I’ve written a lot this year about defining business outcomes and planning your talent management and supporting HR technology strategies around your desired business outcomes; essentially starting with the end in mind and working backwards. To do this right, it takes a deep understanding of your business – who drives it, what drives it, what internal and external influencers are, etc. It also takes the ability to have more vision looking forward than backwards.
We’ve talked endlessly about dashboards and reporting (both of which focus on the past or in some cases the present) but what I want to focus on today is the emerging science & discipline behind data visualization – giving all this information context so that we can make better decisions. It’s important, because it’s going to be one of the critical competencies that separate world-class HR leaders and organizations from the rest of the pack.
First, let’s discuss the virtues of data visualization in general, then we will explore its relevance in the HR world. I think we can all agree that the amount of content we are bombarded with each and every day is overwhelming; even coining a new term for it “big data”. So much so, that we begin to tune some information out in our quest not to miss what’s truly important. We ‘speed read’ through emails, texts, blogs, social streams – desperately hoping to glean just enough to make a decision and move forward. If only we could see a snapshot of how all that data and content is related, how it impacts us (or the organization,) why it’s important and what it means to our next decision — it would save us time, make our lives infinitely easier and more than likely allow us to see things we wouldn’t have otherwise.
Enter the data visualization: the combination of data and design to tell a story. There’s a reason “a picture is worth a thousand words,” because it literally is: the average person reads 200-250 words a minute! Our ability to process information visually is so much faster, especially information that uses relevant data and good design. With good data visualization, we can quickly tell a story, see the big picture, and MAKE BETTER DECISIONS.
So how can data visualization support HR’s goal to help drive the business and deliver value? Here’s three ways I can think of right off the bat:
1. Data Visualization for Business Agility: the ability to visualize the entire workforce in terms of competency, mobility and skill level and then see the ripple effect of adjustments like promotions or transfers is invaluable. Imagine being able to pinpoint the people in your organization with the skill to open a new market, and then also be able to see what happens 10 layers down from a compensation and role standpoint when you move that person. With data visualization, it’s not only possible, your competitors are starting to do it.
2. Data Visualization for Workforce Engagement: Imagine being able to visualize the entire workforce based off of employee satisfaction scores. Then imagine being able to find your most engaged employees and understand their network and their reach. If you could visualize where they are and what their true span of control looked like, you’d be able to put other employees in their ‘path’ and help create more peer-to-peer motivation and influence. The impact of being able to create “change management” messaging and positioning based on where your engaged workers are or more importantly, the “disengaged” are and creating plans to bring them back to life is worth more than anyone could ever imagine. Look at it on a map, look at it on a store level – this data is in your organization today and you are simply missing it.
3. Data Visualization for Talent and Workforce Planning: I stated earlier that data visualization is about looking forward – and it’s an important distinction because workforce planning is all about connecting the dots and determining what your future talent needs will be. With data visualization, you could use current talent profiles to determine what success looks like today, then you could project future competencies and skill requirements for opening in a new market or expanding products and services. You’d be able to visualize your gaps and create a strategy for filling them well before the talent needs to be in place. Now you are saying, we can do that without visualization. The power here is as you are ”designing your plays” (OK, watched a bit of football last night and Tom Brady looked awesome), you can see your strengths and weaknesses in each possible play, each possible workforce scenario and implement the right strategy towards the future. If you can’t see it, the data is meaningful but probably only utilized at about 25% of what is possible.
Data visualization will continue to emerge as an invaluable tool for many parts of the organization. In fact outside the organization, it’s already pretty mainstream (just spend a day checking out twitter – you can count on a new infographic making the rounds about every 20 minutes.) New site visual.ly allows people to ‘infograph’ themselves, and will begin allowing businesses to use their platform to post infographics for distribution.
Take the time to think about how data visualization can help you tell your story… create some graphics and try it, they will go a long way and will help you realize that standard reporting and even detailed HR metrics wont cut it in the future, the more graphical the more consumed and the more consumed the more value.
Another infusion of knowledge.