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Are all insights equal?

While it’s really not hard to accept analytics can help to identify high-performing archetypes in metrics-driven roles such as sales, how can human resources identify and measure the skills, traits and attributes that contribute to success in an employee’s wider day-to-day role?

How do we know what makes a good performer when good performance can mean different things to different industries and management agendas? You might consider someone who thinks for themselves and can work independently as the biggest asset to your company or you might require a brilliant team worker. Attention to detail might trump creative thinking, but how can you measure this across your entire workforce?

Quantifying success across diverse teams, divisions and roles is a huge challenge for human resources professionals. Historically, in terms of analytics, strong performers have traditionally been identified through performance metrics such as sales and profit.

However, Simon Brittain, managing partner at Kiddy & Partners, a global firm of business psychologists, says: “We are seeing organisations use measures such as employee opinion survey outputs and 360-degree feedback ratings to look below the surface and see who really stands out. With the difference in contribution between a high and average performer being 40 per cent – a high performer is 40 per cent more productive than an average performer – it’s critical organisations query the right data in their business.

With the difference in contribution between a high and average performer being 40 per cent, it’s critical organisations query the right data in their business

“Organisations are now asking their leaders to deliver success by achieving or overachieving on financial metrics while ensuring they lead and change their business so it is sustainable – able to grow profitably – in their changing context. This means leaders need to be able to understand and articulate the shifts they themselves and their people need to make to be able to perform.”

To do this effectively leaders must bring their staff with them on this journey. For example, Kiddy & Partners uses its context, mindset, skillset model when working with organisations to determine how each will play a part in their leadership strategy, focusing on business performance and leadership impact needed now and in the near-term, not just in an imagined and distant future.

In an assessment context, stretch-level simulations contribute towards an understanding of potential by providing an indication of an individual’s future capacity, avoiding conflation with current job performance.

Mr Brittain explains: “If an individual performs well on a stretch simulation, but is considered to be underperforming in their current role, it may be that the current role doesn’t align with their aspirations and/or strengths, for example. This highlights the importance of implementing an objective, data-driven assessment process that’s designed to assess the qualities identified as determinants of successful future leadership in your business.”

Quantitative data, such as questionnaires, 360-degree feedbacks and competency scoring against an individual and/or team’s performance in an assessment context, can provide valuable insight that sales analytics can’t necessarily reveal.

“The key challenge around analytics is to measure the things you want to change. If performance is measured solely around sales or profit and not how this is achieved, then that’s all people will focus on,” says Mr Brittain.

So having a broad range of analytical measures is important. In more structured environments, such as a production line, the analytics are clear and easy to measure. In leadership roles, these become more complex and less easy to measure consistently because they can rely on others’ perceptions of what makes a good leader, for example.

Jonquil Hackenberg, head of C-suite advisory at Infosys Consulting, says organisations can identify what success specifically means for them by deploying predictive analytics. “For organisational analysis, predictive analytics will help businesses understand how traditional departments are interacting with one another based upon market needs,” she says. “This will help organisations measure success, or lack thereof, and act on this, for example by putting in place more flexible working structures to react more quickly to customer demands.”

Of course, understanding what makes a good employee is different for every business and depends on a huge variety of different factors from industry, to business goals, to culture. “But in such a turbulent business landscape, there are some key attributes to look out for in your best employees,” says Ms Hackenberg.

“Adaptability is crucial, as employees must be ready to take on new challenges that arise unexpectedly in a world where change is inevitable. More important still is how employees put these changes to good use. This requires strategic vision from the shop floor to the boardroom.”

The key challenge around analytics is to measure the things you want to change

Performance management may never be an exact science, especially with ever-increasing variables. However, with advances in performance monitoring thanks to artificial intelligence, data can now be continuously gathered and analysed on employees, mapping performance against key performance indicators (KPIs).

“Software that can scan employee data for evidence of success can then ‘learn’ which characteristics successful employees have,” says Ms Hackenberg. “But this data is useless alone. Capturing and understanding data, and crucially feeding it back to employees, is a valuable tool for improved performance. The data can then be used to shape personalised KPIs to enhance development, drive business growth and help with retaining the best staff.”

However, she warns: “It’s not all about the technology. HR departments that can build an intimate human connection with employees will enhance employee experience, productivity and staff advocacy, all of which leads to further success. In turn, this impacts brand equity, attraction and retention. In addition to human insights, the next obvious step is for organisations to move towards predictive analytics on all this data to truly measure success across the board.”

Find out more by downloading the ‘Power of People Analytics’ report at now.