Data Has a Powerful Role In Promoting C-Level Collaboration

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Aug 14, 2018

“What can you do to increase collaboration between HR and other leaders?” That question was asked of Peter Navin, SVP of employee experience at Grand Rounds. His answer, which took me aback, was “analytics.”

I always position analytics as a tool for decision making, but Navin is right, it has a powerful role to play in enabling collaboration. The reason it works to support collaboration is, in the end, straightforward: Analytics literally puts everyone on the same page.

Imagine you are making a presentation on your recruitment plans for the year. If you simply talk about the difficulties in hiring, the conversation can wander off with your concerns eventually dismissed under the category of “Everyone’s got problems.”

If you instead present data on the business plan, what that means for the number of new hires, add to that the number of hires needed due to projected attrition and consider the average numbers of hires per recruiter based on historical data, well with everyone looking at those same numbers, the leadership team will say, “We’ve got a bottleneck in hiring, let’s get one more recruiter.”

With the leadership team looking at the numbers together, they are driven towards collaborative problem solving. Of course, if you’re numbers are not bulletproof, it can go terribly wrong.

How to be bulletproof

If you’ve ever presented data, you know you can run into all kinds of difficulties with nitpicking as well as more serious disputes about the numbers. I remember asking the head of HR at Maybank, Nora Manaf, whether she’d ever had that problem. She said, “Yes, once or twice at the start, but they gave up after they learned my numbers were bulletproof.”

The keys to having bulletproof numbers are:

  • Do not spin the numbers to make your point.
  • Be utterly transparent about where the numbers come from to the point of saying: “We downloaded these fields from this database on this date.” Ask your fellow leaders if they feel there is a better source of data. Be collaborative in agreeing on the source.
  • Be upfront in identifying weaknesses in the data. Often, businesses use numbers (like depreciation) that are actually a kind of best guess. Ask your fellow leaders if they have a better guess. Be collaborative in agreeing on what the best guess is.
  • Don’t overplay the certainty of a conclusion based on numbers. Numbers never tell the whole story; collaborate in the discussion of, “Given these numbers, and the other knowledge we have, what should we do?”
  • Did I say, “Do not spin the numbers”? Let me say it again.

Numbers can build trust and trust can build collaboration, but you have to do it right.

The takeaway is to recognize that analytics can play an important role in collaboration that is quite different in tone from its role in decision-making. It’s almost like inviting everyone around the table for a meal and the data is the nourishing food which you all share. Good numbers, like good food, can bring everyone together.

Special thanks to our community of practice for these insights. The community is a group of leading organizations that meets monthly to discuss analytics and evidence-based decision making in the real world. If you’re interested in moving down the path towards a more effective approach to people analytics, then email me at