The One Thang

Last week I was in Miami speaking at the 8th Annual HR Metrics Summit.  My session kicked off the event.  I was, of course, awesomesauce.  Well, that isn’t completely true.  I tried something different with this session.  Only 30 minutes of prep… I wanted to free flow the discussion.  Think: comedy improv meets HR conference.  Quite frankly, I wanted to try something different… mostly because I was curious as to how the comedy act would be received and also because I’m NOT an expert at HR metrics.  In fact, most of my audience knew more about the subject matter than I did/do.

The setup was simple… I wanted to learn from the audience, I wanted the audience to learn from one another and lastly, and more importantly, I wanted the audience to get to know one another.  And, I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.  Speaking of time… I had 120 minutes to kill and 40 hard boiled HR pros staring at me… GO time.

The first thing I wanted to achieve was to get to know the audience.  So, I did something completely rare at HR conferences… I introduced myself and then I made everyone in the room introduce themselves as well.  Name, Title, Organization, Years in HR.  Bam!  Ice breaker done…

Then I made the world small.  I gave them an assignment that they needed to complete within 5 minutes.  And they had to work alone.  The assignment was this… if you could only measure one HR metric – what would it be AND why.  Not 10 HR metrics, not 2 HR Metrics, not 100 HR metrics… one.  The world had indeed gotten small… and they had to defend their work in front of their peers.  Yuup.  I made each audience member state the HR metric and their logic.  Bam!  F@%& Dale Carnegie and his lame-@$$ books.  The assignment was given and I counted down the minutes… you have four minutes left, you have three minutes left, you have two minutes left…  Go… “Helen, you look like a Helen, what HR metric would you measure AND why?”

33 different responses.  I s#*t you not.  Note to self – people care about some random @$$ s#*t.  That said, three themes did develop…

  1. Engagement
  2. Turnover
  3. ROI

Measuring engagement sure sounds nice.  But, I’m not thoroughly convinced that I give two shits if my employees are truly engaged.  Work is work.  I want to pay people above market rates.  I want to provide fantastic benefits.  I want them to work the way they need to get the fucking job done – on time and at a high quality level… but, I’m not sure the fact that them loving every f’ing moment at work is the goal.  In fact, I’m not sure I trust them if they are super engaged by work.  I want them to be engaged enough to care… I could be swayed here but for now, measuring engagement is a “nice to have” metric.

Measuring turnover is also a false god.  I believe that turnover is good for any organization.  Some people suck and thusly should be turned-the-eff-over.  By clock watching turnover… we’re not going to get the whole story.  For instance… is turnover a leading or lagging indicator?  I have no idea.  Why are people leaving the organization?  Bad bosses, no career path, more money elsewhere… and more importantly what is the quality of the people you are losing?

Measuring ROI was also bantered about quite often.  Sheer headcount.  People have to do more with less and they need to prove that in a simple way… we have more revenue per employee, etc.  These metrics depress the shit out of me, but I can see why some organizations focus on them.

Engagement, turnover and ROI are solid metrics… if it was me… and I only had one HR metric that I could measure… I’d keep my eye on “retention of high performers” as they are the most important group in any organization.  If I can keep my “A” talent… then I can assume other things in my organization are working correctly.  For instance, compensation – if top talent is staying… comp plan is working.  Or learning and development initiatives – if top talent is staying – L&D is working.  Almost everything comes down to keeping your all-stars.  No all-stars… then your firm sucks.  Have a nice day Billy!

And, to be clear, A talent or top talent or high performers might mean something different to you.  As in, you might define someone in your organization as the culture tsar… but if they left the organization…it would create immense pain for your firm.  As we do in succession planning, identify the most critical roles throughout the organization and measure your ability to keep those folks.  Now, what would be interesting are the relationships between engagement, turnover and ROI as it relates to that group.  Turns out… I would actually care about engagement with that group.  Call me a flip flopper.

Okay, that’s what I would measure.  Cards faced up.

If it was you, what HR metric would you track and why?  Remember, you only have one HR metric…

Btw, Miami is a fantastic city… why don’t we have more HR conferences there?  #southbeach

FOT Background Check

William Tincup
William is the President of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He’s written over 200 HR articles, spoken at over 150 HR & recruiting conferences and he’s conducted over 1000 HR podcasts. William prides himself on being easy to find on The Internet, Google him and connect with him via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Not up to speed in the social media game? Reach out via email. William serves on the Board of Advisors for Talentegy, Wellocity, GlitchPath, Talent Ninja, Universum Americas, Engagedly, Echovate, VibeCatch, Continu, Hyphen, Bevy, Happie, RolePoint, Causecast, Work4Labs, Talent Tech Labs, and SmartRecruiters. He was previously an advisor to PeopleMatter (sold to Snagajob Q2 2016), Good.Co (sold to StepStone Q1 2016), Smarterer (sold to Pluralsight Q4 2014) and a board member of Chequed (merged to create OutMatch Q3 2015). William is a graduate of the University of Alabama of Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


  1. laurie says:

    Good job. I’m not big on math but I’d measure balls-in-the-room. The higher the # of balls, the more strategic HR seems.

