Big data can easily feel dispassionate. You’re drawing snippets of information from countless sources, bringing them all together, and parsing that body of data to find notable patterns and associations. It doesn’t care about feelings unless they can be reliably measured.
This is why plenty of people remain uncomfortable about the prospect of applying it to anything other than financial or campaign-related matters. Conventional wisdom resists the treatment of workers as utilities, and doesn’t like reducing productivity to simple facts and figures.
But this is based on a myopic and outdated view of what the analytics process involves. It doesn’t fully supplant human opinion, nor does it render shallow judgments about workers. Instead, it’s merely a tool: something to supplement human efforts.
Used well, analytics can significantly improve team productivity and performance. How does this work? Let’s take a closer look at this core element of modern business:
They can help efforts to raise morale
Team productivity is about far more than the qualities and skills of the individuals involved. It’s also about how the team members feel, and how they interact. Morale — both individual and on a team basis — is a mission-critical concern, because an unhappy team will struggle to perform and become stressed very easily.
So, how can analytics help you boost morale? There are several ways:
- They can showcase successes. It’s always important for a business to celebrate when things go well, but there isn’t always some obvious profit figure to bring up. With analytics, you can get a more granular look at how things are going, and pick out the precursors to that type of success eventually arriving (the small wins). For instance, you could celebrate a significant uplift in search rankings for important terms, knowing the corresponding uplift in conversion that’s likely to follow.
- They can highlight employee strengths. People like being praised, and while you should certainly look for weaknesses to improve upon, you should also find the strengths to highlight. It might be something as simple as one employee yielding more value per hour, hitting a certain number of tasks completed in a day, or getting exceptional comments from customers on a consistent basis.
- They can guide feedback surveys. Getting full feedback from employees is vitally important, because no amount of analytics can tell you how people feel — but your data can help you create better surveys. For instance, if you notice that a particular process is quite slow, you can ask specifically-related questions, then use the answers to make meaningful improvements that wouldn’t have been possible had you not known about that issue before consulting people.
They can identify operational roadblocks
Digging into the metrics of your everyday operations is a great way to glean insight into the holdups: the snags along the way that prevent everything from running optimally smoothly. For instance, you might notice that one of your internal processes is taking markedly longer than comparable processes — closer inspection might reveal an easy-to-fix bug.
Analytics can also help you monitor where employee time is going, information that can be very informative when it comes to attitude. For instance, you might discover that one of your employees whose role is to write copy actually spends a lot of time handling HR disputes, or that your head of finances is consistently distracted by requests from your design team.
In response, you can try some classic A/B testing when it comes to team composition and organization (provided you know how to interpret the results). Make some alterations, let people work for a few weeks, then compare the analytics of that period to those of the period preceding it. Keep doing this, and you’ll figure out the team arrangement that gets the most work done.
You can also use this data to identify areas that warrant investment in automation. Losing a lot of time handling admin for your scheduling? Try something like Calendly or x.ai to make your meeting easier. Picking through payroll on a manual basis? Given modest SaaS pricing, something like Wave’s payroll software will more than return its value given the chance.
They can support clearer incentives
Properly incentivizing performance is essential for keeping performance at a high level year-round — without it, your employees will start taking opportunities to lessen their workloads, lowering their productivity and paying less attention to what they’re doing. It won’t even be intentional in every case. Dedication is a hard thing to maintain, and people can burn out.
Because a well-implemented analytics system gives you a deep and broad perspective on everything that’s happening with your business, you can discover which elements are going well and which are underperforming. You can then set simpler metric-based incentives using the S.M.A.R.T system, e.g. improve metric X by 10% in two months and receive reward Y.
It’s far better than asking for general improvements and gauging them subjectively, as employees aren’t likely to respond to that approach. It’s not pleasant to put a lot of work into something but have a promotion denied because your boss doesn’t believe in you. Far better to let the data speak on your behalf.
Implementing a system for collecting and parsing comprehensive analytics won’t solve all your problems, nor will it push anyone into redundancy — but it will give you the added insight you need to make your team members happier, less stressed, and more motivated. Why wouldn’t you want that?