Fostering Ownership in the Age of Data

Adam Pressman

Managing Director, Americas

An influx of HR technology is creating considerable opportunities for HR to empower line leaders and improve people management; but educating leaders on how to use new tools in the right way is a big challenge.

New analytic technologies can help us uncover new patterns and trends in data and reach potential solutions more quickly.  They can seemingly give managers the answer in terms of what to do and where to focus.  However, research on the topic tells us that this approach may not foster psychological ownership for taking action on survey data.   Will a manager feel the same amount of ownership for taking action on their engagement results or other organizational assessment data when hand fed the solution?  Or, does there need to be some amount of thought and effort involved on their part to take that level of ownership?

Through years of observation, we know that when working with teams to brainstorm actions, the level of follow through increases when the team feels involved in coming up with the specific action plan.  When managers try to take control of the action planning discussion and dictate where to focus and what to do, the team tends to feel less ownership.

This is not to suggest that we should ignore the new insights coming from big data analytics related to employee feedback.  As our technology continues to advance, we will see more forms of data being used to create predictive models.  These data can help us see new patterns and trends that were previously difficult to see or validate.  However, it is important to find ways to ensure your managers are taking ownership for driving engagement and performance outcomes in a world where it feels like the analytics are giving us all the answers we need.

Here are some suggestions that may help managers take ownership for improving their organizational assessment results:

  • Clarify your Goals: As you jump into new forms of data collection and analysis, make sure you are clarifying the vision for how leaders and managers will work with these new streams of data and what you would like them to accomplish as a result.  Articulate how these data will strengthen the ability of managers to have meaningful dialogue with their teams and how this fits into their ability to drive the overall strategy of the organization.
  • Maintain a “Bottom Up” Process: With an increased amount of data and analytics around engagement, there is a tendency for Leadership and HR to move to a more “top down” approach of determining priorities and actions.  The answers seem clearer than before, we want to remove some of the burden from our managers, and we want to ensure everyone is addressing the largest gaps in our results.  While well intentioned, this top down approach can seriously hinder follow through on improving results due to the lack of ownership it will foster.  Increasing involvement from Top Leadership and HR in addressing engagement and performance can be a positive, however, it is important to maintain a bottom up process as well by ensuring managers and teams are working together on their own action plans.
  • Treat the Data as Evidence: Remind managers to think of the data and analyses they are receiving about their survey results as input into their process of improving the employee experience and fostering higher levels of performance. They should use the data as evidence to help them think about things to further investigate with their teams.  Remind them that these data are not necessarily taking their business context into account.  The data might point to a priority area that might not actually be the highest priority for a team to address at a particular point in time due to other business demands.  Remind them to take the data into account when determining how to take action, but not be strictly governed by them.
  • Involve the Team: Conducting a team feedback and action planning session is still a critical step in the process of taking action on employee feedback.  The team needs to feel involved in the process and should have the opportunity to offer additional input, suggestions and ideas.  The team should “own” the action plan that comes out of the discussion and should feel accountability for following through.  Even if we are collecting on-going feedback and pulse survey data, we need to involve the team periodically in the process and position the data as a way to help us start the conversation about how to increase organizational outcomes.

The Age of Data presents us with very exciting possibilities related to data utilization and taking action on employee feedback.  We can more accurately explain what is happening around us and we have the opportunity to be more and more effective in the steps we take to improve.  Just remember not to leave your managers and employees behind in this process.  Improving team and organizational performance should be something they actively take part in, not something that is done to them.

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