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Lisa Hawksworth

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Director of Culture and Insights

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People analytics: How to tell the stories behind your statistics

How to tell the stories behind your statistics.
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Too often ‘insights’ actually just boils down to data collection. A series of indices, rankings and percentage scores displayed on a page that doesn’t talk to one another, mean little and do even less.

Real insights can incite action, and drive change. To do that, however, you need to truly understand your data. That doesn’t mean you need an A-level (or whatever it is now) in applied maths, but it does mean you need to understand the information you’re gathering and why.

Here are five top tips to help you do just that, and tell the stories behind your stats.

1. Structure insights around your strategy

Start with the story you want to tell, not the data you have. What’s the overall objective, which goals ladder to it, and what are we doing to achieve those goals?

For example, imagine your aim is to contribute to, and increase, employee satisfaction scores. To do that, you’re focusing on improving leader perception; and to do that you’ve delivered activities X, Y and Z.

You don’t need to be a qualified data analyst to see patterns. In fact, as humans, we’re programmed to do so.

In this scenario, start with the former – how the data shows that employee satisfaction has increased – not the latter. Shift the focus from what you do, to what people say and what they do as a result. It’ll make your story so much stronger.

Ultimately, even without the data, your strategy is your narrative: you should be able to say it out loud. It should reference your outcomes, target, goals, tactics and the ‘so what?’ – and in that order.

2. Only gather what you need

There’s so much data, it’s easy to get distracted by some of the numbers. By structuring your insights around your strategy (see point one), you’ll have better clarity of what you actually need. You can then focus solely on the data you need to tell your strategy story.

The rest is superfluous or useful for extra understanding within your team. It’s not part of your clear, concise, outcome-focused story.

3. Get comfortable with patterns

You don’t need to be a qualified data analyst to see patterns. In fact, as humans, we’re programmed to do so. If something’s gone up while something else has gone down, you don’t always need to use a correlation coefficient to validate it. You do, however, need to be able to talk about it and use it as a means to test further, dig deeper and bolster future activities.

Look at the data and ask yourself, what do I notice?

When you piece together the story of your data you can better spot where the gleaming details are – the sweet spots of engagement.

For example, your latest employee satisfaction scores show there’s been an increase this month – great! Looking closely, you notice that, as more people had conversations about your strategy with their line manager and/or senior leaders, they gained a better understanding of the role they had to play in the business – and how they’re helping to reach the overarching mission, goals or vision.

So you use this pattern to continue to encourage more conversations and see if that dial continues to change. With a greater focus, you can ask your people why.

4. Listen

Data’s one thing, but words go so much further. All the numbers you deal with have faces and the stats you sift through have stories – so get out there and listen to what your people have to say.

Think of it like this: company-wide surveys give us the bird’s eye view, focus groups and one-to-one discussions – qualitative data – give us the worm’s eye view. They tell us what it’s like for those on the ground as told by the people themselves. With both the bird and worm’s eye view of what your people are thinking, feeling and saying, you’ve got true 360o insight.

Including qualitative data in your story adds depth to your insight, helps you better understand the why behind the numbers and more clearly links what you do, to what people say, and then do.

5. Do more, or do different

When you piece together the story of your data you can better spot where the gleaming details are – the sweet spots of engagement that you should be doing more of. If these aren’t coming through then your story can show where you might need to be doing things differently.

Stories are powerful communication tools and a simple, easy-to-understand medium for presenting results, metrics and figures.

Also, keep this tip in mind when it comes to presenting your figures. Create that story so you’re not just reporting on the data, but showing what you’re doing, or going to do, as a result.

To recap

Stories are powerful communication tools and a simple, easy-to-understand medium for presenting results, metrics and figures. They help us make sense of our masses of data and guide us on our next steps. Since these are steps dictated by insight, they can drive real change.

Getting under the skin of our data, boosting quantitative with qualitative, looking for the patterns and structuring information around our strategy – a natural narrative – will help us tell the right stories while taming our data, so we can do more of the focused good stuff, and be less distracted by the unwieldy numbers we’re bombarded with.

If you enjoyed this, read: HR analytics: why perfect might be the enemy of good.

Author Profile Picture
Lisa Hawksworth

Director of Culture and Insights

Read more from Lisa Hawksworth
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