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The Common Mission of Employee Surveys and People Analytics

 December 06, 2023, 5-min. read


Written by Steve Goldberg, HR Tech Advisor, Top 100 Influencer, Analyst, Thought Leader


This blog explores an important linkage between two very impactful, typically HR-led activities: Conducting effective employee surveys -- and executing a well-designed people analytics strategy. Achieving excellence in either of these endeavors will almost always lead to critical outcomes such as higher engagement, retention, and productivity, in addition to being viewed as an employer of choice. Employee surveys, when crafted well and supported with elements such as a culture of trust and transparency, can be relied on to highlight important workforce-related sentiments, key and ideally actionable insights, and other operating dynamics that would benefit from additional management attention. Similarly, people analytics, heretofore called HR analytics until the basically universal recognition that people analytics must extend beyond HR and HCM systems, is widely viewed as a major source of broad-based competitive advantage around the people side of a business, including current state, trends and performance metrics relative to targets, industry benchmarks, etc.

Interestingly, at the core of both these typically HR-driven programs and activity areas is arguably the same fundamental mission, and it’s certainly not something only HR leaders care about. It’s a mission that applies to all areas of a business and their leadership, so it should obviously never be downplayed. That mission in a nutshell: Make the invisible, visible! This highly strategic goal, when pursued all year round in one form or another, serves as a competitive advantage strong enough to allow organizations to ascend the ranks within their industry sector – a game-changing outcome I refer to as “passing the ascension test.” This visibility notion is also quite wide in scope in terms of potential elements that are qualitatively or quantitatively considered and measured.


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Core aspects of making the invisible, visible within the HR/HCM domain include having a lens into key employee retention risks, impediments to (or drivers of) higher levels of worker productivity and engagement, and the skills that are becoming more-or-less important -- perhaps based on changing business plans and priorities. Moreover, what might be the most important workforce-related item to convert from “not highly visible or understood” to the exact opposite is the systematic assessment of organizational readiness. When this process is done based on a multidimensional data analysis, the odds on executing a strategic pivot … or any corporate undertaking where the difference between ‘being successful and not’ might determine the on-going trajectory of an enterprise … are significantly better.

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Assessing “readiness for change”, for example, logically involves understanding relevant attitudes and levels of support, the specific skills and competencies needed (including those behavioral in nature such as ability to thrive during change), and the corresponding resourcing levels and gaps in relation to those workforce capabilities. This task is often referred to as the front-end or left-side bookend of change management; and students and practitioners of change management know the corresponding right-side bookend is all about sustaining the change.

Finally, before diving into some solid practices and considerations related to both employee surveys AND people analytics, especially those that often result in making the invisible, visible, I’ll highlight this (readiness for change) finding from a Gartner July 2023 survey: 82% of HR leaders viewed the managers in their organization as not equipped to lead change.

Employee Surveys: 5 Solid Practices

1. Use workforce surveys throughout the year to more quickly close the loop between an issue needing attention and appropriate management action. This also allows visibility into newer operating dynamics that might be impacting micro and/or macro level performance.
2. Employ surveys judiciously and in a targeted manner to avoid survey fatigue. Using distribution algorithms and analytics insights can materially help in this regard.
3. Give surveys more gravitas across the organization by highlighting that certain actions and decisions were taken based on survey findings.
4. Recognize that it’s not essential to understand what is behind all survey findings. It’s also quite beneficial to surface risks and consider various actions. (Note: This is where AI and GenAI can prove highly valuable as the machine learning engine amasses knowledge about what has worked best given different risks identified and the broader surrounding context.)
5. Leverage both industry templates as well as industry-specific benchmark data.

As we now segue to focusing on people analytics, let’s first consider these compelling benefits of people analytics based on indicative McKinsey research: Effective people analytics can result in an 80% increase in recruiting efficiency, a 25% rise in business productivity (note: considerably more modest upticks in productivity can produce millions of dollars in business value), and a 50% decrease in attrition rates (note: industry studies estimate the cost of turnover as high as 2x the exiting employee’s salary and sometimes higher given replacement costs plus disruptive impacts on staff, customers, projects, etc.

People Analytics: 5 Solid Practices

1. Focus on HR / people data integrity first and until the majority of people analytics consumers explicitly express confidence in the data.

2. Ensure that the people analytics team has the appropriate mindset and displays the appropriate behaviors, e.g., not having many preconceived notions about what the data will likely tell them.

3. Remember that a single metric rarely if ever tells a story as it might be totally out of context. This is why the notion of “peeling the onion” often applies in people analytics.

4. Some of the most popular people analytics often answer pivotal HR related questions like:

  • Do we have coverage in our most critical roles?
  • For which jobs should we consider paying above market rates?
  • Is a newly redesigned HR process (e.g., for performance management) having a demonstrably positive impact on the organization even though employee survey findings reveal largely negative sentiments around it?

5. People analytics can be used to paint a clearer picture of employee survey findings (as in the above example) that are confusing or difficult to understand. Case in point is when employee and candidate referral rates experience a sharp decline after the HR policy governing referral bonuses is changed, but the survey question unfortunately merely asked about satisfaction with HR policies in general.

Final thoughts 

At the center of both employee surveys and people analytics is the notion of making the invisible, visible – or more visible. The focus might be various types of operating (or people) risks such as skill or resourcing gaps, workforce sentiments about a new policy or practice, or the ability to execute a key program or business strategy - or even a merger integration. Also foundational to both worker surveys and people analytics is today’s hyper-emphasis on continuous listening. While this phrase used to be more linked with customers, it is certainly now applicable to employees and put into practice in enterprises across all industry verticals and geographies. The salient point is that it is the COMBINATION of capabilities related to surveys and analytics that produce the most valuable (also reliable and actionable) continuous listening results.

Finally, from an HR / HCM technology perspective, we must also keep in mind that while this segment of the enterprise software market operated in an overly process-centric, even process-insular way for decades, astute buyers have in recent years have increasingly been thinking outside that conventional “process box.” Many are also now thinking as much about tools that provide insights and guideposts about optimal workforce-related actions; and a particular combination of tools that are naturally linked by a common mission, was showcased in this blog.  

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