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If you don’t like the data, discredit it!

Everywhere you look and read there is a new article about the importance and value of “Big Data.” Believe you me, I get it. We all know that as HR Pros, it is important that we are measuring what we do so we can show how we add value. I also get that it is just as important to be able to use predictive analytics to show what might happen if we choose certain courses of action. Like many members of my profession, I am continuing to learn, adopt and apply (big) data in my practice.

Big DataA friend of mine, (let’s call her Brenda) who is NOT in HR, has also been doing the same in her profession. I would describe her role as one of organizational change agent/improvement lead.   We recently had a great discussion about how she is trying to improve her overall comfort level with predictive analytics so that she can better “sell” her executive team on change and improvement initiatives. Other than making me feel better that it isn’t just HR that has an inferiority complex about their knowledge and application of big data, Brenda also regaled me with a fantastic tail of organizational dysfunctionality as it pertains to the use of big data. Spoiler alert – just because you have, and can use, big data, doesn’t mean you will get what you want or easily sway the opinions of others!

Stop me if you have heard this one before, but at Brenda’s company they have a communication problem. Shocking I know, as that is such a rare problem in most companies. However, she has a pretty good idea as to what the drivers are of the communication problem – *cough* *managers* *cough*; however, in order to engage her senior team in a solution, she wanted to collect some data to show what was happening so as to better convince them. Sound approach so far, right?

Brenda went about conducting a survey with that was administered to almost 50% of the organization’s employees, across all departments and locations. The survey was done either in person or via phone so as to provide clear (specific) context as to the questions. The intent of the survey was to determine whether or not certain key business items were being communicated to employees by their manager(s). She had enough responses to the survey so that the results could be considered to be statistically significant in nature. Additionally, when looking at the data, there were some pretty clear outcomes/results from what was shared. As you can guess, across certain office and departments, it was crystal clear that these key business items that the executive team thought were being communicated, simply weren’t being discussed/relayed to employees, thus the reason they were experiencing the communication gap.

So far so good, right? A simple but powerful data collection tool was used to provide concrete results as to what the problem was and where it resided. Brenda consolidated this data and then presented it to her executive team a couple of weeks ago. Here is where our story goes off the rails – rather than providing an “a-ha” moment to this team, one that was meant to enlighten, inform and spur them to action, it turned into an assault on the credibility of her information. Bottom line, the senior team didn’t like the fact that Brenda (and her data) was basically telling them that their managers were falling short in their communication efforts. They didn’t like being told/shown in front of the head of the organization that perhaps they didn’t have their finger on the pulse of what was effecting communication in the company.  Better yet, it showed that maybe they had their heads in the proverbial sand about the effectiveness of some of their managers (and perhaps their own coaching abilities.)

Rather than asking questions and using the information to improve the state of affairs at this company, the “team” launched into a passive-aggressive assault on Brenda and the integrity of the data. Questions and statements such as:

“Did everyone understand the questions?”

“Did you speak to enough people?”

“This isn’t concrete enough”

“How do you know there aren’t other factors impacting things?”

“This is just a moment in time and not indicative of the state of affairs overall”

“They were just having a bad day when they responded to this information”

“This is good information, but we really need to look at this in a different way and take a holistic approach”

“We don’t want to jump to any conclusions here”

Fantastic stuff huh? This was further compounded by the fact that no one on that team stood up to support the data and use it as an opportunity for constructive dialogue. So, be careful how you tread going forward my fellow HR Pros. Just because you can gather, analyze and apply data, don’t assume that your audience is either ready for it and/or will accept it. You need to understand the players, the room and the motivators. Quite often the socio-political factors in your company will trump anything that (big) data tells you. The savvy HR Pro needs to be skilled in the use and application of big data, but sublimely adept at social messaging.   Think of yourself as one part mathematician and one part politician. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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