What Do Termination Codes Have to Do With Making HR Data Strategic?

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Aug 4, 2017

Perhaps it can be said that staff meetings are a necessary evil. It is important for teams to communicate, and a well-designed staff meeting can foster that communication.

But, in my experience, staff meetings are rarely well-designed, and in fact, consist of going around the table and everyone saying what they’re doing. Maybe there’s a little interaction, but no one wants to prolong the agony, except that one person.

One of my favorite (and I use that word sarcastically) human resources leadership team staff meetings of memory was a “report-out” type meeting when a colleague brought a copy of the newly revised termination codes to share with the team. Forty-five minutes later, each code had been discussed ad nauseum, and there was still no final term code list.

Leaving the meeting, we grumbled about why we would/should spend 45 minutes on such a tactical discussion. I’m not sure why this particular meeting came to mind recently, but as usual, my head is swirling around HR, and this meeting swirled into focus.

Looking back, I think that calling termination codes tactical is a mistake. Term codes provide data, and data inform decisions. How more strategic can you be than empirically informing decisions? But it felt so tactical, detailed and not worth discussing. Why?

HR data isn’t for HR

Let’s break this example down a bit. One of the things I remember about that discussion was that it was all senior HR execs talking about 4-digit codes that managers would enter into the human resources information system when an employee terminates employment.

Why bother?

First of all, an organization should care about the frequency of voluntary and involuntary turnover. Note that I said “an organization,” not HR. The frequency of voluntary turnover is an indicator of how effectively the business is running.  The number of employees leaving is a data point that indicates the health and engagement of the unit or organization.

The strategic part of termination codes

Strategy starts at the end and is a series of questions to be answered. This is the part that deserves to be discussed at a staff meeting:

Who cares?

Do the operational leaders care? Should they? If they don’t and should, how do you create a strong and compelling link between their business outcomes and turnover? If you can’t create a strong and compelling link, you can’t force them to care. If you can’t force them to care, why bother? Just because experts say HR has to be concerned about turnover, if operational leaders don’t care, talking turnover is a waste of everyone’s time.

What do they care about?

Involuntary and voluntary turnover tell different stories, but both point back to effective leadership. Voluntary turnover is high; how is that impacting business? What is the compelling case between the turnover and the business results? If there is no compelling case, let it go; there’s no use wasting operational leaders’ time. Keep measuring and looking for linkage, but move on if there is none.

Involuntary turnover holds a wealth of information about the caliber of leadership. How well are leaders equipped to coach? How well are leaders hiring? How well are leaders onboarding? How well are leaders developing talent? What violations of policy are occurring frequently, and what can be done?

What do the numbers say?

This is a highly strategic dialogue for HR leadership, and worth some discussion. But don’t do the analysis in a staff meeting; a good analyst should be able to review the data and highlight those areas worth discussing. Spend the time in the meeting discussing what’s important, and what you want to do about it. Is there an issue? Is it organization-wide, or within a specific unit? How is it impacting the business? What is the caliber of leadership in that unit? How can we showcase the business issue?

How much do we want to measure?

I have been in organizations that have dozens of termination codes. Typically, the data is inaccurate because the codes are so nuanced that managers select the wrong code. If you don’t use the results of every code, don’t break it down that far.

The tactical part of termination codes

Now that you have created your strategy, the rest is easy. Assign the development of the code list, and ask for it to be presented at the next meeting. Now, ask this question about every code on the list: What are we going to do with this data? If the answer is not compelling, don’t measure down to that level.

Making change

What you are doing, in strategically creating data, is setting the unit or the organization up for change, and we know that change is difficult.  It is so easy to get dragged into detail (like making new codes) because the strategic part takes time, energy and resilience.

By strategically developing a data strategy, you are putting a stake in the ground that you want to facilitate change where it is most needed. If your data doesn’t begin the process of change, it’s just a bit of numbers gathering dust. Start with “What is happening in the business?” “What does that have to do with leadership?” “What does that have to do with employees?” “What should be happening, and what is happening?”

Build the business case that is important to the operational leaders, and your work becomes imminently strategic.

This originally appeared on Carol Anderson’s blog @the intersection of learning & performance