In this week’s episode, Jason and Jordan discuss all things data and how people teams must use data insights to speak the executive team’s language. They explore the pitfalls of many companies’ data systems and offer up a solution to help HR people sell their executives on people programs.
Word of the day
- Assuage - said 25:04 ✅
- 0:00 Intro
- 1:53 HR people need to be able to sell people programs
- 3:21 The gap between people who represent the needs of an org and executives having to make business decisions
- 8:24 Companies claim to be data-driven, but are they?
- 11:54 HR people treat humans less like resources than non-HR people
- 15:09 Data is useless if you don’t do anything with it
- 16:57 In many organizations, asking for budget is a zero sum game
- 19:45 The C-Suite at your company is not all-knowing
- 22:37 Why companies are drowning in so-called ‘data lakes’
- 26:15 The mistake so many companies make
- 29:40 People are more similar than they are different
- 30:55 Understanding people and communicating how they work is essential to presenting to executives
How many hours and years of our lives do we spend on work? For nearly all of us, we spend 30 plus years and one third of our days in our vocation. More time perhaps, than we spend at rest or at play. But this isn't a problem. Why? Because work is good. Work needs to be integrated deeply into our lives and must be in line with our most important goals and values. And if it is, we have a far more complete and fulfilling life experience. Welcome to the How People Work podcast, where we explore the intersection of how humans think and act and how they apply themselves to their work. When you understand both of these things, you'll be equipped to be insightful, compassionate, and compelling leaders. Welcome back to How People Work. This is co-host Jordan Peace, sitting here with co-host Jason Murray. Hello. Hello.
Hello. I want to say good morning.
Good morning. It's late in evening anything. Actually, it's not good morning. It's about, just so you guys know, it's about 10:00 PM I think we've said this on a previous episode at some point. But you and I, we work a full day. We go home, we have dinner with our families, families, we get the kids to bed. We come back. Actually today, we came back a little early, but typically we get started around eight 30 at night. And so it is very much the evening when we're recording this, we are digging back into some of the survey data that Jason and his team has aggregated. And we're going to talk about data today - using data to really kind of crystallize for executives the need to prioritize people and why that's important and some of those things. Because as we look at our survey and we see some of these responses and struggles for HR people, a lot of them come back to the same themes.
Creating - I'm having trouble creating a positive and satisfying employee experience. I'm having trouble communicating the value of people programs. I'm having trouble getting the tools and budget that I need to support employee wellbeing. I'm having trouble aligning people programs with business objectives. All of that comes down to a lack of selling. A lack of selling well, and that's the job of a lot of people that work kind of directly beneath the C-suite is you got to go sell the C-suite. Here's what I need, here's why I need it, and here's why this is going to get us to the goals that you have set for us. So Jason, talk to us about data and what you learned through your surveying that is a struggle for HR folks when it comes to working with that data.
Sorry, I was almost giggling while you were ta - you said,
What'd I say?
The data, our survey data about data.
I said data a lot.
Well, it was just an inception moment. I was like, whoa. The data from the survey revealed stuff about data, and it just, that's a good point. Kind of tripped me up for a minute.
I saw that. I saw it in your face.
I was like, whoa.
I completely forgot what the word of the day is. You should remind me before we jump in.
Ooh, yes. The word of the day is assuage.
Assuage. Yeah. I would've just completely, completely blanked on that. Yeah. All right. So data.
Yes. Well, yeah. I think what you said is on point, right? There's this gap that exists where it's obvious from conversations we've had with many, many, many HR professionals over the years. So not just in the context of this survey and the interviews that we did, but also just conversations over the years with advisors and many other people where it's apparent that there's a gap between people who, let's say, represent human needs in the organization, and executives that are having to make business decisions.
All of whom say they want to make data-driven decisions. That is the biggest buzzword of the past five, 10 years, is we are a data-driven organization. But does that really just translate to, we capture a bunch of data?
