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A lot has been written recently about BIG DATA. And I’m not surprised. It has revolutionized the way many companies approach decision-making regarding their people in the quest to improve their bottom line. But what about the data which comes out of businesses who don’t have an army of analysts sitting in their backrooms, frantically researching the important correlations between the amount of jelly beans consumed in a day versus time spent on ‘rest breaks’*? Those who don’t have the volume of data required for this activity, and/or can’t afford to hire the skill set to do this? What about small data?

While most SMEs don’t have the same abundance of people data as the Big Girls and Boys, that doesn’t mean that predictive analytics and deriving meaning from data is totally out of reach for them either. ‘Small Data’ can be useful too; it’s just a question of cutting your cloth accordingly.

The good news is that there are lots of HR experts in SMEs around the country who love gathering data and have been doing so on a small scale for years, using it to influence decision making and track what’s working and what’s not. Sure, they may not be able to create a dashboard which looks like Joseph’s Technicolour Dream Coat. But they sure as hell know what data signals things are about to go belly-up. The even better news is that this type of data and insight is accessible to all SMEs even without an in-house expert: just work with the data you have whilst you build it all up. And go back as far as you can to spot the trends.

Start simple. And think about the things you really care about.

After some debate within the team, these are our top ten HR baseline measurements for SMEs:

  1. Time to Hire: Not to be confused with cost-per-hire (a related but distant cousin in efficiency metrics). A low time to hire affords minimum business disruption and can indicate a strong employee brand.
  2. Quality of hire: There is no one standard metric here. Productivity, cultural fit and 360 view can all play a part. A very crude way to look at it is at the end of a 6 month period (no less), answer the question “Would you hire this person again?”.
  3. Recruitment channels: In the same way the ‘ultimate’ question for your customers is “would you recommend us to a friend?, the referral rate reveals the same from your internal customers – your staff. Too high and you risk having a diversity issue, but too low, and it can indicate your people just ain’t believing in you…
  4. Voluntary Turnover (they walk out of the door): High turnover can indicate a lack of engagement, leadership and/ or poor recruiting process.
  5. Involuntary Turnover (you push them out of the door): High figures here can indicate a lack of management skills and/ or poor recruiting process.
  6. Performance issues: I use the term ‘issues’ rather than disciplinaries, as often they never get to become a formal disciplinary case. Tracking these at management level can give incredible insight into skills and expectations of staff.
  7. Complaints (aka. grievances): Starting from when these are voiced, rather than when they become responded to as a formal grievance, the number of complaints can be an indicator of engagement, organisational health and management skills.
  8. Time spent on ‘noise’: Not a traditional measure you see in many Business Balanced Scorecards, however I would argue that given how significant the time taken to discuss issues with people can be (restructures, rumblings, pay etc.), this is one you should start tracking to show how smoothly (or not) things are going in the business.
  9. Absence rates: Either as a percentage of time or a score such as the Bradford factor (the premise of this being that a high volume of short days is more disruptive to a business than long periods of singular absence), these can be an indication of the obvious workplace risks but the less obvious engagement and management skills and should be used carefully as they really only give you any meaning once you go above 12 months of data.
  10. Employee happiness score: I put this one last but for many this is the only employee score considered. A happiness score should not be taken as the ‘employee magic’ score (there are other surveys which can measure that & are the sum total of all of the majority of these metrics listed here), but at its most basic, feedback from your team should be taken at regular intervals (better to ask 1 question once a month and score it rather than 50 on an annual basis) and acted upon immediately. This builds trust and keeps the involvement high.

You don’t need to measure all of these – I have seen firms disappear up their backsides trying to cover every eventuality. But if you get into the hang of doing just a few at least once a month when totting up all your other numbers, then in just a few months time you will already have some pretty powerful insight to feed into your decision-making going forward. Wondering if that staff jolly ‘did it’ for the team who went to Tenerife? Or whether your reiteration of the vision and values had any impact? Look no further… Add in some costs around average salary (for managers and all staff) and relevant customer data and very quickly you’ve got yourself several nifty ways in which to work out how you could influence your costs and, more importantly, your bottom line.

*A joke. I have never seen such a study (although it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if there had been one…..)

Photo Credit: Analysing Financial Data by Dave Dugdale