Data-driven storytelling: The missing link for HR transformation

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly raised the bar for HR functions. From supporting remote work to addressing employee burnout and resignations to preparing for a return to the office, HR demonstrated its value to the business more clearly than ever before. Despite that, HR leaders still face challenges in measuring their department’s impact and communicating that success story to company leaders.

This isn’t easy, but it is critical—especially for chief HR officers (CHROs) who aim to transform the role of HR but may lack the support they need from other parts of the organization. Data-driven storytelling is one powerful way to show how HR contributes to business success, and it can ultimately help CHROs get buy-in for transformation.

Tout your successes

Many HR leaders shy away from highlighting their group’s achievements. Some may not feel confident boasting about HR’s successes, feeling that their team’s primary objective is to serve the company and its employees. Others may struggle to frame their success in terms other leaders can understand, but when so many of their outcomes aren’t easily quantifiable, how can they provide tangible evidence that they’re adding value to the business?

The reality is straightforward. HR adds value in many ways, large and small, and it’s time to promote that story. Getting buy-in for transforming the role of HR requires the support of other business leaders, and they’re more likely to provide that support if they have a clear understanding of HR’s contributions.

Transformation is also likely to require new investments in technology, additional employees or other resources. Many HR functions already strain against budget limitations. In fact, a recent PwC survey found 37% of CHROs citing investment restraints for HR functions as a major challenge. If CHROs can’t demonstrate returns on their investments, it can be more difficult to make a case for additional resources.

Evaluate the impact

Data-driven storytelling begins with gathering quantitative and qualitative measurements that illustrate the impact HR has on the business.

  • Quantitative data should include metrics such as employee retention and turnover; productivity rates; training effectiveness scores; progress on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) goals; and employee engagement, satisfaction and performance scores.
  • Qualitative data should illustrate the positive impact of HR initiatives and include examples of how HR led during the pandemic, with specific stories about how new benefits or policies have benefitted employees. These stories might highlight how productivity and employee satisfaction have risen as a result of HR-sponsored work-from-home initiatives—or how major projects were completed successfully when teams were empowered to collaborate on video conferences or online meetings.

Tell the story

Management and staff are probably tired of traditional reports and complex statistics. Instead, give them true stories that bring the metrics to life—stories that highlight the substantial differences HR has made to the business. Just make sure your stories, reports and statistics are transparent and easily understood by all stakeholders.

Here’s an example of what this could look like.
  1. Instead of citing a stat about how many employees have taken advantage of your new policy allowing flexible work hours, tell a story about one employee who is now able to work more effectively at times that work best for that individual’s family.
  2. Make sure to include the impact. Explain that this employee is now more productive and has initiated ideas for two new products since working more flexibly.
  3. Tie it back to the big picture, such as by pointing out that there are dozens of other stories just like this one.
  4. Provide evidence through data, such as noting high ratings for the policy by employees in the latest survey.

Here are three actions HR leaders can take as they work to measure their impact and communicate their stories

As you strive to transform the HR organization and build its (and your) credibility with both management and staff, start with areas that are most critical to the business—ones that are likely to build momentum by achieving successes that make a positive difference to the company. Current areas that are likely to have the most impact with top management include recruiting, training and retaining top talent; enabling secure, productive remote work situations; and supporting DE&I and ESG efforts.

It’s likely that you’ll also need to show the board and C-suite that you and your team have made progress in other areas that affect talent growth and business success. Some areas to consider:

  • Promoting new ways of working and initiating change management programs to support adoption.
  • Upskilling existing employees and creating career paths for them.
  • Finding mentors and coaches for workers to help them succeed.
  • Recruiting top talent for essential open roles.
  • Expanding the talent pool by reaching out to new groups of workers. This includes recognizing that individuals who are neurodivergent may have a unique set of skills, perspectives and strengths that can help benefit a team and an organization.

As an HR leader, you also should measure and demonstrate traditional achievements that bring value to the business. Think like a CFO. Show where you have saved money, reduced errors, retained employees, increased productivity, decreased the number of vendors, reduced friction, automated tasks or eliminated duplicate work.

When it comes to metrics and stories, employee perspective can be powerfully persuasive. Gathering quantitative and qualitative information can help you tell—and sell—the story of HR’s impact, while also providing insight that can help you improve the employee experience.

It’s your role to measure what employees think is important and what they believe could be done better. These measurements should include traditional employee concerns like pay, benefits and healthcare, along with issues that have recently moved to the forefront, especially trust, DE&I and ESG.

Pulse surveys can help you find out what your employees really care about and understand their overall employee experience. To have the most impact with top management, employee engagement metrics should cover the past, present and future. Include metrics that go back five years, provide information on the current situation and use predictive analytics to forecast metrics five years into the future.

To win support for your programs, share your success stories with other thought leaders and influencers on a regular basis, winning them over to the HR team. Consistently promote past and current achievements, while also emphasizing the achievements HR could accomplish if its future transformation initiatives were approved.

This type of campaign is people-intensive and often requires face-to-face conversations—not just emails and reports—with leadership throughout the company. It also involves interacting directly with employees and listening closely to what they say.

To increase your credibility as an advocate and storyteller, build your personal brand—both within the company and throughout the industry. You can do this by making presentations to the board and C-suite, winning industry awards for your organization, getting positive press and achieving strong ratings in employee surveys. All these efforts can help demonstrate your leadership skills to both top management and staff and your value to the company.

Contact us

Kathryn Charlton

Director, Transformation, PwC US

Breck Marshall

Principal, PwC US

Ian Otten

Managing Director, Transformation, PwC US

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