I think it's true. I think executives do in fact desire to and often make their decisions based on data. But the problem that I think many HR teams face is do they actually have the necessary data? Can they surface the insights needed that are compelling from that data? And then can they communicate that in a way to executive teams where that insight is tied to the business needs of the organization? And so I think that's where there becomes a disconnect is right? And we got to think about this in terms of the size of the organizations that HR people are working in. And so it is actually really interesting because typically what you find is at many smaller companies, let's say companies under 250 employees, a lot of times the first HR professionals aren't HR trained, meaning that they were often in an administrative function previously, and they get moved into an HR specific type role at that juncture.
So I was actually talking with a potential partner that we're having conversations with right now, and they're literally about 300 employees. And we were talking about this very thing, and I was describing to them, Hey, here's how HR people like - here's how this tends to operate in their world, because they sell a product that's direct to consumer. They're starting to explore B2B selling into HR and businesses. And so I kind of brought up this example, and the CEO that we were speaking with of this 300 employee company was like, gosh, that's literally what we just did. We just took somebody who is basically an executive assistant and put her into an HR role.
Because we figure she can handle details and she won't let balls fall through the cracks and all that kind of stuff.
Exactly. And so there's nothing wrong with that inherently, but what it means is what does that person probably not have experience with? Well, they may not have experience with really strategic operational business needs of the organization and familiarity with those kinds of things.
And pairing people objectives with those business objectives.
And they likely don't have a ton of experience with just working with data, right. Period.
Yeah. You always hear from HR people that like, Hey, when we sit around the table and I'm talking to the C-suite, the sales leader always wins. The sales leader is like, Hey, I need budget, and here's why. And they have this great argument and presentation that's data driven, but also anecdotal and well conceived and communicated, and the HR person's like, crap, I can't compete with their pitch.
So I mean, there's some stuff like that that I think is true about it. It's like, yeah, how compelling of a story can you formulate to make an argument and so forth? And there's really practical things. How comfortable am I working with numbers in a spreadsheet? And I think that's true. There's just a lot of people,
Very basic way to put it, but yeah, that’s true.
- at companies that aren't comfortable with that. But how are you going to work with employee or people data if you're not comfortable working with spreadsheets? Right? There's just kind of an inherent problem there. Actually, a really good example, I've been talking to my brother recently who happens to work in HR at a company that's about 500 employees. And I was just kind of mentioning some of this stuff that I've been thinking about from the survey with people, data analytics, that kind of stuff. And he's like, yeah, it's really crazy because his company, 500 employees, one, they don't have anybody who's in charge of any analytics. They do have an HRIS system, so they do have data that's there, but how it works is he's become the defacto analytics person at their organization. And he's like, Hey, I don't know anything.
Tell us how we're doing.
Yeah, yeah. He's like, he's just the most comfortable person pulling a CSV file out of their HRIS system.
This is why I was questioning this whole data-driven thing, because I'm like, okay, how many organizations are actually data-driven? Or how many say we want to make data-driven decisions, but they don't actually invest in the people to analyze the data in order to have the intelligence, the business intelligence, to make data-driven decisions.
Yeah. I mean, I think that's spot on.
Yeah. I just like calling people out.
Yeah. Well, and I think we've mentioned in previous episodes that the people that I think have been most successful in their organizations or people that came from the operational side of the business first, so some of the CPOs that I've talked to -
You mean the people people, like the HR people that have been most successful?
There were two Chief People Officers that I spoke with in the course of doing some of these interviews that previously had been either COO okay. Or high level executive in literally the operations side of the business. Okay. Wow. And so they had a very, very intimate understanding of how does the business work? What are the core metrics of the business? What makes us successful? How do we make money?
What makes the machine actually run?
And I think what's helpful is they understand that a business has to make money to be sustainable, and that the business also needs people to operate and be sustainable. And so those people that start on the operational side that have that really intimate knowledge of how the business operates, what it needs, the core metrics, how it makes money, et cetera, et cetera, and then they move over to the people side, they're more adept at communicating to sure the executives,
The speak the language.
Who are primarily over on the operational side of the business, why it matters that these investments in people, things actually are made.
