The Future of HR Analytics? We’re Playing Nostradamus Again…

Unlike typical “thought leaders,” we don’t just make predictions at the beginning of the year and walk away; we track them all year long to see if they actually come true. Last year we looked into our HR analytics “crystal ball.” As is evident by our tracking (see here, here, here and here), all the predictions came true. So, we decided to test our insights again this year mainly because it’s vital to monitor trends and we want to be sure you have the latest information for you to make informed business decisions. With any trend, there will be good and bad outcomes and some misinformation along the way. We’re kicking off this blog series with one of our favorite rant topics: pulse surveys.

2018 Prediction #1: Constant Surveying is Just a Fad

Last year we predicted that many organizations would struggle with balancing the desire for more data and harvesting the right data. One of the hot trends was “continuous listening,” where organizations were surveying more often. The idea sounds logical. We are able to survey em­ployees every week, every day, or even every hour. The pitch goes like this, “You should always be listening to your employees; the more the better.” The once- or twice-a-year survey event approach is dead … supposedly.

However, there are major flaws with this approach. Simply measuring more often is not a strategy. Data for data’s sake will cost time and money and likely not bring any true value. Sec­ond, have any employees asked to take more surveys? The answer is — probably not. Even our highest scoring-survey clients do not over-perform on the survey item: “The information from this survey will be used to make positive change.” So, if organizations can’t do great things with a once-a-year survey, the answer shouldn’t be — let’s do more surveys. It’s unfortunate but the marketing budgets of these new venture-capital funded “survey-all-the-time” companies are doing a grave disservice to their customers. If employees are indeed our customers in HR, we should be solving for their needs, balanced with the needs of the organization. Employees do want to provide feedback, but they are not clamoring to provide feedback more often. They simply want to be heard and have the organization/manager do something about it. So, imagine their frustration if they provide even more feedback through “continuous” surveys and still don’t see action from the manager/organization. Will this create even more frustration? Remember, your employees don’t exist just to provide you with data to play with.

One of our clients was set on conducting monthly random pulse surveys. We did our best to talk them out of it, but ultimately the client’s wants trumped our recommendations. So, we imple­mented monthly random pulse surveys. Of course, their response rates plummeted, and the value of the random pulse surveys greatly diminished. The conclusions that can be drawn from random pulse surveys are significantly limited by the data that is collected. Even with a proper sampling strategy with strong confidence intervals, most managers won’t get a specific report for their work unit, which limits his/her ability to take action. In this example, the client ultimately met the need of the organization to fill in a box on their monthly scorecard, but it greatly limited what the results told them and what they could do with the data. That client is moving back to a specific survey strategy with a census survey event accompanied by a few targeted pulse surveys with a directed objective (e.g., low performing leaders).

The prediction is simple. Continuous listening is a fad—especially if limited action is taken on the results. Companies that try this approach will quickly learn its shortcomings. The good news is that they will understand the importance of a measurement strategy with specific objectives for each measurement. The bad news is that for some this failed approach will further damage the credibility of HR and the survey process.

To hear all of our predictions, join our webinar on Thursday, January 25th at 2:00pm EST. Click here to register.

Employee Surveys: More is Not Necessarily Better- A Pulse Survey Strategy that Makes Sense

The annual employee survey is under fire because leaders think it doesn’t work well and has little to no value. At the same time, there are thought leaders and vendors purporting that doing MORE of them is the answer!? Our view: strong disagreement. Adamant about results and ROI, we are providing some guidance on when and how to conduct pulse surveys in this post. But, let’s first start with an analogy for any of you monthly pulse-sayers.

Is Continuous Listening to Your Body Effective?

Consider a simple analogy that most anybody can probably relate to – weight loss. Let’s say you set a personal goal to lose 20 pounds over a three-month period. That seems aggressive, but reasonable. Now, by using the same logic as “continuous listening,” you would weigh yourself at least twice a day, every single day. You don’t have to do anything other than weigh yourself more frequently – it can be called “continuous listening to our bodies.” If that is all you do for the next three months, it’s probably safe to say that you won’t meet your goal of losing 20 pounds. The point? Measurement (or listening) by itself is not the desired outcome.

So, continue with the analogy, but with our four steps for employee surveys as the framework: (1) Listen to employees to uncover how you can help the business; (2) Diagnose drivers of business results; (3) Take action to improve those key drivers; and (4) Demonstrate impact. Using this approach, our recommended plan would be as follows:

  1. Listen to your body – Take a baseline measurement and weigh yourself. Let’s say you weigh 200 pounds and want to lose 20 pounds (target weight of 180 pounds).
  2. Identify the drivers of being overweight – Identify root causes of your current weight. For example, you are only working out one day a week and eating no breakfast, a fast-food lunch, and a large dinner on most workdays.
  3. Take action to improve those key drivers – Build an action plan and execute against that plan. You decide to work out three days a week and start eating balanced meals, which include eating breakfast and packing a healthy lunch every day.
  4. Demonstrate impact – Measure to assess the impact of the plan and make adjustments to your action plan for the next three months. At the end of three months, measure yourself again to see if you met your goal of losing 20 pounds. Imagine that you lost 15 pounds and feel much better. At this point you could set a new goal, revisit root causes and make adjustments in your action plan. You know what you did was working since you lost 15 pounds, but you decided to increase your workout routine of three days a week from 45 minutes to an hour, as well as reduce the number of meals eaten out during the weekend.


SMD has found that clients perform best on business outcomes and survey results when they survey annually and in alignment with their fiscal year so that the survey becomes a business process and not an outlier event. A check-in pulse survey at the mid-year point is useful but only if it is going to be used strategically. Just doing a pulse to see if a score is moving will make employees less likely to take the next survey that is asked of them. In the weight loss example, you should probably measure your weight a time or two between the baseline measurement and the target date, but build those check-ins (pulses) based on a strategy. Maybe a once a week weigh-in to check on progress makes sense for the three-month period, but measuring yourself twice a day makes NO sense.

Key Elements & Approaches

The approach in the weight loss example mirrors how everyone should measure employee attitudes. The organization should identify the business objectives of the survey process (and YES this should be around a tangible business outcome – not engagement scores or listening or other NON-business outcomes) and build a measurement process around achieving those business objectives.

So, our recommendation: a pulse survey strategy should be based on two key elements: (1) driving actual business outcomes and (2) helping struggling leaders.

How do you follow these approaches? Read our white paper “More Data or Better Data? A Pulse Survey Strategy That Makes Sense” or reach out directly to our director of research & analytics, Dr. Hannah Spell at to learn how you can make a difference in your organization.