27 March 2018

Opinion: Why ‘bad’ data can be good news for your organisation


Arran Heal

Arran Heal

Arran Heal is managing director of CMP Resolutions, a workplace conflict management consultancy


Employee engagement HR transformation Technology


It’s natural to want to accentuate the positive, but focusing on poor results can help HR to uncover key strategic areas for improvement, writes Arran Heal

When HR professionals talk about data analytics, generally they focus on the good stuff. But every employer is at a different point in their data journey; some we work with have very little or even no people data to draw on at all, while others use a balanced scorecard to identify their financial, internal, customer, learning and growth metrics. Although, on the surface, these more sophisticated HR data practices might look like they are giving the board what they need to see, it’s often data without substance or root-cause analysis.

For example, in our field of dispute resolution, a commonly cited financial metric is staff turnover. The softer metric is bullying and harassment scores taken from latest employee engagement surveys. But what’s behind the current or changing levels of staff turnover, and where can you find data in the organisation that can help give you the answer? Too few organisations collate the data they have already have to hand from performance appraisals, 360 feedback surveys, engagement surveys, grievance and disciplinary data, and sickness and absence reports. Putting together the full picture is the basis for establishing the true cost to an organisation of conflict in all its forms, from niggles and tensions to full-blown disputes.

This kind of data is fundamental for understanding your workplace: for identifying specific issues around management styles, work practices, employee relations and workplace culture. They’re part of the reality that provides HR with the evidence needed to make strategy, justify further reviews, offer support, and take action. A people strategy that’s solely built on good news is based on sand.

The costs of conflict can be substantial, even when we only take into account those that can be measured. Such costs surely need to be taken into account when planning and assessing people resources and ‘profit per employee’ or EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortisation). What is the specific cost of excessive levels of stress on employees? The 2017 Labour Force Survey, for example, suggests people suffering from stress are absent from work for an average of 23.8 days per case in 2016-7. According to CIPD figures, the number of days that managers and HR spend on managing both disciplinary and grievance cases has gone up in the last 20 years, from 13 to 18 days, and from 9 to 14.4 days respectively.

“A people strategy that’s solely built on good news is based on sand”

A more specific example is the data contained within employee relations cases themselves. There are basic hygiene reasons for keeping records, even if there’s no legal requirement; if there aren’t detailed records, employers are at of increased risk of criticism in employment tribunals. Capturing data provides evidence that processes are being followed consistently, and that staff are treated equally.

More crucially, it provides evidence that HR can use to be more proactive in managing employee relations. Richer, more meaningful data from grievance and disciplinary cases can be used to identify root causes of situations and unlock insights into more general workplace issues and trends. This greater understanding is then the basis for strategic planning to reduce unnecessary future problems through improving management processes and training, conversational intelligence, internal communications, and team building, and creating opportunities.

HR directors also need to look at the positive side of how the organisation is responding to and resolving problems: how many mediations have reached an agreement, how many potential employment tribunal cases have been avoided, how many long-term absence and stress cases resolved, and how many successful performance management conversations have been had.

This data creates a real foundation for healthier, more genuine positivity at work. There’s the financial justification for investment in addressing the sources of conflict wherever they lie; benchmark figures to demonstrate the return on investment from new approaches to managing conflict; the opportunity to assess the impact of your current practices on the health of your employee relations; and the chance to see how conflict may be impacting on other strategic HR drivers like employee engagement and talent retention. And, most importantly, it enables you to create a new culture, a ‘clear air’ workplace that encourages trust, honesty, innovation, and support for diversity.

So next time you come across some ‘bad’ metrics, don’t be tempted to bury them away – take them as a challenge to create a better working environment for everyone.

Arran Heal is managing director at CMP Resolutions