That makes perfect sense. But to your point earlier, a lot of HR folks are put into that position from a purely administrative position, like an EA for example, where she's like, Hey, you're detail oriented. You could probably handle this. So was that a theme of the survey for you? Were you seeing this, sort of, people that can really handle stuff, they can get a lot done, they're detail oriented, they got a high capacity for work, but they're really just struggling when it comes to, I don't really know how the bread gets made. I'm not really sure how to speak the operational language. I don't know how to pitch this thing.
Yeah, it's multifaceted. I think some of 'em, 'em maybe don't care to know. So some HR people get into that work because they care about people, and so they have perhaps more empathetic personality,
Which is good, but you really can't get things across the finish line unless you kind of level yourself up, so to speak, the language and to convince those that control the budget to allow you to do the things to aid the people that you care about.
Well, and I think sometimes that empathetic mindset lends you to be less calculating, perhaps less likely to try and quantify value around a human in the same kind of way.
Ironically, HR people treat humans less like resources than non-HR people.
This is true.
And rightly so, I think. I mean, they are those advocates for culture and for the people and so forth. And so I think really, we kind of described this in our research as a competence gap. And I hesitate in some ways to say it in that way because it makes it sound like it's an inadequacy. But I think it really is just a, it's a skills gap for a lot of HR professionals where they simply don't have the experience. We all have skills gaps. Hey, how do I take this Excel file and build a story from it, right? That just takes some experience as a result, to do it well.
As a result, that's become, that was your job for a while at Fringe. I mean, you really wrote the book internally on how to consultatively sell, right? Meaning how do we come alongside HR people, not sell them, but actually come alongside them, understand their needs, and help them sell the powers that be to get the budget necessary to do the thing that this HR person already knows is intrinsically the right thing to do. Their gut already tells 'em this is the right thing.
Yeah. So I think there's a dynamic that came out of this that was around those skill gaps. How do you bridge that? What are some of the needs for the profession on the whole? And so I think going back to something we said in the last episode was a lot of the people that we spend time around in the community that we operate in primarily tend to be fairly proficient in these areas where when you look at the average company, that's probably less true. But I think you also have this issue at hand, even with big companies, of what do we do with the data that we have? How do we even surface the right insight out of it to drive some kind of action? Yeah. That's meaningful for the business. I’m curious, actually, if you remember this, so this was very early on in Fringe, maybe within the first six months of Fringe.
Probably not going to remember.
And we had an advisor, I think you might though. We had an advisor who was the head of Total Rewards at a large Fortune 100 company. And she had invited us to come in and talk with some people from her team who helped run people analytics. And I remember sitting in this room with some HR business partners and some people that were Head of People Analytics at this huge organization. I mean, they had teams upon teams upon teams.
We were in over our heads, to say the least.
And this was at a point in time where we barely knew about HR. And I remember though being very surprised because they came in and kind of proudly described to us this predictive model that they had created.
And it was like they were very proud of that. They were like, oh,
Yeah, I do actually remember.
We had this predictive model and we can identify employees in different teams and when we think they might be leaving and all this kind of stuff. It was like, wow, that's super cool. What are you doing about it?
Yeah. What are you doing with that model?
And it was just like crickets. They had no idea. And it was like, oh my gosh, what is the point?
What’s the point?
Of having this data? Yeah.
Well, I think you're onto something. I think, no, I'm all about gathering the data, all about analyzing the data, all about making decisions from the data. I think that's a fantastic thing. But I think if we're honest, a lot of people are gathering data, not because they're trying to help the organization, but because they're trying to cya. They're trying to make decisions that are backed by something or they're going to make a decision. They're going to have data in place. And if somebody questions their decision later, they have something to point at. And you know as well as I do, you can make data say whatever the heck you want it to say, right? So whenever there's somebody going, Hey, why did you make that decision that failed? Well, hey man, the data, the data, right? We surveyed, this is what the people, this is what they said, what do want me to do? So I think that comes from a place of I'm gathering and analyzing data from the wrong motivation. I'm just trying to protect myself or to protect my job as opposed from a perspective of I'm actually trying to find out the truth and make a decision that will aid the company and the people within the company in a significant way.
