HR Insights 7 min

Ask an HR Expert: Connecting Data and Strategy

February 4, 2020

In the Ask an HR Expert series, we chat with the HR pros who help make BambooHR a great place to work. In this article, Cassie Whitlock, director of HR at BambooHR, explains how she uses HR data and analytics to inform and execute our people strategy. To see last month’s Ask an HR Expert article, click here.

We spend a lot of time at BambooHR talking about strategic HR: how HR leadership helps the organization make smart business decisions. And we talk about the power of data—how providing the most current information makes all the difference in your people and business outcomes.

The biggest thing BambooHR software does for me is bridging the gap in the cycle between strategy and data, so I can see whether or not our tactics (what we’re doing every day) are accomplishing our strategy (what we’ve been planning for right now and in the future). Whether your role has you discussing strategy with executives or figuring out how to execute those strategies, every HR pro needs to understand the strategy behind our jobs and the data we need to support our business recommendations and initiatives.

Is there such a thing as too much data?

There is a balance, but you have to be deliberate and create it. You can easily have too much data and too many strategies, especially as you encourage your employees to lead from where they are. While it’s good for employees to take initiative and solve problems, adding more and more custom data to your software interface can end up burying the essentials.

That’s one of the things I appreciate most about BambooHR—when you manage it correctly and help managers learn the best way to use it, everyone can get the details they need without the tabs getting crowded and confusing. It’s both easy to track and easy not to overtrack. You can just start typing in the search bar and find the data you need really fast.

Press your leadership teams to think about how they can create change—and how they can get that change to stick so you can keep a clean interface.

If a department asks me for a custom report that can do something specific, I ask them to submit a use case that shows how anyone in the company can use it. Our Customer Experience team has the most requests because they see so much potential as they’re working with our product and clients. So, instead of having a form with CX-specific terms, I ask if they can create an analogue that other departments can use as well.

We’ve learned how important it is to protect the interface as we’ve reviewed previous custom forms. I ask the managers two questions about prior requests: “Did you deploy it?” and “Did it stick?” All too often, we were making forms that didn’t meet either of those hurdles, either never getting used or fading out after a short time. So, I press leadership to think about how they can create change—and how they can get that change to stick so that we don’t have hundreds of one-off custom features clogging up our interface.

What are some examples of spotting trends in your data?

As an HR director with a company of 500-plus employees on a steep growth trajectory, my day-to-day job usually isn’t dealing with tactical decisions like how to track PTO. I spend most of my time gathering data for custom reports in the Employee or Job tab so I can support a specific employee or manager.

Here’s an example of one of these custom analyses: the other day I ran a report of ZIP codes and plugged it into Google Maps to get location data for a geotrend report. Our office is in Utah County, Utah, and I wanted to see the distribution of employees in Utah County, Salt Lake County, and beyond. Where is most of our Marketing department commuting from? Where is Development coming from?

Tailor your programs so employees who live farther from the office don’t feel like they’re missing out on experiences that are only available to nearby employees.

You might wonder why managers would be concerned about this, but commute distances affect team cohesion, quality of life, and individual team policies. If we find that half of Marketing has long commutes, for example, would a more flexible work-from-home schedule be an option that managers can offer their employees? If our department-level policies operate on the assumption that employees are in office, do we need to make an exception for a team with a lot of long-distance employees, or revisit on a larger level?

We offer benefits like Financial Peace University classes and parenting classes, but they’re often after work hours. How do we help employees participate who may not have time for the class, their family, and their commute? Having this information helps us tailor our programs so that Salt Lake County employees don’t feel like they’re missing out on experiences that are only available to Utah County employees.

How can data affect the employee experience?

I just spent an enormous amount of time examining the results from our Employee Satisfaction with eNPS® surveys. I love that this tool lets me look at the numbers and see trends. When I see a group that’s having a frustrating experience, I can filter by tenure and see whether our efforts to change the employee experience are having a positive impact over time.

I also really appreciate the fact that I can go in and read details in people’s comments about the challenges and opportunities that they see. It’s nice to be able to use both high-level trends and individual suggestions effectively without compromising employee anonymity.

Here’s an example of how data can make a big difference in the employee experience: At BambooHR, we have three health insurance plans. The way we’ve set these plans up, our strategy tells us that we should have a certain percentage of employees using Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, based on their individual and family circumstances.

If you review your strategy through the data and educate your employees, you can improve the quality of life for everyone in your organization.

When we did a utilization report by department, though, we found one team that had an amazingly high proportion of employees enrolled in Plan C—generally the most specialized and expensive of our three plans. The data told us that our strategy wasn’t working.

So we adapted our strategy: before the next open enrollment, we were able to educate that team on our options to make sure that they understood what was available.

After deciding to make the switch, one employee said, “Let me make sure I understand this right: this switch is going to save me $4,000 a year?” Yes, this switch would save thousands. Because we reviewed our strategy through the data, we saw statistics that were out of balance, we provided the education, and we improved the quality of life for our employees.

How often should you review your HR data?

Determining how often you review data in BambooHR can help you avoid analysis paralysis while making sure you keep current on the situation in your company.

For example, I’m the gatekeeper behind system access levels at BambooHR—I’ve given myself the duty to make sure everyone has the access they need and no one has access they shouldn’t. On larger teams, we have meetings with team leadership to review if we have created all of the access levels that they need and that all employees have been assigned to an access level. I’ve set up a cadence where I review access levels and functions in BambooHR quarterly because of our high growth.

You don’t have to optimize every feature right now. Build a program that’s self-sustaining, then expand from there.

For benefits, I’ve set up a twice-a-year cadence: we review them after we finish with open enrollment and again six months later when it’s time to start getting bids. eNPS surveys also have a twice-a-year cadence. For concerns like holiday schedules and payroll schedules, an annual cadence works.

Setting a cadence helps me put things in perspective. I can decide what’s more critical and what’s less critical. Don’t feel overwhelmed, or feel like you’re underperforming if you’re not reviewing your data as often as you’d like. You don’t have to optimize every feature right now. Build a program that’s self-sustaining until you get more people on deck, then expand it from there.

The Takeaway

Strategic HR works best when you fully understand where you are and where you want to go. Using HR data can help you inform your organization’s strategy, plan out your tactics, and confirm the results. Setting up this successful cycle also proves the value of HR, making it easier to get buy-in for your next strategy.

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Cassie Whitlock
Director of HR

Cassie started her career in the accounting world, but in her work with small and medium-sized companies, the HR function was always handed to her. She loves the intersection of business and humans and believes that when companies focus on their people, the people, in turn, focus on the business needs. She enjoys her work most when she can take her talents in data, processes, and human psychology to make someone's day better.