HR Analytics: How to Tell Your Data Story

For decades, HR organizations have operated with a “softer approach” to business, relying more on intuition and less on hard facts to make workforce decisions. It’s an approach that allows HR practitioners to get the job done, but makes it more challenging to align HR strategy with business value.

Thanks to the digital revolution, it’s now easier for HR departments to make workforce decisions based on concrete data. By using a number of tools — or one comprehensive workforce solution — HR data crunchers can extract meaning and insight from multiple data sources. It’s a new level of visibility into workforce activity — one that was considered inconceivable just five years ago.

On its own, however, data can feel like a foreign language. That’s why your role as an HR analyst has never been more critical. You serve as a domain expert and sole interpreter in a land where others have trouble deriving meaning from workforce data. It’s your job to create context and tell the story that the numbers reflect. Like a journalist, you must gather disconnected facts and consolidate them to deliver a story.

To add strategic value and establish credibility, HR analysts should embrace the art of storytelling, shaping workforce data into a well-crafted narrative that includes all the key elements of any good story: a plot, setting, characters, and conclusion.

Here’s how to use those four elements to help tell your analytics story.

Plot: What questions are you addressing?

The plot is arguably the most important aspect of any story about data. Know what questions you want to answer and how you’ll answer them. If you aren’t sure, it’ll be harder to communicate your findings in a way that’s relevant. What does the data tell your audience: Does it show causation or correlation? Is it temporal: Are you showing historical activity, present findings, or future projections? To make the data most palatable to your audience, establish a solid understanding of what you most need to communicate.

Setting: What’s the context?

In any narrative, context and environment play a significant role in the tone and conclusion of the story. Communicate the right context — for instance, previously established goals, historical data, KPIs, or industry benchmarks — to your audience so they understand why the data is important.

Characters: Know your audience

Take time to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. A key element of effective communication is understanding the perceptions of your audience. What’s important to them? Why is the information you’re presenting significant to their role? Will it make them more productive? More efficient? How will it impact business outcomes? Equip yourself with answers to “big picture” questions to make the data most relevant to them.

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The end: Summarize and move forward

Step back and ask your audience if you answered the questions that were posed in a way that made sense to them. No one likes to dwell on the problem, so provide a quick snapshot of what you learned, what the plan is going forward, and how you’ll measure success.

By doing this, you’ll wrap up your analytics story and leave your audience feeling confident on your course of action and strategy for the future.

Ian Cook

Ian Cook is recognized for his leadership and insight in the area of workforce analytics and planning. Ian is currently the Director of Product Management at Visier, and is responsible for continually enhancing the depth of insight available within this leading edge application. Prior to joining Visier, Ian built Canada's leading source of HR Benchmarking data. His knowledge and expertise comes from 10+ years of consulting to global companies.