When I think that's true, especially at larger companies. So something we've mentioned Cassandra a number of times, she's our Head of People here at Fringe, and we interviewed her as part of this process too. And she said something I thought that was really,
Well, she co-hosted with you not long ago. I keep forgetting to mention-
And she said, it's important to understand, and many organizations that asking for things is a zero sum game. And so for you as the individual professional that's saying, Hey, maybe I have some data, I think it's compelling, I'm going to go ask for something. What is really going on in that scenario is, am I willing to put my neck out there on the chopping block potentially for something with some potential? And a lot of people just aren't because it has that zero sum game feel to it. It's like, if this doesn't pan out, guess I'm the one that's taking the fall for that. Yeah. Right.
Right. I mean, I think about our own values at Fringe, our stated values at Fringe. We're trying to cut through some of that by saying, Hey, fail boldly, be flawed, make mistakes. And I think you need to encourage employees so much. I even had a conversation today with an employee who I think has some really good ideas about some things that we need to do, but he's afraid to say that because he thinks it will be perceived as, Hey, I'm not doing all that well in my job. And I kind of think I want to do a different job and it'll be seen as an excuse. But what it really is, is just an insightful person that sees something that I don't see, that sees a way that we need to go as a company and a way that we need to market a way that we need to plan for this new economic environment that we're in.
And he just needs to say, he just needs to say it and stick his neck out there and go, you know what? We're going this way. That was a bad decision. We need to go this way. That's a terrifying thing to do. And data is helpful to back that up and make an argument and so forth. But I think if we can create a culture in which people, no matter what level the organization that they're in, they feel the freedom to speak out with the knowledge that they have, about where the company needs to go. That's going to be a healthy company.
Well, and it's incumbent upon leaders, as you did in this scenario, it sounds like, to actually listen to people who have a point of view. Because I mean, there's a hubris and thinking that we can see all things, that we're omnipotent.
Total bs. If you're not at the top of your organization and you're listening to this and your CEO or somebody, your head of this, or your head of that is trying to convince you that they see everything.
Oh my gosh, yes.
They are lying. Yeah, they do not see it. Yeah. They're concerned with the exact number of things that you are concerned with because they have about the same brain capacity that you do.
I feel like a good analogy for this might be, which is I have a little bit different experience cause I'm not the CEO at Fringe, but I mean, I've been around a lot of things. I'm on the board, things like that. But I feel like a good example would be when you became a parent, especially as your kids started getting to toddler and then maybe five or six years old. And when you're a kid, you just think, oh my gosh, my parents, they know everything. They got this shit figured out. And then you get to having your kids and you're like, they didn't know a damn thing. They were making all this up as they went. And that's probably what a lot of CEOs are doing, right?
I still can't believe that at 37, you're 38. I still can't believe that we are the dads.
I'm like, our kids think we know what we're doing?
Yeah. They're going to be really disappointed.
We're making it all up as we go along every day, my kids present me with a new challenge, some new question they've never asked before, or some new way that they're just being weird and doing strange things that I'm like, I don't, there's no playbook. I don't know what to do.
They're like, what do we do? And you're like, we'll see.
Exactly. I say Dad stuff. We'll see. Yeah. And let me talk to your mom about it.
Do you ever say that to anyone at Fringe? We'll see?
I don't think I do. I don't think, I really separate. Yeah. I'm not daddy here. I'm proud of you. That's pretty solid. But I have the same emotion. I have the same, they asked me, an employee will ask me a question and you're like, filtering. I don't have a clue what the answer is. I don't know. But you don't want to admit as a leader that you're clueless.
Well, come up with something.
So you're just like, yeah, let me get back to you. Let me socialize. I would never say that. Cause that's horrible.
I was like, when have you ever said that?
