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May 2, 2022

There’s an important management competency that is often overlooked, but is actually extremely important. It’s called organizational awareness.

In a nutshell, having organization awareness means managers are alert to the many pressures, politics, and personalities that exist in organizations. To some, a high degree of organizational awareness might seem to hint at cynicism. But it’s a crucial skill for people analytics professionals.

Personal concerns

The question people analytics professionals most need to think about is what each stakeholders’ top personal concerns are, and how they relate to the analytics HR professionals are doing.

By “personal concerns” I mean things that are not fully aligned with the business’s priorities. For example, maybe you are doing important analytics on the drivers of innovation, but a particular stakeholder is anxious because their boss has demanded they hand in all performance appraisals by the end of the week. Everyone will agree that the innovation project is more important to the business than the appraisals.

However, the stakeholder’s personal concern is the appraisals, and they won’t want to devote time to your project before those appraisals are done. HR and analytics professionals need to be tuned in to those kinds of dynamics.

One of the most common personal concerns is that stakeholders will want analytics to show them in a good light, no matter what the data actually reveals. If you simply present the data “as is’ – without thinking about how it will impact their reputation – then you are walking into trouble. This doesn’t mean you should alter the data, but you should just be thoughtful about presenting it in the most positive possible way.

Discovering stakeholder’s personal concerns

Discovering what your stakeholders are worried about, over and above the agreed-upon business priorities, can be hard because people hesitate to admit that they have anything on their mind other than what’s best for the business.

If you have a lot of experience in the organization, you may be able to guess people’s concerns if you take the time to think about them. If you are less experienced, then you need to have conversations with stakeholders and those around them to get a sense of what might be going on under the surface.

With stakeholders, you can ask, “What else, other than this project, is top of mind for you today?” If you’ve taken time to build a relationship with the stakeholder, for example having gone for coffee together, then you are more likely to get an honest answer when you ask.

These problems are not new and will not go away

Something young analytics professionals may find surprising is that problems around how managers relate to data are by no means new ones.

Almost 50 years ago, McGill professor, Henry Mintzberg, carried out a study for the U.S. National Association of Accountants and the Canadian Society of Industrial Accountants. Mintzberg wrote: “They wondered why managers didn’t use accounting information the way (accountants at least) thought they should.” Mintzberg uncovered several issues and many of these were related to the enduring weaknesses of individuals and organizations.

Those sorts of issues can’t be solved through analytics, only through organizational awareness.

HR analytics is not all about big data, big technology, and big math. It’s about being alert to what managers are personally most worried about and taking that into consideration as you move your analytics projects forward.

For those interested in how management thought has developed over the decades, Mintzberg’s monograph, called “Impediments to the Use of Management Information” (1975a) can be found on his website,, under “Articles”. It’s surprisingly relevant for people analytics pros today.

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