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  • Salvador Malo
    Salvador Malo

    At what point does data become valuable?

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    Across virtually every discipline, the world today is swimming in data. Its value, however, doesn’t lie in the data itself but in what people do with itin its interpretation. Surprisingly, this has always been the case, but the fact is so rarely emphasized that many people think of it as a modern challenge.

    Consider the skies above us. The sun, moon, stars, and planets have circled overhead since long before humans evolved. And once people appeared on the scene, the relevant orbits were there for everyone to see, in what may be the most democratic data set that ever existed, to which nobody enjoyed privileged access, at least until telescopes were invented. However, for thousands of years humans repeatedly drew the wrong insights from this data. Plainly visible as it was, it provided little value until correctly interpreted by Copernicus.


    Even when exploited to the point of providing what some would call “predictive analytics” (pre-Copernican models allowed to forecast solar eclipses quite well), the lack of a correct interpretation prevented the data from adding value beyond the obvious. Being able to predict the motions of heavenly bodies was of little use beyond, well … predicting the motions of the bodies.


    The correct interpretation, on the other hand, is so valuable that it is now part of elementary school curricula (the earth turns about its axis, the moon revolves around the earth, the earth and planets around the sun, with the stars as distant background). Its value resides in its spillover effect, for science as a whole would have been held back for centuries in the absence of Copernican insight, which in turn hinges on how the motions of the various celestial objects are linked to one another.


    In the context of HR analyticsan admittedly younger discipline than astronomywe face similar situations. To be sure, patterns are now visible that were previously hidden, but the value to be drawn from those patterns is far from self-evident. Data becomes valuable only when it informs business decisions through correct interpretations of observed patterns.


    Let us look at an example.


    We know from an April 2020 survey that two of the three most frequently measured variables in HR analytics are Employee Engagement (mentioned by 90% of respondents) and Mobility & Attrition (mentioned by 83%). Companies usually want engagement to be high and want attritionat least that of high-performing employeesto be low. But the two variables tend to be tracked and analyzed in isolation. Subtle but rich connections between the two are hard to quantify and therefore all too often overlooked. The problem with this approach is that it is like tracking the motions of two planets while neglecting the way in which those motions are linked.




    Engagementno matter how a company chooses to define itis usually held to be inversely linked to attrition, yet the nature of this link is frequently glossed over. Six years ago, a global company with 120,000 employees in the networks and telecommunications industry decided to explore the nature of this link. Its HR analytics team segmented the company’s 2013 “engagement index” data into 6 groups corresponding to teams with scores of 91-100, 81-90, 71-80, 61-70, 51-60, and below 50 (every team with at least six respondents received a score). Each segment contained several hundred data points, thus ensuring statistical significance if any link was found to other variables.


    The first results were disappointing: engagement levels at the start of the year showed absolutely no correlation with attrition by year end. In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been a surprise, since attrition is driven by many factors, including commuting distance, life stage, job role, compensation level, etc. If the analysis had found a straightforward link with engagement scores, it should have aroused suspicion.


    But patience paid off. The following year, survey data corresponding to 2014 was processed. Again, the correlation between attrition and engagement was found to be nil. However, due to a business downturn, company-wide attrition had in the meantime increased by a few percentage points. What was interesting was that it had not increased by the same amount across all segments. For teams with an engagement index either below 50 or in the 51-60 range, it had jumped by 10 percentage points, a huge change for such a large company. But at higher engagement levels, attrition had increased less and less, until for teams with engagement scores of 91-100 it was nearly identical to the previous year’s attrition. Moreover, the correlation between engagement level and increase in attrition was -0.92 (as good as it gets in this sort of analysis).


    In summary, while the link between static (single-year) attrition and engagement levels may have been completely undetectable, there was a solid, quantifiable link between dynamic (year-over-year) changes in attrition and team engagement levels. Teams with an engagement score above 90 were “protected” against company-wide increases in attrition.


    This was the point at which the data became valuable, for it justified a continued investment to keep engagement levels high (or increase them if low). And what was even more interesting, using rough but well-known estimates of the average cost of having to replace an employee, the analysis went further to show how many regrettable resignations would have been prevented by boosting every team’s engagement to a score of at least 80. For the first time, a financial value had been placed on what had formerly been a rather “soft” HR metric: employee engagement.  


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    1. The Global Community Content library is an open area of the ThinkTank site where anyone can add content for other people to access, read and use. It is completely open and anyone can add content - although there are some general rules (below). This blog is a quick guide to explain how to add content to the site.