Lemme socialize. That is what people will say. Or circle the wagons, which is completely the wrong use of that phrase, but -
People say it to mean, let me socialize or ask others. But circling the wagons was actually a strategy of protecting the people
Burying the hatchet.
In the middle of the wagons. Yes. Yeah. Anyway, but you're going to get me off -
Mixing our metaphors.
On etymology and yeah, that's a dangerous thing. We'll talk way too long about that.
Yeah. So there are a couple things that I thought were interesting, just even as we tried to articulate our own maybe point of view around data and what's important. So one of the key questions I think that came up for us for companies in general is just, do I have access to good people data, period? Just can I get to the data points that are necessary to actually assemble metrics that could tell me something about the business?
And what's the right data to even capture
Or pay attention to?
It’s actually far more complicated than you might imagine. Yeah. Because you just think like, oh, you just get the data out of the system. Right. Well, the problem is most of the data that companies have on their people lives in multiple systems, even for small companies. Oh gosh. You look at Fringe, yeah. There's probably at least three or four different systems that all contain, what I would say would be vital people data that you need to make to arrive at the metrics that are important. So we're a small company, take that out to a couple hundred employees. It's even more so my brother described some of that. He's like, yeah, I got to pull data from different places and kind of put it together, these spreadsheets and then build pivot tables and so on and so forth. And then talking to the folks at this Fortune 100 company, they literally call it a data lake because they have massive databases, separate databases with all this different information about employees. And then in order to even access it in a way that they can put the data together to get metrics, they've got to dump it all into this data lake, they call it. And then from the data lake -
All I hear when you say Data lake is drowning, that's all I hear.
They’re drowning in a data lake.
I mean, think that's actually an apt image and metaphor. Cause they dump it all in there, and then from that they've got extra. So the predictive model they built was from the data that they got into this data lake, and then they had it all connected enough that they could actually extrapolate from that this model that they built and so forth. But I think that leads to the second point, which is, so one is, do I have access to, I'd actually break this into two parts maybe. Do I have access to data? Do I have access to good data? So is it accurate? Can I work with it? And then the next piece of this is, can I glean the insights, insights I need from the data? And that's the part that takes a little bit more thinking. I have to know something about the business. I have to know maybe a little bit of what I'm looking for even, which requires putting some thought into strategy around people and what I'm aiming for, right? Because without an aim, how do you even know what to look for?
So I've got to access the data. I've got to question whether or not the data is good, then I've got to glean the proper insights from the data, and then I have to go sell executives and assuage all their fears of what if the data's not good? What if it doesn't work? Yeah, that was smooth. What hope does an HR person have? Jason, Mr. Surveyor, interviewer, what hope do they have of doing all of those steps and then convincing an executive that, Hey, we need to prioritize our people in this particular way and offer this benefit or offer this software.
How do you do that?
Well, I think it's hard, but I do have some hope and I have a vision even for what we're trying to do here at Fringe. And so I think there is a challenge with -
Talk about that actually. I don't mean to interrupt you, but talk about the vision at Fringe and what we hope to build over the course of years to do some of this. Consolidation is part of it and aggregation, but also helping the HR person know what they're looking at, know what's important, what decisions to make, where to put data, and then ultimately kind of delivering that to the powers that be to make the decision.
I think the mistake that's often made is the thinking that every company is so different and so unique that you can't possibly have enough, there's no common denominator across any of it that's going to help you drive action from the insights that you might glean. And so every company is just kind of out there doing it on their own, independently, independently, basically taking their data, building these models, trying to gain insights from it. I see. That's a mistake. Well, it, it's very difficult, right? Because in order to do that well, you need people that are really great working with the data that have enough knowledge about people and the business to surface the proper insights. And then you have an executive team that believes and an HR team that can communicate to the executive team what those insights and actions are that they should be taking, and then they're going to act upon them.
