From Numbers to a Story - bettHR

I know, I know – you want to get started with HR metrics, but then you realize that choosing the right metrics and figuring out to track them, is just the first step. Because your metrics have absolutely no value, if you can’t tell the right story with them.

You’re probably used to seeing HR metrics presented this way:

Or, communicated in this “fancy” way, from your current HRIS software:

But neither of these images share any actual value or meaning about the metrics you’ve worked so hard to create and manage. These are simply a regurgitation of the numbers, repurposed in one place.

What are you trying to say? What is the point?

Don’t Leave Your Metrics Up for Misinterpretation

Why will this be even less effective than not having any metrics at all?

Easy, there isn’t a story behind your numbers.

When you aren’t explicit in providing a story and context for your metrics, each person who sees them, will interpret the numbers differently. We all come to the table with our own biases and points of view.

Maybe you’re not a numbers person and refuse to open any type of Excel document. Or perhaps you only really care about retention, so you view the numbers as good since it’s above a 70 – “C” is passing, right? (when you’re trying to show how much work there is left to do). My favorite is if your leader works in Finance (or any other department), and they simply don’t care about what HR is trying to say because it doesn’t impact their daily work.

And more importantly, if you don’t tell a specific story and explain what the metrics mean, the interpretation, progress or decline, cannot be tracked and measured over time – or understood five years down the road. When you are your team are in new roles, will there be anyone left who can interpret or infer the meaning of what was going on?

Metrics Need to Be More than Numbers

Most data scientists and big data/analytics firms, stop after evaluating and crunching a ton of super-complicated numbers… and their output is “metrics.” Most of us already have access to all of the metrics now – just run a report (if you can find the report button and then choose the right report grid from the pre-loaded complicated mess), and you have the data, the “metrics.”

But are you using it? Do you truly have a clue as to what these numbers mean?

Um, no. I’m guessing every single person has at one point or another opened a report or been shared a report, and decided to NEVER LOOK AT IT AGAIN because huh? And what? And why do I care? And holy guacamole do I need to try and figure out math? Eek.

Metrics are only viable and meaningful, if they provide direct and exact value. Removing any form of interpretation, follow-up, deep dives, and Excel garble – otherwise they will be ignored and overlooked.
#HRMetrics are only viable and meaningful, if they provide direct and exact value. Removing any form of interpretation, follow-up, deep dives, and Excel garble. #HR Click To Tweet

This is also where you go from HR number cruncher, to HR superstar. (And frankly, it’s freaking fun!)

Understanding the metrics, the numbers – is critical, so you can then tell the right story. Reinforcing important points and highlights to ALL who read it, regardless of their department, level, or experience with metrics.

How to Tell a Story

For HR metrics, the story is where you combine the numbers with visuals and text, to deliver value and meaning. It’s the juicy part of metrics – and necessary in the future of HR.
For HR metrics, the story is where you combine the numbers with visuals and text, to deliver value and meaning. #HRMetrics #HR Click To Tweet

When telling the story, you need to start with the question that started you tracking the metric in the first place. What outcome, highlight, concern, success – that is important to the business – are you trying to capture to share?

Think of this as the plotline of a story. What is going to happen at the end? What does our happy ever after look like? Increase employee engagement? Better retention? Less time to fill? Happier new employees, etc.?

Then, you need to put your audience in the “hero” seat, the main focus of your story. Remember, it’s not about YOU, it’s about what your audience (senior leaders, your boss, HR colleagues, whomever).

Your audience needs as many barriers removed as possible to focus on the plot you’re trying to tell them – and the easiest way to do this, is to make them the center of your story. Keep them in mind first, realize it’s about them (not you, not HR!) – and then they will be more receptive to your metrics story.

This is a hard step to overcome, so make sure you check it a few times before moving on. We are so used to sharing details, information and updates from our own perspective, that it takes a lot of practice to transition it to what your audience cares about, first. Ask: Does my audience care about this outcome? And why?

Now, you need to tell the story.

Think of it this way: plopping down a pie chart (ugh, never do a pie chart), bar chart or a graph, doesn’t tell a story of any kind. It’s a graphic/an image, yes – but that’s all it is. Your audience still has to figure out how to interpret the graphic, right?

Instead, your chart/graphs/visuals, need to be succinct and paired with some text and possibly numbers, to share your point.
Plopping down a pie chart, bar chart or a graph of any kind, doesn’t tell a story. It's not useful at all. #HRMetrics #HR Click To Tweet

Here’s an example using the exact same data from the HRIS image above. In this instance, instead of providing the overwhelming dashboard data, I’m going to tell the story about turnover for key talent.

Anyone who views this image, knows immediately what I’m trying to say – what the story is. There is no doubt, no room for misinterpretation, no questions.

The Story (our point): Key talent is leaving (problem 1) in droves in May followed by February (problem 2). As the SME, I’d follow up this story, with more details and notes (in discussion or in text): we need to do more engagement with our key talent employees in general, to better understand how we can entice them to stay. Exit interviews will provide us details as to why they are leaving, to track any trends or problem leaders/areas. And finally, they leave in Feb. after they receive their bonus payout – but what is happening around May to drive so many people to leave?

One More Secret

One more quick secret about turning metrics into a story (other than this is the fun part). This step is what will elevate your SME standing AND help you get super clear and focused, when sharing the data. Psst – it also means that you don’t have to be a super math wizard to intelligently speak about the numbers.

Being worried about how to defend and discuss the data, is one of the most common worries I hear when people are starting out with metrics.

…What if the CEO asks me what this random percentage in the pie chart means and how I arrived at it?…

Cue, sweaty palms and all kinds of Secret Deodorant commercials.

But when you present a story, you know exactly what is being said and exactly what it means for your company. No reading between the lines necessary, no random detail to be plucked out and over-analyzed.

Just the point you are delivering, the story you are telling and the key area of focus that reinforces the “why” in the metrics you are tracking.

Not so terrible, right?

Want to learn all of the HR metrics secrets? Snag this guide to get you started.