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People analytics for deskless organizations: an introduction

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This article is part of Blink’s “frontline first” series: content created specifically for leaders of deskless or distributed teams. We know that the job of frontline leadership is entirely different from managing ‘desk-based’ teams, so this is for you and your unique set of challenges.

People analytics, aka ‘workforce analytics’, ‘HR analytics’ or even ‘talent analytics’ is poised to finally make a breakthrough after a few years of being an organizational pipedream.

The Great Resignation and the labor shortages plaguing every industry from healthcare to professional services are the drivers behind this shift. Many businesses are realizing the vulnerability that lies in not fully understanding human capital, and people analytics is a core part of maintaining stability and growth in a volatile labor market.

All well and good – but what of those organizations for whom even securing employee data in the first place is a struggle (let alone analyzing it)? 80% of the global workforce is deskless, and that leaves thousands of organizations in sectors such as manufacturing, transit and construction without scalable digital data capture on which to base analytics.

So does this mean that people analytics isn’t an option for frontline organizations? Not quite – in the rest of this article, we’ll explain how and why.

What is ‘people analytics’?

The term ‘people analytics’ refers to collecting HR data and then transforming it into actionable insights that help you improve the way you do business.

This is a broad definition, which is a reflection of how ‘people analytics’ can look very different from business to business. Put simply, it involves:

  1. Collecting HR data
  2. Aggregating said data from multiple sources and cleaning it
  3. Applying models or machine learning in order to produce actionable insights

The last step of this is the crucial difference between ‘reporting’ and ‘analytics’.

When should I consider people analytics?

There’s a long list of problems that people analytics can help you solve. If you’re looking to achieve one of the following, you should consider people analytics as part of your strategy.

1. Driving employee engagement

Every People leader knows that employee engagement is the defining factor for any kind of people-related success. In fact, the behaviors of highly engaged business units result in a 23% difference in profitability.

For anyone looking to monitor and improve employee engagement, people analytics is key in helping you to combine engagement data (for example, the results of surveys) with other datapoints (such as turnover rates) to see if there are correlations that can help you build models and predictions. An alarm that sounds when engagement shows that turnover is likely? That’s the manager’s dream – and people analytics can help make it possible.

2. Improving recruitment

The competition for talent in frontline organizations has rarely been more fierce, and so leaders need to make sure that their recruitment processes are bulletproof. People analytics can step in effectively here – for example, showing hiring managers what kind of attributes to look for based on the success of existing employees, or even helping reduce bias in the interview process.

3. Reducing turnover

People analytics is critical for organizations struggling with retention. Through analyzing multiple data points – for example, employee engagement scores and resignation dates – it can build correlations that indicate who may be at risk of turnover, enabling managers to act preventatively.

4. Improving career paths

An overlooked driver of frontline turnover is the lack of career development that many companies offer – another area where people analytics can step in to solve a problem that can help deliver a more stable workforce.

Through using data, leaders can help identify individuals who should be considered for promotion (for example, based on productivity and performance), analyze career paths over time in order to improve forecasting and build development journeys that keep team members engaged and retained.

Improving career paths for frontline workers

5. Meeting Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) targets

Frontline organizations are like any other in having ESG metrics monitored at board-level. It’s the ‘Social’ pillar of these wherein people analytics can make a big difference, through making Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts much more impactful.

In this instance, analytics can help readily identify areas in which the company might be underperforming (for example, representation of key groups at management level) or might be at risk (patterns of dismissal or turnover more skewed towards certain groups).

6. Productivity and resourcing

Another example of people analytics in action is workforce planning, helping identify future workforce gaps and needs using predictive capabilities. Examples include adjusting the recruitment process, succession planning, and upskill planning.

Getting started with frontline people analytics

This is the hard part for any organization – but for companies where the majority of workers are deskless, it can be even more challenging. Let’s break it down into a few key steps.

1. Start with your data requirements

The scale and quality of your data is the foundation of your people analytics strategy. This can be intimidating enough, so before you go any further, pause to consider what datapoints are really critical to the problem you’re trying to solve.

At this point, you don’t need everything – you may be able to make real headway towards some key goals with just a few critical datapoints. For example:

  • Want to solve problems around retention? You’ll need end-date data.
  • Looking at productivity metrics? You’ll want to factor location and team into your model.
  • Focused on recruitment? You might want qualification and performance review data.
  • Looking at DEI? You’ll need identifiers for this (but ensure you’re being careful around the rules here).

What you’re almost certainly going to need is an employee ID or some other kind of identification token – this is what will help you unify data from multiple different sources.

Everyone’s least favorite way of filling out the employee survey

2. Assemble the team and the tools

Building a team to tackle people analytics can be an intimidating task – reflected in this pathway set out by McKinsey:

McKinsey and Co people analytics progress
Source: McKinsey and Company

It helps to simplify this a little into the basics that you’ll need to get started:

  • A simple dashboard in which you can aggregate and manipulate your data (such as Tableau or Looker)
  • Someone who can use it

For those of you in larger organizations, this is where you can turn this into a joint venture with your Operations or Business Intelligence team – given the business impact that your findings can drive, they should have a vested interest in lending you the expertise.

This will help take you comfortably to the ‘reporting’ side of people analytics – for simple enough problems, this might be enough to spot key trends. As you get more data, you can look to find solutions for building predictive models based on it.

3. Capturing the data you need

This is where things can get a little interesting for frontline organizations, as employees rarely engage with the kinds of digital systems that give desk-based companies easy insight into what their workforce is doing (and how they feel about it).

In the deskless world, 83% of workers are still using paper processes in some capacity, making data capture a nightmare. In organizations that have moved to more digital processes, it sometimes still requires workers to take turns at a communal computer terminal to input data. All this adds up to high friction and potentially poor quality outputs.

But this is where it’s worth pausing to remember that much of the data you need – start and end dates, ages, DEI indicators – is already captured somewhere. The pieces that you’re missing are the more ‘real-time’ elements of engagement and productivity – if you don’t need them to start with, your pathway to start working on people analytics remains clear.

4. Consider getting one place to do it all

There will come a time when ‘real-time’ engagement data becomes essential – and that’s when managers in deskless organizations are already looking to find new solutions to data capture.

Using an employee app can be one way forward here – if you make it worth your workers’ time. We find that if you provide your teams with useful tools as part of their app (such as their paystubs and forms) then you can see engagement upwards of 7 times daily.

This means that you have the opportunity to not only make use of passive data on engagement, but the opportunity to launch surveys that get seen and responded to. At Blink, we’ve built in Frontline Intelligence to turn this data straight into actionable analytics so you can act quickly.

5. Get legal on board

People analytics uses people data, so it follows that you need to be extra careful with how this data is used (and who has sight of it). Bring your legal team on board early on in the process in order to ensure that you’re playing by the rules.

Conclusion: a pivotal point for frontline HR

People analytics is far from just another fad or buzzword in the industry – it represents a real opportunity for People leaders and departments to radically change how they’re valued by an organization. For a long time, HR has often been blighted by being seen as more reactive than strategic – but with the power of predictive models, that can be completely reversed.

Nowhere is this more important than in frontline organizations, where human capital is the lifeblood of the company and the difference between success and failure. While leaders here might face tougher challenges than their desk-based counterparts in getting people analytics moving, the need to invest the time and effort is even greater.

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