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Human resources is no longer the "fluffy" side of business. Companies are getting back in touch with the art as well as the science of HR, using analytics for data-driven insights that create real business change. Analytics can provide evidence to support decisions that were once based on instinct and experience, but when it comes to utilizing data for HR purposes, there's a lot more to it than just numbers. It also requires a great story.

Here's how HR leaders can apply storytelling to analytics for real business change.

Dig for Data

McDonald's is a great example of a company that used analytics to improve the bottom line. In 2009 in the United Kingdom, the fast-food chain found that customer satisfaction was much higher in restaurants with at least one worker over 60 years old. If used effectively, this kind of insight from people analytics could transform HR from a transaction-based and reactive department into a strategic and proactive business force.

As Professor Paul Sparrow of Lancaster University said, "The research clearly demonstrates the very real business value of recruiting an age diverse workforce. For McDonald's, we can show that the presence of older employees improves customer satisfaction, and in a service led business such as theirs, this drives the bottom line."

That's a powerful weapon—but only when it is wielded by a pro. After all, it doesn't matter how incredible the results of a study are if managers don't fully understand or believe the outcomes and act on them.

Understand the Story of the Data

The truth is that analyzing data is only half the story. Communicating those findings is just as important as the data digging itself. Change and action happen when the art of storytelling is applied to the science of analytics. In a business situation, stories provide the context around analytics and interpret what they mean for a wider audience. They can even be backed by visual illustrations that help us simplify complex information.

To craft your story, answer three questions: 1) What do you want your audience to know? 2) How do you want them to feel? 3) What do you want them to do? For the McDonald's example, the answers to these would be something along the lines of: 1) Customer service is vastly improved by older workers, 2) Executives should be excited by the opportunity to increase revenue through better service and 3) We want to focus on more diverse hiring practices to hire older workers.

Find a Storyteller to Communicate the Data

Of course, hardcore data analysts aren't always the best storytellers, which is why youranalytics team should have a balance of science and storytelling. The storyteller should be a master weaver of words, but also someone who can take hard facts and make information personal or relevant to their business audience. They won't be talking straight statistics—they'll be explaining the data using general business language.

The goal is to make your executive team see the value of your findings and connect with them on an emotional level, as well as a cerebral one. It's not just a question of capturing their hearts and their minds, but also motivating them to do something with the knowledge.

This ability to get to the heart of the matter is increasingly important in a world where we are wallowing in data. Managers don't want more reports and information to sift through. They want someone who can explain the relevance and personalize it. Luckily for HR, these storytelling skills should be more readily available in existing HR staff than analytical expertise—you just need to identify the right people.

Photo: Twenty20