By: Gary Dumais, Psy.D., SPHR, Select Human Resources

Crafting impactful key performance indicators (KPIs) was the focus of Kendra Davis-Roberts’ presentation at the Philly SHRM Symposium this past March. It was a notably helpful guide for understanding how to create metrics (quantifiable data) that can communicate HR’s value to the business, enhance strategic decision-making, and contribute to the success of the company.

Given that the presentation focused on the foundational aspects of HR metrics, such as ensuring they are measurable, actionable, and aligned with business objectives (e.g., tracking employee turnover), I’d like to expand upon how to leverage those metrics to influence decision-making and lead change. As many HR professionals have experienced, you can have “the numbers” to support a recommendation, yet surprisingly, facts are only part of the formula for gaining buy-in.

For example, what if you discovered that hiring initiatives intended to promote diversity were actually discriminating against well-qualified white male candidates; would you feel comfortable raising the issue, calling a meeting to share the data with senior leadership, and advocating for change? Or what if you found that prostate cancer (a disease that impacts men) was costing the company more in healthcare/employee illness than breast cancer? Would you hesitate to recommend that the company shift more of its limited budget to promoting prostate cancer awareness than breast cancer awareness? Any hesitation or discomfort you may feel in these situations illustrates how there is more involved to gaining buy-in than just the facts.

Factors such as public perceptions, political trends, and personal agendas can have as much impact as data (or more) when it comes to swaying decision-making. With that in mind, here are some tips for how to be more influential when leveraging metrics:

  • Appeal to what decision-makers care about – “What’s in it for me?” is a guiding factor for most human beings, consciously or unconsciously, stemming from innate drives related to survival. Thus, there is opportunity to leverage metrics more effectively by explaining how the recommendations that result from them relate to issues decision-makers care about. For example, if a decision-maker is concerned about budget, then showcasing metrics that pertain to costs will likely resonate with them. On the flipside, if a decision-maker is more concerned about public perception, then metrics related to budget-savings may be dismissed. Savvy readers will note that this requires an in-depth understanding of what’s important to stakeholders, which is something every HR professional should endeavor to know.
  • Know who the real decision-makers are – The most cogent metrics are essentially useless if presented to someone who doesn’t have (or doesn’t use) decision-making authority. While this may seem obvious, it can be tricky when people designated as decision-makers in organizations (e.g., by role title) aren’t actually making decisions. For example, some CEOs rely heavily on input from their CFO when making decisions. In other words, convincing the CFO with metrics that matter to them may be a more effective way to influence the CEO’s decision-making than appealing directly to the CEO. Note that this approach requires understanding how decisions are actually made within the organization (beyond what’s depicted in the org chart).
  • Be visionaryhow you present metrics is as important as what metrics you are presenting. Like a motivational speaker, you can gain buy-in by explaining enthusiastically how metrics support a decision that aligns with the company’s mission or an aspirational vision. For example, suggesting that the company invest in improving employee survey results has greater impact when emphasizing how it aligns with winning the public “Best Place to Work Award”, resulting in positive press for the company.
  • Prepare for “counter-metrics” – With the advent of the internet, special interest and lobbing groups, etc., it seems like there is “research” that can be found in support of just about any idea and its opposite. For example, many years ago, I recall seeing studies (funded by tobacco corporations) suggesting that smoking cigarettes wasn’t harmful. Presently, some believe that research findings from pharmaceutical companies have similar bias. In sum, it’s important to not over-rely on a particular metric as a primary means to convince others, as it’s likely that contradictory data can also be found.

Gary Dumais, Psy.D., SPHR is a Business Psychologist & Human Resource Consultant at Select Human Resources. Specializing in people-assessment, he profiles people for jobs, protects companies from bad hiring decisions, and gives decision-makers insight into people’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential. He has deep expertise in psychometric assessments and interview methods for hiring, professional development, and succession planning. Dr. Dumais is also a seasoned executive coach. He has a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology, bachelor degrees in Psychology and Health & Human Services, and is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources with over 20 years of experience.

Editor: Dennis Paris

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