Measure what matters

ESTIMATED READING TIME – 8:40

Learning goals for this activity

– Explain why measuring is important to talent optimization.
– Name some examples of people data and be able to distinguish between business data and people data.
– Recognize some tools used to measure people data.
– Describe why it’s advantageous to have people data for everyone in an organization.
– Understand how to determine the right frequency of measurement.

Why measuring what matters is important to talent optimization

If diagnose is similar to an annual physical exam with your doctor, the activity of measuring is having bloodwork done. Just as a doctor would order blood tests to measure cell counts, a business should collect and measure its people data. Most businesses regularly monitor key business results whether they be sales figures, customer satisfaction ratings, or profits and losses. These play an important role in talent optimization as they’re a critical part of your business context. Here, you’ll complement those business metrics with important people data such as behavioral styles, culture, employee engagement, and job performance. Measuring people data as rigorously as you measure business data ensures you have the information you need to uncover the people problems that are the root cause of your business problems.

To master your measurement of what matters, follow these simple steps:

  • Decide what people data to measure.
  • Choose your measurement tools.
  • Determine the right frequency.

1. Decide what people data to measure.

Step one of measuring is deciding what people data you want to measure. Common examples of people data include:

  • Behavioral profiles: This data identifies someone’s natural drives and preferences. It helps you hire people who are suited for a job and manage them appropriately, which can impact engagement, performance, and business results.
  • Cognitive abilities: This data is typically used during the hiring process to help you identify people who learn and adapt to change at a rate that’s suited to the job and your company.
  • Employee engagement: Engagement data is collected directly from your employees and describes how they feel about working for you. This data is helpful in diagnosing misalignment between employees and their job, their managers, their colleagues, and your organization.
  • Job performance: This data identifies how well your employees are moving your initiatives forward and pinpoints those who are struggling. Job performance data can also help you identify which behavioral drive is shared by all top performers.
  • Organizational and team culture: This data identifies your organization’s values and norms. It describes how it feels to work at your organization and points to which behaviors and attitudes are rewarded.
  • Employee sentiment: This data includes the experiences of employees at work. It’s often collected through a performance feedback method or during exit interviews.

If you’re diagnosing preventatively, you’ll want to start with the people data that’s easiest to collect. For example, you could gather data on culture pretty easily by administering an employee survey using an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey.  

If you’re diagnosing in reaction to a problem, start there.

If sales leads are down, look at the problem from a talent perspective. Have you hired the right people to do the job? If you haven’t collected critical data about the requirements of the role and the candidates’ behavioral or cognitive profiles, you can’t objectively answer this question.

Are your sales professionals disengaged? Is there toxicity of culture at the team level? If you have a business symptom like “not meeting quota,” the right people data will let you look under the hood to see what’s really going on.

It’s also important to collect people data for everyone in the organization. This way you’ll already have the data you need should a problem arise. For example, let’s say you notice a drop in a star sales representative’s performance. You also know that person was recently assigned a new manager. Having behavioral data about each employee on hand will accelerate your ability to diagnose and remedy any friction between them.

Best Practice: Conduct a talent audit

In most organizations, perceptions of job performance vary among executives, directors, and managers. One manager may believe that if an employee is completing their job duties to the letter, this is excellent performance. Another manager may set a much higher bar to earn an excellent rating. Where there are differences in performance expectations, hidden frustrations take hold.

A talent audit is a transformative exercise that can surface these differences and promote constructive conversations among senior leaders and managers about what constitutes satisfactory, great, and excellent job performance across the entire company or business unit—not just within a given department or team. This process often highlights an employee who may be performing well as an individual but who’s not meeting the needs of one or more other departments or teams. This person’s manager may mistakenly think the employee is a high performer even though they’re undermining the performance of the broader team.

To conduct a talent audit, senior leaders should choose a group of managers who collectively have a broad view across the company or business unit; ideally the total span of employees reporting to these managers should be 100 or fewer. Provide a rubric that provides an empirical scale (e.g., 1-5) with performance descriptors per rating. Instruct the managers to individually and confidentially rate all employees they’ve worked with directly—both inside and outside their own department or team.

When a senior, trusted talent optimizer analyzes the results, new insights and observations will surface. Look for situations where ratings were universally high or low or where there were surprises. Share specific and anonymous views of select results confidentially with managers. The exercise is eye opening for all involved.

You’re likely to find that every manager knows what your organization’s stars look like. As a finance leader, you may feel that nobody’s going to acknowledge your star Pam who works in accounts payable. But as a result of the audit, you may be amazed at how many people Pam has impressed in her day-to-day interactions. You may be equally surprised to see how many managers don’t rate your key direct report Sue as highly as you do. This opportunity to align and reflect can change a company’s trajectory.

Note: A talent audit is not about individual performance evaluations. Only managers make hiring and termination decisions, so managers’ perceptions and alignment are the focus of the talent audit. Don’t make the audit about individuals; be clear that the exercise is about aligning on performance standards, identifying issues in current hiring and development processes, and helping managers prioritize cross-functional demands.

If you’ve never conducted this type of talent audit before, know that the first audit is a significant effort—one that’s painful, scary, frustrating, and eventually enlightening. For maximum results, keep the group smaller than 150-200 people, otherwise the managers who participate will have too few or too superficial interactions with the group. Resist any temptation to gain manager agreement on the rating of any individual. The talent audit is designed to highlight trends and disconnects and to create alignment. To support this goal, limit the use of employee names as much as possible.

2. Choose your measurement tools.

Step two in measuring what matters is deciding what tools you’ll use to collect the people data you’ve chosen. There are a wide variety of tools available to you. Some are lightweight, homegrown, and/or inexpensive—e.g., conducting exit interviews. This is an important way to collect employee sentiment data from those employees who have chosen to leave your organization.

Other tools are much more sophisticated. For example, assessment providers have created tool sets that measure behavioral profiles, cognitive abilities, or employee engagement. These tools support more advanced activities of talent optimization like predicting new team dynamics and developing your leaders.

Using your people data inventory from step one above, determine the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective way to collect that data. Evaluate your resources and go with the tools that fit your specific needs.

3. Determine the right frequency.

How frequently you need to measure your people data depends on what you’re measuring and how dynamic your business environment is.

Take behavioral profiles as an example: Behavioral profiles tend to be stable over time. If you’re looking at a risk-averse professional who is highly analytical, that person will fit the same behavioral profile five years down the road—so there’s no need to measure behavioral profiles on a monthly basis. However, if you’re measuring employee engagement—something that varies based on factors including job fit, manager fit, team fit, and culture fit—you’ll want to measure more often.

In a stable environment, you’ll measure less often than you would in an environment where people change jobs all the time; constant change means engagement and performance will fluctuate.