A Closer Look at the Influence of HR Metrics in a Global Pandemic

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David Rice
07/22/2020

HR Metrics Ultimate Software

What hasn’t changed in the last five months when it comes to how we do business? Surely, that list of things is shorter than the list of things that have been impacted by COVID-19. How we work, how we communicate and how we measure the effectiveness of our work is all adapting to the new reality this pandemic has thrown the world into.

Human resource metrics are no different.  The pandemic has HR leaders looking at everything from remote work performance to employee wellbeing through a different lens. The role of HR leaders in this pandemic is vital, or as The Economist recently noted, “the role of the Chief People Officer in the pandemic is like that of the Chief Financial Officer during the financial crisis.”

“There’s a level of focus on our people that I have never seen before,” said Rana Stanfill-Hobbs, Director of Insights at Ultimate Software, during a session titled “HR Metrics: Measuring What Matters in and After a Global Pandemic” as part of our recent HR Tech North America Digital Summit.

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“The things that we have been talking about around trends in mental health, thinking of our whole selves and taking a holistic approach to the workforce is all driving toward the same place of recognizing the workforce as human beings and thinking of how we can provide better support and resources.”

The Employee Experience Takes Center Stage

Looking at the trends emerging from the COVID era, the ones that stand out focus on AI augmentation, health as a driver of productivity and the importance of the employee experience. HR is playing a central role in creating a connected and collaborative culture across the enterprise and with that, comes an obligation to measure to the effectiveness of such an effort.

“We’ve all been working to address these things, but they have such a magnitude now that I could never have predicted,” Stanfill-Hobbs said. “Who we’re measuring has not changed, but how we do it, how often we do it, what we’re measuring and how we’re providing those insights is all changing. It’s been changing, but it’s happening in ways that either we did not predict or at a much faster rate than we expected.”

The focus of those questions is aimed at uncovering who the people are that make up the organization, what their employee experience is like and understanding the organizational brand beyond what it’s known to do as a business.

Many of the metrics being used by HR haven’t changed, but the reason for collecting them and the impact of the findings has been greater than ever before.

“Now is an interesting time because the humanistic components of brands, how they support their employees and their community, has come to mean something different,” Stanfill-Hobbs said. “The way that organizations are responding (to the current environment) will have a very long tail to it. It’s not just their relationship with their employees, it’s going to impact future recruitment and their relationships to their customers as well.”

Another piece of the experience puzzle is understanding how the organization meets its people both physically and psychologically. Mental health and diversity and inclusion are two areas that are of high importance right now and part of that more holistic approach to employees.

“Because we’re now thinking about the physical and psychological environments we’re interacting with our employees in, and the fact that we may not be able to control the setting, we see a lot of inconsistency in their experiences,” Stanfill-Hobbs said. “So how do we meet them, how do we understand what’s important to them? How do we make sure we’re taking care of them and understanding what they need?”

Workforce Planning

In answering the question of who are our people, the next part is to determine what skills and attributes people have that will help the business cope with the new reality or transition to new business models. It’s a necessity for businesses to know who their people are and who needs reskilling. Organizations then need to offer learning in effective ways and inspire a culture of learning that helps people develop skills that will see the business through the crisis and into its new future on the other side.

“All of that is now in a totally different cadence than I’ve ever seen,” Stanfill-Hobbs said. “Workforce planning has traditionally been structured around a subset of jobs that we know are most important to keep our business successful now and to keep us achieving our goals. So now we have to start thinking about new tasks and positions that have to be done and take inventory of who we have that can do them. There’s a real opportunity to assess what can be done by technology, what can be done by non-traditional workforces and be creative and far more democratized in our approach to who can do this work.”

A lot of this data driven transformation was on a timeline to become reality in the next 2-5 years for many organizations. Now, that timeline has tightened to a matter of weeks and months. Stanfill-Hobbs emphasized how important it is to not lose the momentum that has resulted from such a fundamental shift.

“I’ve talked to so many organizations who have said they couldn’t go to remote work, the business model doesn’t work for that, culture doesn’t work for that,” she said. “Now many of them have had to do that and the nature of work has fundamentally shifted. I think that’s really exciting, because we’ve been forced to have a more distributed leadership model, and that means we’re working in a distributed data environment.”

The word opportunity is important here. A distributed workforce is a big opportunity to embrace technology such as AI, machine learning and sentiment analysis. AI is capable of augmenting the business, for example, through personalization of learning content and pathways, recruiting and candidate matching, increasing retention by identifying employees at risk of attrition, chatbots and sentiment analysis.

That technology thrives on data, meaning now is the perfect time to create more data through surveys and new modes of communication that will help organizations understand their employees better and simultaneously make the technology more effective.

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