4 Questions to ask about HR metrics


Understand first, then act

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Without the right level of scrutiny, it can be easy to misinterpret a metric (key measurement, KPI) and waste valuable time and resources debating and taking actions to “fix” things that may not be “broken.”

Let’s take an example to illustrate: Employee turnover. Let’s say I show you this number and tell you that this represents Employee turnover at a company:

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I would imagine you would have some questions for me? Let’s go through some questions I expect you to ask me as we clarify what that number means. (Answers in blue from an HR representative at a fictitious company)

  1. How do you define turnover and how did you calculate that?

Answer: The company defined employee turnover as the number of employees who left the company. And they calculate that number this way:

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If you think this number is high or low, hold your horses, we have a few more questions to ask before we can come to a conclusion.

  1. Over what time period was this number calculated?

Answer: It represents the employee turnover over one quarter. 

An unusually high or low number can be an anomaly if it represents, for example, one day or one week out of a year. And that could be for many reasons including possible entry errors or calculation errors. If it is an average over an entire year, an unusually high number may indicate an alarming trend.

  1. What is this metric about?  

Here you would like to understand the reason why they are tracking the metric and how they are using this metric for decision-making.

Answer: “We want to make sure that we retain employees and do not have too many people leaving thereby causing us to have to retrain people on a regular basis. We also want to avoid constantly having to hire and onboard people to replace those who left. We think it is disruptive to the business. We have set a limit of 7% as a reasonable employee turnover maximum.”

Knowing that this is about retention helps to understand the metric more. For example, you could now start to form an idea in your head about the employees that a company would like to retain. To ensure you lose no more than 7% of your employees through resignations, you would want to ensure that internal communication is going well, that employees feel appreciated and that there are development opportunities for them etc. (These would be all the efforts you could make to increase employee engagement and satisfaction).  But it is also immediately obvious that 21.6% is much higher than 7%! So we need to ask more questions.

  1. What is the context of this metric? 

With this question, you are trying to understand if there were any events or special circumstances that may have contributed to this metric being unusually high or low.  It may also highlight how this metric compares to other periods – is it higher or lower than in the past?

Answer: “The metric is much higher than in previous quarters. During this quarter, we had to lay off some people due to losing a large customer. We also let some temporary workers go. And some people have chosen to take early retirement with the incentives that we offered around the reduction in workforce.”

Going back to how they calculated the 21.6% you may now wonder if they did the calculation correctly. If the metric is about making sure that they retain employees then it would be logical to ensure they do not include those who leave involuntarily – due to a lay-off for example. And there was also mention of temporary workers. Workforce planning often includes having a pool of temporary/agency workers who can more easily be let go of in the event of an organizational downturn. From that perspective, it would also not be useful to include those workers in an employee retention metric. It is time to question the number of people who left the company – the 108.  Having obtained more information about the 108 employees, we see that this number represents various groups including retirees, agency workers, redundancies, and resignations.

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In this case, the only unplanned people that the company “lost” = 32

In that case, the metric calculation would result in 6.4% which is below the 7% limit that was set as a goal.  It is important that the definition of the metric is clear about which groups of people who left should be included or excluded in the calculation.

In summary, we can make some suggestions for this  HR team:
  • Clear name and definition. Perhaps the metric should be redefined and possibly renamed if their intention is to capture how many employees (not temporary workers) resign from the company and to keep that % below 7%.
  • Share definition with stakeholders. Just looking at 21.6% employee turnover can be alarming so it would also be very important that the metric is well understood by the team and its key stakeholders outside of the team.
  • Accuracy. To avoid any possible calculation errors, it could help if somebody audits the metrics before the dashboard is finalized and distributed. The credibility of the HR team can be impacted if an executive team regularly sees errors or inconsistencies on the HR dashboard.

Keeping track of key metrics to monitor the success of specific processes or initiatives is important. That way you would be able to easily identify if a project or an objective is in danger of failing to achieve desired outcomes at the end of a year. Early identification also enables you to take the appropriate actions to correct an alarming trend. The key is to ensure that metrics on a dashboard are accurate and easy to interpret by those who view it. Be intentional and critical when you choose the metrics to track and when you define them to stakeholders.

When reviewing metrics, ensure that you truly understand what they represent before drawing premature conclusions. Planning actions to rectify premature conclusions could be a waste of your valuable time and resources when they are based on erroneous assumptions.

HR Function checkup – Feedback from internal customers


In the same way that companies would approach external customers to gather their views on what is going well and what needs improvement (customer satisfaction), the HR function should reach out to its internal customers to find out how satisfied they are with the services and support that they receive. It is true that there are more than one model for HR service delivery, but that does not change the fact that it is wise to gather feedback on the services and support that you do provide given the structure and focus for HR in your company.

The HR function is often guilty of focusing its developmental and improvement efforts exclusively on helping other departments and neglects using those same skills and expertise to improve the HR function as a whole and developing the people who deliver the HR services to others.

HR Function – Feedback Survey

This survey can help you gather the information you need from your internal customers to help you identify specific areas of excellence in HR and also those areas where improvement may be needed. When improvement is needed it will often imply additional training and development of some HR representatives (HRBPs or Generalists) and may also  include communicating the HR vision and goals more clearly within the HR function. Remember to recognize and reward those who were part of delivering excellent services when you review the survey results.

Tips:

  • Add comment fields next to scores if you want to be certain to capture specific comments about the scores.
  • Do be sure to provide survey participants with feedback on the outcome of the survey and the actions that you plan to take as a result of the survey. This motivates participants to continue providing you with valuable feedback in the future.
  • Create an action plan and communicate that clearly within the HR function so that everyone understands which areas you plan to address and how you plan to do that. It may help to set specific metrics around your planned improvements to make it easier to report progress.
  • Regularly update stakeholders – internal to the HR function and those who are internal customers in your company – on the progress of improvement efforts as you implement the post-survey action plan.
  • Remember to celebrate successes (milestones and outcomes achieved) and be prepared to add additional actions to your plan in cases where your improvement efforts are not reaping the results you had planned for.

Having a standard survey which you use ever year gives the opportunity to track the progress in specific questions over time and helps with trend analysis and showing % improvements over time.