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Daniel Agutter

A2B Excellence

Lead Consultant

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Benefits realisation: what does success look like for you?

mihailohilovanovic

In the politically incorrect shambles of the Miss World contest, there is a segment which has caused much amusement for comedians over the years, in which the hapless contestants are asked for their life ambitions. Traditionally, at least one will soberly reply: “World peace”.

Quite how the Miss World contest contributes to world peace is unclear, but at least the bikini-and-evening-wear contestants had a clear objective.

All too often, HR practitioners don’t.

This is especially true when it comes to change management; and it’s because change often means going off-piste; trying new things where metrics might not yet even be agreed or particularly transparent.

Working in these far reaches of practice should be something HR professionals are proud of and excited by – it’s a chance to take some risks and deliver transformational results in the vanguard of modern business.

Yet instead, many businesses blunder forwards without a clear direction.

A benefits realisation strategy is the answer and it’s a discipline in itself.

It’s about evidencing what you said you would do, so that you can prove you have delivered the goods; and in that sense it’s a discipline everyone should consider.

In HR, where change management activities are often marshalled into ‘programmes’, you have a clear start and finish: it’s ideal for measuring and assessing value.

And if you’re buying services in, there’s no excuse not to have an idea of what ‘good’ looks like and then assessing your progress; otherwise how can you tell you’ve got value for money?

Professionalising your approach to benefits realisation is not hard. Here are some pointers:

#1

Of course, the big question is to identify what you want to achieve. Obvious, right? Not necessarily.

Aim too high and you will set yourself up to fail. Aim too low and your team will not be stretched. Realism is a valuable component of your assessment. Then you must define success.

Rarely is it purely a function of efficiency or money saved; but just because HR has a reputation for soft outcomes does not mean they are completely unmeasurable.

So you’ll need to get a handle on soft/qualitative metrics like employee satisfaction (use surveys, assess staff churn rates), or business agility (maybe time to market for new products and services). If it helps, convert full-text surveys into drop-down selections: so long as you can compare like with like across a period, you will get actionable data.

#2

What are the practicalities of measurement? Every large business has a thriving cottage industry in the creation of data – and usually too much of it.

If benefits realisation is going to depend on a huge data-gathering effort, for example the recruitment of new data specialists, then go back to basics: what simple KPIs and metrics can you get hold of from existing sources? Only if there is a genuinely unacceptable level of insight should you create new data streams.

Many sectors have far more quantitative metrics than they realise: are you counting customer complaints? Compensation events? Project lengths in days? Customer footfall? Telephone minutes? All of these – especially at scale – are solid corporate indicators.

#3

But it is when you are introducing new data that you should most be on your guard. Defining the parameters of improvement is crucial. Especially watch out for:

  • uncharted waters; where the business is in new or unpredictable territory and data may be weak
  • when soft outcomes are too interpretable; the classic HR situation where too much variance can creep in
  • and indirect monitoring of benefits; where, like refracted light, information extracted is one step removed from the source: it is often evidence of, but not proof of, a particular outcome

That said, at A2B Excellence, several clients have taken the data we create and formalised it as a benchmark or health check for the business. They look back and wonder how they survived without it.

#4

Don’t put effort into measuring the wrong things; and especially don’t put effort into measuring what you fancy, just because it will improve your own stats. You’ll get the answer you want rather than the truth, and eventually nobody will agree.

Defining metrics is therefore a process best executed by a team of stakeholders, who make an overt agreement and then have no incentive to be protectionist over their corporate territories.

The value of this openness cannot be underestimated: with agreement comes clarity, and that means petty rivalries and silos can be neutralised. It may seem counter-intuitive, but setting metrics can be a very effective engagement tool.

#5

In the same vein of clarity and openness, agree responsibilities and timescales at the outset so that you can get benchmark measurements fast. There’s no time like the present to see what your baseline looks like.

Get this basic communication right, and the results can be exceptional. Because everyone has agreed on the measurement parameters, everyone is incentivised to pull in the same direction.

It creates enormous momentum; and when employees are empowered by that focus, they remove waste and generate productive new ideas – which then buys time for them to achieve even more.

Furthermore, when you have a commitment to constant re-evaluation, in a supportive and open environment, you can change course as necessary.

With constant feedback, you can reduce activities which are not working and prioritise the ones which are.

Or, if everything is going swimmingly, you can optimise activities for best value. Instead of sharp and irrational changes of direction brought on by lack of actionable knowledge, you will have the evidential insight to make your course corrections small and gentle – just the sort of thing which will give your team the confidence that you’re moving in the right direction and they won’t have to endure painful upheaval.

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Daniel Agutter

Lead Consultant

Read more from Daniel Agutter
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