Data has percolated into every area of business — from the hiring process, to marketing programs, to charting a company’s strategy for the future. In fact, 80% of business leaders now say data is critical for decision making in their organizations. One area where the right data can make a huge impact is when managers are helping individual team members expand their professional skills. Here are some of the most powerful ways you can use data to develop people more effectively:
4 Ways to Use Data for Employee Growth
1. Set the Stage With Feedback Insights
Before applying data to help employees grow, it’s worth starting at the top — literally. Leaders can demonstrate the power of data by ensuring that essential information flows upstream and downstream across your organization.
Start by setting up continuous feedback loops. In other words, create communication conduits that facilitate the ongoing flow of feedback from employees to team leaders and back again. This can help you better identify areas where employees are struggling and respond more quickly to those needs.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management says effective and timely feedback is “critical to improving performance.” Often, feedback reveals trouble spots that leaders must first address on a management level. This process establishes a foundation that helps employees feel empowered to improve and grow.
For example, imagine that critical project status information is consistently slow to reach some corners of your organization. You conduct a brief employee survey and find that specific communication roadblocks are keeping people from interacting more openly and proactively. As a result, you implement a targeted communication improvement initiative, including tools, protocols, and training sessions that help employees understand when, why and how to communicate project updates.
If you want employees to grow and succeed in their roles, leverage key data from ongoing feedback, so you can encourage growth that also improves business results.
2. Use Data to Establish Performance Objectives
Working hand-in-hand with feedback efforts, data can also play an integral role in establishing employee goals and evaluating performance. The concept is simple. For employees to grow, they must understand where they need to focus and the goals they need to reach.
Smart goal-setting strategies often rely on collaborative OKR methods. This acronym stands for “objectives and key results.” Rather than simply setting a goal and trying to reach it, OKRs let you connect objectives with measurable key performance indicators (KPIs). Data can play a key role as you move through this OKR process.
For instance, say your business wants to boost sales revenue by 10% next quarter (your objective). To get there, you need to define a clear set of actions that will lead to that result. These actions could include a market analysis in the first month to identify additional target audiences, and roll-out of a market expansion sales initiative in the second month. Throughout the quarter, you can use KPIs to measure results and adjust the plan, accordingly.
OKRs are powerful because they tie individual and team goals to organizational objectives. These shared goals are managed and discussed on an ongoing basis. Ultimately, the measurable nature of OKRs lets you use data objectively to measure employee performance and growth over time.
3. Use Relevant Data
Data analysis is an excellent way for leaders to identify opportunities for employee growth. However, it’s important to use data carefully, so you don’t misapply it.
When measuring something like employee growth (which varies from one person to another), avoid using stale or unrelated data. This can cause you to set an unrealistic bar for goals or point you in the wrong direction entirely. Instead, use industry and company benchmarks to create relevant, achievable OKRs that fit into your feedback framework.
For example, leadership consultants at McChrystal Group have helped numerous organizations turn existing data into leading behavioral indicators of team success. The firm’s research underscores a need for workplace accountability and communication.
Specifically, McChrystal analysts have found that, compared with other industries, healthcare employees are 20% less likely to agree that accountability is upheld in their organizations. And separately, financial services middle managers are 15% less likely to say their organizations communicate clearly and regularly about objectives and best practices.
Although these statistics are interesting, they don’t apply to every workplace. So, what’s the key takeaway here?
Don’t use data just because it vaguely supports your situation. If you want to develop a stronger team, make sure your data is up-to-date and relevant to your industry, business, and team.
4. Use Data to Assess Soft Skills Objectively
It’s easy to use data when assessing hard skills and measurable results. For example, if a sales representative isn’t meeting quota, data can help you set objectives to resolve that particular shortcoming. If the employee lacks particular selling skills, data can help you pinpoint the issue and resolve it with appropriate training to improve their performance.
In contrast, soft skills are more difficult to assess. Fortunately, advances in data analysis are making it easier to assess an individual’s soft skills and determine how to improve when needed. This is especially important during the hiring process. But you can also use this kind of intelligence to encourage professional growth among existing employees.
For instance, People First Productivity Solutions recommends soft skill assessment rubrics. By entering data into these tools and analyzing the results, you can objectively determine if an employee’s soft skills are up-to-par at any point in time.
One word of warning about these assessments. You’ll want to be sure you don’t let bias and favoritism influence your analysis. The best way to do this is to measure soft skills against specific job requirements and performance. This will help you more reliably identify areas where an employee can focus to improve over time.
There are many viable ways you can use data to determine where and how to help your team members grow professionally and perform more successfully. From using feedback to set the stage, to creating OKRs and assessing soft skills, you’ll get better results by applying the most relevant, timely data and tools you can find.
Also, remember that a data-driven culture of growth starts at the top. If you’re a business or HR leader, you must set an example that demonstrates a desire to establish appropriate performance goals and a commitment to ongoing improvement. With this strategy, you can encourage (and even gently require) team members to dig deeper and pursue growth that will advance their career while simultaneously benefitting your organization.