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Jul 25, 2016

Historically, human resources hasn’t exactly been high on the list of departments that make use of metrics. But in an age where we have more access to data than ever, there’s no reason it should stay that way. If we in the HR world truly want to create stronger, more productive organizations, it’s time we become metrics evangelists as well.

For many of us, though, the overwhelming amount of information available can provide a real barrier to entry. With so many different data points to track, which ones should you pay attention to? Of course, every company has different needs, and data will vary accordingly, but I can say that during my time as an HR leader in a number of different companies, I’ve come to rely on the following four metrics above all else.

1. Employee engagement

Tools that monitor employee engagement have gotten a lot of buzz in recent years, and they can be a great asset. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t have access to one — all it really takes to monitor engagement is anonymous employee surveys, which can be executed with any number of free, online platforms. Keeping surveys short and sweet (around 3-5 questions) will help you get a higher participation rate and more thoughtful answers. Which particular questions you should ask will depend on what you’re really curious about, but a few I like to use are:

  • Do you feel that your work makes a significant impact?
  • Are you willing to go above and beyond in your job?
  • How likely are you to recommend working at this company to a peer?

Tracking the answers to questions like these and measuring trends over time will help you identify where you’re succeeding and what you still need to work on. A word of warning, though , checking in with your employees too often can lead to burnout and inauthentic answers, so limit engagement surveys to every 6 months or so. That way, you’ll also have allowed enough time to pass so that you can measure the impact of specific initiatives, like rewarding high performers or instituting a mentorship program.

2. Performance

To accurately measure performance, you’ll need to think beyond numbers alone. Sales teams, for example, are often judged solely on whether or not they reach their quotas. But just because somebody’s consistently hitting their numbers doesn’t mean that they’re fully living up to their potential. So in addition to taking hard metrics into account, make sure to get together with managers and business leaders across the organization to determine how you define performance in qualitative terms. Ask yourselves a few questions that help you determine the bigger-picture status of your company, like:

  • Are we meeting our business goals?
  • How quickly are new hires able to start working independently?
  • Are employees learning and growing their careers?
  • Do people have the information and resources they need to do their jobs?
  • Are we nimble with decision-making in response to the market or customers?

These are all tough questions that will require a lot of discussion before you can come up with honest and valuable answers. But once you reach agreement across departments, you’re that much closer to getting an accurate assessment and then acting on that insight to improve overall performance.

3. Recruiting funnel

Okay, I know, technically I’m cheating here since this is a collection of metrics rather than an individual one. But nonetheless, I’ve included it to emphasize how critical assessing each step of the recruiting process is. With recruiting taking place at almost any given time, it’s important to check in on your funnel metrics at least once a week. Fortunately, recruiting data are probably the easiest HR metrics to quantify and analyze.

The typical recruiting funnel encompasses five steps: career website visits, applications, interviews, offers, and finally, successful hires. Your targets at each stage will vary business by business, but it’s always helpful to take a look at industry benchmarks for comparison. A quick and easy way to track progress in your funnel at a glance is by color coding each step: green for exceeding expectations, yellow for meeting expectations, and red for below expectations.

After consistently keeping tabs on these over the course of several months, note where your problem areas are and think about how you might fix it. If career site views aren’t converting to applications, for example, you might want to consider adding more engaging visuals or employee testimonials. Or maybe you’re regularly seeing low offer acceptance rates; in that case, think about sending candidate surveys to figure out where you went wrong and correct it. With a little bit of insight and action, you might just find yourself bringing talent in more efficiently than ever before.

4. Turnover

Most organizations keep a record of how many people leave each year, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re missing out on the complete picture. Instead of just keeping a running tally of the folks that leave, categorize each departure into distinct buckets. Many people classify employee exits as either involuntary (firings/layoffs) and voluntary, but it’s well worth the effort to break it down even further. Specifically, voluntary can be broken down into two categories: true voluntary and voluntary performance management.

True voluntary refers to when an employee leaves of their own free will, whether they’ve chosen to pursue a different opportunity or outside circumstances have led them to change their career plans. Voluntary performance management, on the other hand, indicates that an employee left after a performance issue was brought to their attention. This is a critical distinction to make, since HR managers can be lulled into a false sense of comfort by low involuntary turnover rates when, in fact, a significant amount of departures may indeed be performance-related. When looking at these departures, you’ll also want to indicate whether or not these departures were “regrettable” losses — key talent that not only performs highly, but also plays a critical role in the future success of your business. Take these nuances into account to get a more holistic view of how employees are performing and how you can keep employees within your company for the long haul.

The metrics outlined above are just the tip of the iceberg that is people analytics, but they also provide a great foundation for you to build on over time. Remember, though, that numbers are just half of the story — the best HR leaders have learned to drive results using their heads and their hearts in equal measure. But as long as you don’t forget the “human” in human resources when analyzing data, you’ll be on the right track to finding the best solutions for your organization.