Ten guidelines for the new HR reporting

Great HR reporting is rapidly moving towards interactive, dashboard-based approaches that enable users to explore the questions that are important to them.  This shift from traditional static reporting requires a new approach.  Here we explain 10 guidelines that are needed to design great interactive workforce visualisations.

1. Know your audience

Who are you designing for? What do they need? Why do they need it? What will they be able to do if you deliver great information?

These are some of the sort of questions that should always precede any data visualization work. Understanding the issues that users face will enable you to deliver solutions that will be long-lasting.

Dashboards need to be personal. Visualizations that are designed for many users, with many different needs usually fail to meet the requirements for anyone.

2. Predict the questions

A good dashboard will inspire users to think of new, linked questions. It will inspire them to explore the data in new ways. A good dashboard will predict the next questions and will guide the user to deeper levels of understanding, often giving access to the underlying data formatted in a relevant manner or enabling them to change assumptions and parameters.

3. Design experiences

The starting point for any dashboard design should be the experience you want to facilitate for the user. You need to think about what they want to create, understand and communicate and how your information will help them do that.  People don’t want dashboards for their own sake – they want great insight to help them make effective decisions to meet their personal goals.

The context of the dashboard is arguably as important as the dashboard itself.  The analyst needs to consider what happens before and after use as much as during use. Encourage these surrounding activities through the design.

4. Deliver where the question will be (mobile)

Most users aren’t posed questions when they are sitting in front of a computer. Questions come from conversations.  Truly effective visualizations are available to the user when answers are needed.

Mobile technology such as the iPad can provide users with answers at the point where the question arises wherever the is.  No more ‘let me get back to you with the data’. Instead ‘here’s what is happening, now how should we react?’

5. Enable a conversation

When confronted with good visualization people want to discuss it, they want not share the results, they want to add their interpretation and commentary. Visualization tools like dashboards should provide convenient facilities for users to build a conversation from the information, adding comments, asking further questions or bringing others into the conversation.

6. Simplify to aid comprehension

When all visual clutter is removed, what is left takes on far greater importance.

When presented with many resources it’s natural that we want to include as much as possible.  Analysts often want to show all their data. This urge needs to be resisted.

Great dashboards tend to be reduced to the essential, removing any element that isn’t needed.  Designs should guide the eye in a similar way to the visual elements used by a painter.  A confusing design will result in a confusing, watered-down message.

7. What skills are needed?

Good dashboard design requires that the analyst has three sets of skills:

First the analyst must have a good knowledge of the business that they’re supporting.  For workforce reporting this needs a good understanding of both the employee behaviours and also the needs to the HR and business managers that support them.

Secondly, the analyst needs to have a good command of the technical aspects of their work.  They should have a good knowledge of applied mathematics and statistics; strong technology skills including mastery of their preferred toolsets and a deep understanding of data – how it is created and how it can be manipulated

Finally, to communicate information in an effective manner the analyst needs a good understanding of design principles as they relate to information communication.  For interactive dashboards this needs to include user experience techniques.

8. Where is the data?

The data that is needed to understand workforce issues is typically held in multiple sources, in differing formats.  Some of it will be structured and well organized, much will be unstructured and messy; some will reside in traditional HR databases, much in other systems or outside the organization. Furthermore, you may not be capturing all the information that you need.

To get the greatest insight, it’s necessary to understand what information is needed to make the important business decisions, wherever it resides.  Great dashboards are decision-centric, not determined by what data any system holds.

9. Data quality is a journey

Never let perceived data quality issues hold you back!

Data quality is a classic ‘chicken or egg’ issue. Without giving people information that is valuable to them it’s hard to incentivise employees to care for good data quality. Start small, in a few key areas and momentum quickly grows

HR departments rarely have great data, but there are well tried methods that can help.  Data quality dashboards can be built to identify data quality issues, and where issues are arising. Data can be audited and cleaned in a structured manner, with the help of specialist tools.

10. Consider an employee-as-customer approach

We believe that employees can be seen as customers of an employment with a firm – certainly they behave similarly and leave a very similar-looking data trail as customers do.  As such the analytics that apply to the customer lifecycle apply equally to the employee lifecycle.

Just as customer analytics now pivots around understanding all of a customers interaction with a firm, we believe that workforce analytics will centre around employees total interaction with their employer.  We look at aquisition, growth, retention, post-attrition and re-acquiring in similar ways as we do with customer information.

From a reporting perspective this means that employee segments need to be understood, both in terms of their likely behaviour, what defines them and how they are distributed within the firm.  From a data perspective any information that includes an employee identifier potentially becomes important for workforce reporting.