And so there's a lot of things that had to go really, really well in that whole thing. That is just, I think, extremely difficult. And so what I've been putting forth when we were having some of these interviews is like, well, what is technology best served to do?It’is best served in the cases where there's enough of a commonality across the board that you can leverage the scalability of a tool of the sameness to drive action across a large number of users, let's say. Yeah. And so one of the things that I think actually is true and that we've talked about is every company is unique. It's true. Every company has unique culture. Yeah, that's true. But I describe the culture more as flavors of ice cream. It's all ice cream, but it's just different flavors. In other words, it's all people. And so what have we been talking about?
Yeah. Well, people are different, but we believe at Fringe anyways, and I think this is true, that people have fundamental intrinsic needs. And in the last episode or two episodes ago, we're talking about that are for the most part common. I mean, you could boil 'em down to really simple things like people want to belong, they want to have purpose, or people have a need for unmerited unconditional acceptance and also conditional merited reward, right? There's these kind of really fundamental principles about what it means to be a human and to live a holistic and fulfilling life. And those things are unchanged regardless of what organization you're a part of. And so I believe, and I have a vision for what we're trying to do here at Fringe that says we can surface those things and we can provide those insights along with actions delivered through technology that help optimize the employee experience. Yes. Because human beings are different, but they're similar enough in terms of what they need, that you can create the environment in such a way and surface these insights in such a way that it's going to be scalable across a large number of organizations.
I mean, I don't know if you remember, we had a meeting earlier with our co-founder, Isaiah and I just went off about this very thing that we have all of this insight. We have all of this data from years and years and years of working with Fringe users and what their behaviors are and what their sentiment is about using our platform. And yet we have a partner who wants to get into business with us in a deeper way, and they want to roll this thing out to all of their users. And what do they want to do first? They want to test the data. They want to get a small sub of their users, which are somehow fundamentally different than our users, and to see if they feel the same way about our platform that all of these other people do. And it's maddening because I'm like, we already have the data.
You just want to grab people and be like -
People aren’t that different.
Do you have human beings? Right, that work at your company?
I'm sorry? Were you working with somebody besides humans? Yeah. Because if it's humans, we have that data already. We could just surface that and tell you what's going to happen. Yeah.
So I think then the question in my mind becomes like, Hey, I think there's sort of these universal needs that humans have -
Which is so important that HR people understand that. And I think that that's maybe the superpower that's untapped. It's like, Hey, maybe you're not the greatest data analyst that ever lived, but if you understand people and you can communicate how people work, sorry to use the title of our podcast and my argument here, it's perfect. But if you can communicate how people work to the executives that control the budget, and they can see at least, at least, what is the word I'm looking for? The obvious intuitive part, the gut side of it, right? Then maybe you don't have to make a perfect data presentation if you can get across that human side of just like, Hey, yeah, people like to be recognized for their achievement. Right? Right. Don't you? Right. No, no, of course not.
Don’t be ridiculous.
Right? Yeah. Next time that raise comes up, just don't worry about it.
Yeah. Give it to somebody else. I think there's common ground even before the data gets presented of just like, Hey, and I think, again, usually HR people are people people and they have a good point of view of how people work and have insights, and so I think you can see -
They have compassion, at least.
Compassion, empathy. They're paying attention. So I think there's something there to sort of set as a foundation to stack the data upon.
Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, that's what I hope we're able to do. Yeah.
I love it. I love that you have a vision. We are well over our allotted time. We can talk as long as we want. We can go Joe Rogan and go three hours, but it's true. We also have families to get home to. So thank you, Jason, for your insights today. Thank you all for listening to How People Work. Before we go, Jason, tell us if you have one locked and loaded, the next episode's word of the day. You could just make one up. It's fine on the fly, just anything you like. He doesn't have one ready.
I don't have one ready.
That's what this is right?
Now. Oh, man. Yeah. You got me just totally unprepared. What are we going to go with? Pungent.
Pungent? Why? That's a nice prayer in nowhere. I don't know how that popped into my head. Yeah, that's pretty good. Yes. All right. Yeah, and one that I might have to Google again. Well, thank you again for listening to How People Work. Again, this is Jordan Peace with my co-host. I'm also a co-host, Jason Murray, and we will see you next time.