    Wait, that’s not the assignment? Oh well. I already failed.

  2. I get it… balls is a metaphor for gumption…

  3. Steve VH says:

    Hey “Billy” – You being an HR guy (assumption) and all, I’m just curious = is the “f —” word now acceptable in corporate HR circles? Or is FOT the place to let down our hair and call ’em likes we sees ’em? Not that I was offended – just found it a little … inappropriate. Don’t get me wrong = drop the “bomb” once in a while myself (less than I used to, thank God), usually around very close friends – but never in writing and never in a public arena. Maybe I’m old-fashioned – ?? Btw, found it humorous that you chose to abbreviate “s#*t” – twice! I thought you were getting soft.
    P.S. To answer your question, I agree with your choice of the one metric. However, I think it is a fine-tuning of all three choices from your audience, albeit an important distinction. My #2 would be “quality of new hires”. Because as you said, there’s always going to be turnover and I’d want to know if I’m bringing in quality or crap.

  4. William,

    I would go with employee engagement — i.e. the result of, and the reward for leading and managing well. It is also the biggest workforce productivity and talent retention lever available to business, today.

    I get your perspective that “Almost everything comes down to keeping your all-stars.” But, in a 5-span, 6-tier organization, 96% of all employees and 80% of the leaders, managers and supervisors reside in tiers 5 and 6. Your mission-critical top performers probably don’t. If you have throwaways here, why?

    A multi-study review (2006 by The Conference Board) concluded that the employee engagement productivity premium ranged from 20-28%. That’s a big deal in terms of enterprise health and value. The same things that engage top performers engage the rest. It takes contributions from leaders, upper-middle managers, HR and front-line managers as part of a continuous improvement process.

    Employee engagement surveys can gauge progress (or lack thereof) at the 30,000 foot level, but they do not provide the information necessary to guide essential daily action. People managers need more actionable information about the people in their work group, they need lines of sight between individual and work group contributions and enterprise objectives, and they need leaders who create conducive conditions for engagement (i.e. purpose, authenticity, trust and caring, as well as a stable and secure growth platform). HR and upper middle managers must facilitate and monitor the ongoing process

    For each individual people manager the day-to-day challenge involves orchestrating progress in meaningful work, while avoiding setbacks — i.e. as well researched and presented in “The Progress Principle”, Amabile & Kramer ©2011. That mission (orchestrating progress in meaningful work) aligns each employee’s performance and engagement with the performance of the manager, the work group and the enterprise. The approach also operates at the points of maximum focus and leverage, with people managers’ reporting relationships — i.e. where the responsibility and authority already resides, with an inherently manageable span.

    This view takes measuring employee engagement out of the realm of “nice to have”, by making direct connections between employee engagement and the health (including talent access and retention) and value of the enterprise. It was Jack Welch’s #1 enterprise (not just HR) metric, too … ahead of “customer satisfaction” and “free cash flow”, his #2 and #3 picks, respectively.

  5. China Gorman says:

    My number one metric is how many F-bombs you can drop in one blog post!

  6. William,

    That is an easy question and the answer is different for every company. Huh! The one and only HR metric should be tied to the #1 Business metric. We think too highly of ourselves in HR, we are there to support the business. So if the business metric is selling more widgets, then our metric better show we are hiring better quality people selling widgets, or that our training programs impacted sales by XX%, etc.

    Done, next question.

  7. Ben Martinez says:

    2 Questions:
    1) What do your business leaders want out of HR? Whatever their answer, the HR Leader should incorporate that into their HR Metric.
    2) Once you figure out your HR Metric, what the hell is the HR Leader going to do about it and how is the HR Leader going to impact the metric?

    The goal to keep top talent is straight forward and basic. Do we really need a metric for that? The name of the game is to find good people and keep them. If you can’t do that, then you suck at the game and need improvement. No over engineered HR metric needed.

    Damn good post William. Nice to hear an F word used in a constructive way. No offense taken.

  8. I’m going with a variation on ROI I like to call the compound annual (talent) growth rate, or CA(t)GR. It’s based on the financial measure CAGR (HR folks Google it), which takes into account investments in people that compound over the years, just like my 401k (wait, that’s gone but that’s not the point). It’s about defining the desired outcomes appropriately. Straight-up ROI can miss a whole bunch of what’s important for long-term organizational health and success. What happens to an organization’s culture over the longer term when asshole leaders and corrosive competition by your so-called high performers are allowed to run rampant? Oh yeah, you get ENRON. You might see some nice ROI over 3-4 or even 12 quarters. But over time the culture stops working and that company that was Good turns to Shit instead of Great.

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