

Companies are already analyzing social data from sites such as LinkedIn to identify employee flight risks

In the not-to-distant future, people analytics will also mine internal data and identify which triggers cause employees to seek employment elsewhere, such as frequent manager changes. It will also help you understand the connections and interactions between people in your organization. 

By mapping your social graph instead of a static org chart, you’ll learn who your influencers and advocates are, as well as those who are engaged versus those who are simply going through the motions. That way you’ll be able to involve the right internal change-makers in the work of evolving your company’s culture to maximize employee happiness and productivity.

5. Increasing Retention

Identifying at-risk employees is one thing — it’s another to get them to re-engage. 

Research from insight company CEB found that 50 percent of employees who accept a counteroffer end up leaving within 12 months anyway

Early intervention is key, before employees begin flirting with your competitors. In a single year, Credit Suisse “estimated it saved $75 million to $100 million in rehiring and training costs” by having internal recruiters cold-call at-risk employees to notify them of openings within the company. 

Machine learning can help identify how connected a person feels with the company's goals by analyzing signals like how much they engage with messages from executives. Retaining your most valuable employees may be the single biggest reason for your company to invest in people analytics in 2017.

Counter Confirmation Bias

When leveraging these data-driven insights, a big issue is overcoming our natural tendency to assume we can understand employees’ desires, thoughts and potential actions using our own brains. 

While it’s important to trust our instincts, the human mind simply isn’t very good at making predictions about the future. The kinds of errors in judgment that lead an employee to walk away from the perfect position at your company (only to get burnt out at the startup down the street) are often the same ones that caused a hiring manager to overlook red flags when they hired that person in the first place. 

This is largely a consequence of confirmation bias, our all-too-human inclination to focus only on information that corroborates our own preconceived ideas. Analytics can act as a trusted source to prove or disprove our intuition-based theories.

Turn Human Resources on Its Head

Over the years, HR leaders have worked to help employees acquire and develop new skills, motivated them to reach their full potential and tried to ensure they remain committed to the organization, only to watch some of them head for the exit at the slightest provocation or opportunity. 

People analytics has the potential to turn the HR function on its head, allowing us to spend more time building relationships and directly impacting business outcomes instead of simply filling empty seats. Perhaps future historians will look back at the steps HR is taking with analytics today and declare the talent wars a win-win for both employees and businesses alike.