      Rules for Global Community Content

      There are only two rules to adding content to the global library:

      1. You are responsible for having the rights to post the content. 
      2. Any sales content will be removed.



      How to Upload Content to the  Community Content Library


      Step One: Go to the Community Content Library and click "Add New Content" (Click Here)






      Step 2: Enter a Title and the Text for the Content

      Note 1: If you are posting a video from Vimeo or YouTube, you can just put the video URL and it will load as a video!

      Note 2: You can tag other site members by using "@". For example, @Johann Friedrich Gauss.






      Step Three: Complete the other fields

      Note: If you need a new Content Type, Topic Category or Language, please use "Other" and let us know by messaging @HR Analytics ThinkTank. We will add the new category and update it for you.




      If it is older content, you might need to add the date it was original recorded or written, and who is featured in the video.




      Step 4: Agree to the Disclaimers, add a Banner (Recommended) and hit "Save"

      Tip: If you do not have a banner, we will add one when we post it.





      And that's it... The video should appear in the library immediately! Thank you for adding it!

    2. In September last year, I write a guide for How to Run an HR and People Analytics meetup. In those pre-COVID19 days, the guide was really talking about in-person events when we could come within 2 metres of each other and most of us had probably never worn a face mask. Like everything else meetups have gone digital. Since March, HR and people analytics meetup organisers around the world have been experimenting with ways of taking our communities digital.


      It has been a learning journey, and there are pros and cons to this new format. In this blog I wanted to share the experiences of the London HR and People Analytics Meetup community, as we've adapted for this new world. We invite other meetup organisers to contribute their own blogs or comments.


      We also invite you to download our Virtual Meetup Slide Deck Template by clicking here on the image below:


      HR Analytics Template Deck



      So what tips do we have for moving your meetup virtual...?


      Virtual Tip 1: Replicate In-Person Feel and Vibes

      Many of us have learned that the success of virtual meetings requires a shift in attitude - not just from the person leading the session, but the people attending it too. We send an email out 48 hours before the meetup and open with some guidelines to help everyone get into the right frame of mind. My general guide to the community is a simple challenge: "As a community, we need to work together to replicate the feel and vibe of an in-person meetup. Would you feel comfortable doing something at a physical event? If yes, then feel free to do it at the virtual meetup.".


      More more specific guidelines:

      • Webcams On. We think the 'connection' people feel in meetups requires an eye-to-eye connection, so unless you are invisible in real life we ask everyone to switch their cameras on.
      • Be Present. In a normal meetup, people tend to respect the presenter and they don't walk around and do distracting things. The great thing about a virtual event means you can join from anywhere, but please don't join in a way that negatively impacts the experience for other people.
      • Ask Questions. We allow anyone to unmute themselves so they can ask questions whenever they want (just like in real life).
      • Have Fun. It is just a meetup, so don't stress!





      Virtual Tip 2: Be Inclusive

      You shouldn't assume everyone feels as comfortable as you are with your web platform - in fact, it can be a great way to alienate some of your community if they feel unable to navigate your sessions. At the beginning of every session, we do a quick 3-4 minute demo of all the functionality they need to know about.

      Zoom Instructions


      Virtual Tip 3: Your Networking Will be Fine (it might even improve)

      Most meetup organisers feel that the biggest value their sessions bring is the networking and sense of community - and they are worried that this will not translate into virtual webinars. At the in-person London meetups the networking is high energy, and it was a concern for us - but the feedback on our networking as been extremely positive.


      Some ideas for you to consider:

      • Use Breakout Rooms (Zoom). Zoom has a great feature called 'Break Outs', which allows you to create mini virtual meetings within your big Zoom meeting. You can click a few buttons and send everyone into mini groups of 4-5 people to chat on their own. This works very well for us.
      • Given Enough Time. Make sure you give people enough time to network. You can always end the networking early if you need to.
      • Use Digital Tools. Other groups are using tools like Mentimeter, Miro and more to improve their experiences.
      • Suggest Questions or Themes. Suggest questions for people to ask each other in the virtual meetups to help them get started.
      • Eat and Drink. This is probably my personal view but there is something human about eating together and our networking usually happens over pizza and beer. Encourage people to bring a snack for the networking.




      Virtual Tip 4: Keep Recording and Writing Up and Keep Going

      The biggest trick to long-term Meetup success is still the same trick as a successful change management programme... Keep going, maintain clear momentum and communication and share successes. If you can, tell people when the next meetup will be, and share the blogs and recordings of your sessions (on the ThinkTank?) so other people can see what they missed and join in the future.






      I hope this helps. If anyone has any other questions about the London meetups or suggestions or ideas, please let me know. Here are the useful links if you want to start your own meetup:

      1. Register Your Meetup on the Global Meetup Map
      2. Put your Meetup Event on the New Global Meetup Calendar
      3. Join our the Meetup Organiser Linkedin Group.



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