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…
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
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He’s been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at 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.