Why won’t managers use our people analytics?

Managers don't often listen to analytics professionals because they don't think and act like them. It's time, says David Creelman, for analytics pros to give managers what they want:

Article main image
Mar 26, 2024

It sometimes feels that no matter how good our analytics are, managers simply won’t use them.

It’s not for want of trying.

We train them how to drill down into the dashboards we create for them, but they rarely open the dashboards.

We present an analysis of engagement survey results, but managers don’t take any action.

Maybe we uncover an important finding showing that matching younger employees with older ones improves retention.

But still, managers are reluctant to build this into their onboarding process.

Why are managers like this?

It’s easy to blame managers themselves for this behavior.

But maybe we should turn this question back on ourselves, and consider whether the source of our frustration is actually our own misunderstanding of what the role of a manager is like.

As Henry Mintzberg has often pointed out, we may think that the manager is a “reflective systematic planner,” but there is no evidence that they actually behave this way.

In fact, what typically happens is that they work at an “unrelenting pace,” and are “strongly oriented to action and dislike reflective activities.” (See Mintzberg, Henry “The Managers Job Folklore and Fact” – Harvard Business Review, March 1990).

So, to put it bluntly, many managers don’t have much love for analysis.

Too often when they ask for data it’s only because they want to justify a decision they’ve already made – which is a problem if your job is in people analytics.

What you can do

Maybe we as analytics professionals need to change the narrative.

What managers like are insightful anecdotes and actionable advice.

If that’s what they want, then that’s what we should give them.

For example, if you’ve discovered that it’s important to build links between young and older employees, give a couple of specific examples where this made a difference.

You can then back up this message with a data plot showing that the issue is widespread. However, just don’t go into detail about the analytical methods. If the manager has questions, then they will ask.

Since we know they will want actionable advice, then you know they will be thinking “What specifically do you suggest I do?”

 Note the word “specifically.”

They do not want to hear “Build a range of processes to build a positive connection between generations.” They want to hear: “Every new hire should have a 30-minute meeting with senior staff, which means that on average the senior people on your team will have one such meeting each week.” [Or something to this effect].

Thus way, when given a specific action, based on a vivid anecdote and backed by data, they can agree, disagree or offer an alternative action.

Other issues

Yes, there are other challenges with getting managers to pay attention to analysis.

Maybe they just don’t have time to think about anything new.

Maybe they have a personal stake in one course of action and don’t want to see any evidence that suggests it’s a bad idea.

However, there are enough cases where managers will pay attention to your work.

So it is good practice to learn how to pitch this to someone who is typically rushed, dislikes reflective activities, and wants to move quickly to actions.

Managers generally don’t think like analysts. They have different pressures, different concerns, and different personalities.

Learn to see the world like your managers do and you will have more success as a people analytics pro.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!