Understanding My Workforce: How Do I Get Started?

analyzing employee workforce

Recently Bright Horizons hosted a webinar titled Your Workforce: What They Need, Why It Matters. During the webinar, speakers Karen Mathews and Andrea Wicks Bowles shared ways that organizations learn about their employees and how they use that information to support business goals.

I highly recommend the discussion to anyone who's involved in creating people strategies. While listening, however, I realized that some HR professionals are probably wondering where to start. How can you learn about and start understanding your workforce, and what does that process look like?

Tips for Understanding Your Workforce

I've supported many clients over the years as they investigate what their employees care about most, and then seek to positively impact those areas. Let me suggest the following steps.

Understand your organization's business objectives

Simply put, senior leaders won't support an initiative that doesn't contribute to strategic goals. Individual leaders may believe positively impacting the workforce is the "right thing to do." But without a connection to critical business outcomes, your efforts will not result in leadership support. Once you understand your leadership's top-of-mind issues, align your workforce needs investigation with supporting those issues.

Gather data from your workforce

This simple statement can be challenging to actually complete. You will likely have one opportunity to gather the information needed, so the protocol for interacting with employees needs to supply all the information needed. Ideally, this results in a "gold mine" of a data set.

Unfortunately, many times this step does not go as planned. We've seen several organizations attempt this process internally, only to reach out to Horizons Workforce Consulting to "make sense of the data we've gathered." Therefore, you may want to consider hiring a workforce consultant to support you in these efforts.

Analyze and interpret the data

You'll need to analyze both qualitative and quantitative data to get the full picture: who comprises your workforce, what their challenges are, and how they want their employer to help support them. When we analyze data for a client, we look for the "story." What's the overall message that data tells us about the employees?

Of course, there will be subtitles, but a clear headline will result in clear communication to senior leadership and back out to the workforce. A recent client study included the headline, "We're proud of our organization and appreciate the supports already in place, but how can we all move this ‘100 Best Company' to the next level?" That grabbed decision makers' attention, since it aligned with their goals for 2015.

Develop options for an organizational response

We typically develop options laid out on a matrix. That way, the client can see "low-hanging fruit" that can implemented quickly and with minimal resources. We also identify options that will take more resources and require a longer timeline to implement, but will have significant positive impact.

Communicate findings and organizational response options to leadership

It's important to craft the communication so it matches the learning style and needs of your leadership. Some of our clients require a full blown report with detailed analysis and recommendations. As you can imagine, this is often a very large and wordy report. Other clients want the study findings reported back in a very high-level executive summary. A well-executed study process deserves, and is sometimes dependent on, good communication.

Develop an action plan

Based on the response from leadership, develop an action plan and begin to communicate next steps to the various stakeholders involved. It is often helpful to identify one person to act as the project manager so that all agreed upon responses move forward. Without one person responsible for the action plan, enthusiasm can wane and new initiatives can fall lower and lower on the priority list.

Communicate the action plan to employees

This is a step often neglected. It's so important for the organization to communicate that employees' feedback was heard and that it influenced current and future decisions for the organization. Most of the organizations on the "best of" lists have this step down to a science. Connecting employee feedback to leadership decisions builds a culture of trust, which is certainly one of the hallmarks of a great place to work.

The End Result

When completed effectively, this process can be exciting and rewarding. It has the potential to positively impact employees as well as the organization as a whole. What could be better?

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.