Why all HR professionals should be great storytellers

Making the most of employee analytics requires HR managers and their companies to see the humans through the sea of data.

Recognizing the actual human may be the most difficult part of human resources. At least it can seem that way to everyone else who feels like just a name and employee ID number on a spreadsheet.

That can become even more apparent when companies begin diving into the reams of employee data at their disposal to make decisions for the benefit of the group — decisions that often cast aside the very specific needs of individuals.

If human resources and data analytics were a professional wrestling match, the way to “get over” with the crowd and win a championship belt is through great storytelling, says Andrew Bohacek, human resources manager for Duluth Trading Co.

Andrew Bohacek

Bohacek has been a fan of professional wrestling for as far back as he can remember. Broken down and analyzed, professional wrestling is all about storytelling, just like data analytics, he says.

“Every match should be designed and executed in order to engage and excite the audience. Wins and losses don’t matter; it’s how captivating you can be that draws an audience in. That’s my approach to data analytics, only my audience is my business partners,” Bohacek explains. “What new ways can I tell my story through the use of data analytics that will make my business partners say, ‘Wow, that’s interesting!’ or ‘This is a really innovative approach’ to solving a problem?”

In Bohacek’s four years with Duluth Trading’s “Talent Success” Department, he has provided workforce statistical analysis and performed enhancements to the company’s employee platform. He collaborates with business partners to define HR-system strategy, business needs, and requirements, and acts as the technical liaison with internal business partners.

That’s a fancy way of saying that Bohacek starts every day by “asking killer questions,” and through the use of HR analytics he decides what stories can he tell to equip his business partners to help drive informed decisions.

Bohacek, a graduate from the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater with a degree in human resources management, is sensitive to the notion that HR is just the “fun police.” When he takes the stage during the upcoming Disrupt Madison 4.0 on Wednesday, June 5, at the Sylvee, Bohacek will look at how to wrestle with analytics to create main-event storytelling.

“I have all this employee data — now what do I do with it?” asks Bohacek. “HR analytics is the ring to showcase your company’s main event. Sharing the story of your organization’s HR analytics creates a tag-team partnership with department leaders built on trust, strategy, and opportunities. Understanding what you have and the stories you can tell, can make you your company’s grand champion.”

Bohacek definitely views himself as a storyteller who uses HR data to assist others in visualizing the health of the business. When he began his career with Duluth Trading, he was managing the company’s HR strategy for both its distribution and call center operations, which included recruitment, employee relations, safety, and employee engagement. Having that experience made it easy for him to transition into a human resource information system (HRIS) capacity in early 2018, due to having an understanding of what Duluth Trading’s leaders were looking for in an employee platform tool and how he could expand the company’s management system to better serve its partners and associates.

“The scope of our platform was extremely large and we were only using a small portion of it, so I viewed this as an opportunity to put my stamp on a product that’s used across the entire organization,” Bohacek says.

Part of that stamp is not forgetting the “human” element.

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“Having all the analytics and being able to tell a good story about your organization is important, but it’s the human element that builds trust, confidence, and enables your employees to understand that you truly care,” Bohacek notes. “One of the biggest thrills in my day-to-day work is getting out from behind my desk and interacting with folks throughout the organization. There’s no question that having more automated systems for analyzing employees and performance are great, but we must not get so ingrained in our automation that we forget about the one reason why we chose this profession — the ‘human’ part of human resources.”

A challenge to getting useful employee data is the constantly evolving nature of HR technology. Bohacek says one example is the vast amount of behavior indicator analytics on the market, with each one promising its own abilities to analyze either past behavior or a word association to predict and/or dictate future success. It can be so overwhelming that some companies might just settle on something they seem to understand that fits the culture or is available at a sufficient cost, he explains.

Another obstacle is time. Implementing new technology is not something that happens overnight, says Bohacek, and many organizations probably have to take at least one step back before moving two steps forward.

“New technology can be scary, especially if you’re worrying about your ROI,” says Bohacek. “Sure, we all want that unique ‘solving-all-our-problems’ piece of technology, or we want to be ahead of the curve with an approach that no one else is doing. But it’s important to make sure you have a clear vision on what you want and have the resources in place to develop it.”

Ultimately, companies and HR professionals should be using their deeper analytics to uncover the “less obvious” aspects of individual employees that will lead to a greater sense of self-realization or organizational benchmarking.

“Employee A may have been hired for one position within your organization, but after gaining a deeper understanding of that individual’s skillset and strengths, you may realize they can be a key component in something completely different,” notes Bohacek. “Understanding your employee analytics is the key, which makes you your company’s talent success locksmith.”

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