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After 10+ years of using metrics in Human Resources to not only earn a seat at the table but also to become a strategic business partner, you can believe I’ve made every mistake imaginable. I want to share some of the rookie mistakes I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to – along with specific strategies (and the tactics behind them!), to get you past any roadblocks along the way.

While these lessons took us years to learn and implement, you can take these tactics and apply them instantly to your own HR organization.

Mistake #1: Forgetting to tell the story behind the numbers

I remember sharing my first HR dashboard with the executive team, ready for them to be amazed. Only, they looked at me with glazed eyes without any excitement or questions. I was thinking, you asked for me to show the value, you asked for analytics… why aren’t you jumping up and down right now?”

After the meeting, one of the leaders came to me a bit embarrassed, asking if I could explain what the dashboard was and how to read it. Essentially, he had no idea what I was trying to say with the numbers – so the dashboard ended up being another useless “report.”

I forgot the most important thing about the metrics – being able to share them for impact, in a meaningful way.

Takeaway: Your HR dashboard and metrics hold no value, unless you tell the story behind the numbers.

After taking the time and effort to collect metrics, you owe your audience (and yourself!) the opportunity to understand the value of the work you’re doing in HR. Stop thinking about your HR metrics as simply numbers or analytics. Instead, think of each metric as an opportunity to show the business the value of your work.

Having a lot of numbers on a page for a department that is less quantitative in general, will not help you partner with the business. Instead, use the numbers to support the story you want them to hear. If you want them to understand that your turnover rate is closely tied to engagement, show them that through words, instead of telling them that with metrics.

Mistake #2: Lack of connecting metrics to the business

In the past 10-15 years, HR has transformed from the “personnel” department to “earning a seat at the table” to being strategic business partners. Having HR actively participate in the overall business strategy is still a very new thing at companies. Don’t waste the opportunity.

Having a seat at the table and being a partner means that you owe it to the organization to show HR’s value through the same way Finance, IT and other departments have been showing it for years – connecting the numbers to the business.

Creating metrics and having the metrics be disconnected from the organization’s overall goals and mission, have absolutely zero value to the business itself, greatly damaging the perceived value HR brings to the table.

Takeaway: Before creating and tracking metrics, be sure you can tie the results to something that the business cares about.

The good news is, that most HR-related activities have a direct impact on any business’ goals and mission – we just don’t connect the dots for the business well. For example, engagement survey data is important – leaders and HR think the results are important, but if you ask them to tell you why the results are important, you’ll get blank stares. It’s up to you to take these metrics, tell the story but then also make sure the story ties back to something the business cares about – perhaps in this example, retaining key talent.

For all of the metrics you have available to you (or that you can create), tell the complete story – all the way up to the organization’s goals and mission. Keep asking “why” until you reach the connection of importance to the business’s bottom line – then, that metric is important.

Mistake #3: Using your Engagement Survey results as they are given to you by the vendor

For those of us who do annual engagement surveys (or pulses throughout the year), it’s usually very easy for us to get the metrics and results. Our vendor provides us with decks already created for us, a dashboard with the opportunity to view/hide items as needed, and so on. However, most of us are underutilizing this amazing data and missing some opportunities to do great HR work.

The engagement survey results your vendor provides you (or you create), should be seen as a starting point for your engagement metrics – not the results you pass along and share. First, you need to fully review what “engagement” means to your organization and why it’s important. How does the term engagement tie to the overall business strategy? Once you are able to connect engagement to the state of the business, you are able to use data-rich metrics from the engagement survey to make the results more valuable (and actionable!).

Takeaway: You have amazing insight and data from your employees through the engagement survey – use it to craft meaningful insights, connected to your business.

This step tends to feel overwhelming for most HR professionals, as the data contained within the survey is so dense and filled with a lot of charts and numbers, that “seem” to make enough sense as is. But it’s critical for you to connect the dots – strip down the charts and see what the overall results are telling you and the organization.

If your results are low, consider why that would occur, is it even important to the business for that specific item to be higher (tie it back to the goals/mission), what HR-related action could the business or a leader take to improve that result, and so on. It’s important to dig out the results so you are able to advise the business on how to make actual progress on specific results that matter to the business.

Mistake #4: Only tracking recruiting metrics

Recruiting metrics are some of the easiest metrics for us to track – often our applicant tracking system/software does many of these for us, making them a good place for us to start when it comes to metrics. However, recruiting metrics do not measure what HR does on a daily basis – just the activities before a candidate joins.

Think about your HR partnership in the same way that recruiting software does – what touch points do you have on a daily basis, what activities are you spending your time on, what value are you bringing, and so – that you can create metrics for. Or better yet, use your recruiting metrics as a thread to continue to tell the story.

What happens to the business (and HR) if the time to fill rate is too long? How can you tell that story with your daily HR-interactions and activities?

Takeaway: Recruiting metrics are a great starting point, but you need to expand your metrics to include what HR does on a day-in, day-out basis.

Telling the story of candidates is not at all the same as telling the story of active employees. It’s important that you show the strategic value of HR within the business itself, not just when having new candidates join the team. Use the recruiting metrics your company captures as your starting point – or the thread the employee enters on, and how does their experience change and get molded along the way?

Final Thought

Remember: the more the business understands the value you provide as an HR professional, the less you will have to “justify” your department’s worth to the business’s bottom line.

When you have a great story to tell about the work HR is doing, and the numbers behind the story, you have everything you need to create a powerful strategy and case for HR effectiveness.