As pointed out by Freakonomics author Stephen J. Dubner, smoke detectors were a key factor in the profound decreasing downward trend of deaths by fire from 1975to 1995. Fires, while deadly, are also incredibly costly and resourceintensive to fight, further underscoring thedramatic impact ofintroducing preventive smoke detection. As Talent Management leaders, we are often enlisted in our own company versions of fighting fires. In most companies,major learning initiatives are often driven out of an ambitious response to a burning business challenge. Whether it be the need to reimagine the customer experience,or to become increasingly digital, the learning implications for these efforts often require deep transformational work. Moreover, the stakes are high and can often mean life or death for companies facing this challenge.Here we drew from our respective functional expertise—Talent & Learning and Financial Planning & Analysis – in order to leverage data analytics to help managers in the Field identify smoke before it turns into a full-fledged fire.
Our Smoke Detector Story
In 2019, we collaboratedto build an easy-to-follow dashboard that identifies several of the largest potential impediments to the successful ramp-up of new or struggling field sellers. We refer to the dashboard as a smoke detector because it relies on early signals and proactive responses.Once a challenge has been identified, the Regional Training Directors work with sales leaders to mobilize these insights into targeted interventions specific to the identified issue. Ultimately, the dashboard has left our leaders with better insight into the underlying root causes of underperformance
Here we outline key steps to consider when building your own enterprise smoke detector, with the goal of helping learning leaders move from whiteboarding to dashboarding:
Step 1: Focus on the Same Enterprise Scoreboard
Years of continuous improvement efforts have equipped departments with refined scorecards and dashboards that monitor functional performance. A common pitfall, however, is that these performance measures can become departmentally myopic anddisjointed fromthe overarching enterprise performanceindicators. While well intended, this shortsightedness in reporting can lead to valid concerns about the learning function’srelevance to enterprise priorities. Put simply, Talent Management leaders are at risk if they can’t pinpoint exactly how their efforts support the same KPIs thatmatter to the broader audience, namely chiefs, boards and shareholders.
While we don’t advise against halting any continuous improvement efforts, we recommendensuring that reporting, and more importantly activities, focus upon the enterprise metrics that matter.Whether these KPIs focus on revenue, market share, or margin growth, to name a few, learning leaders can immediately bolster their standing by understanding exactly how their contributions can impact these metrics. It is also important to note, that this can’t simply be an occasional business acumen refresher on how the company P&L works; rather, this focus requires weekly review where every departmental member knows real-time where the company stands.
Step 2: Identify Levers that Matter; More Importantly, Know How they Work
While it is not difficult to get executive leaders to generally agree that onboarding talent is important to new hire success. The key for Talent Management leaders is to build on these general business sentiments to articulate how.
Before making another investment in the latest talent tech, ensure that your department is centered on the right levers that matter
In order to dive deeper into your organization’s metrics, consider starting with Finance – particularly FP&A - as these individuals are often responsible for reporting to a variety of internal/external stakeholders, and frequently keep a finger on the pulse of the KPIs that matter.
Here are a set of questions that can help drive this discussion:
1. What are the most important revenue drivers training can impact?
2. How are these drivers measured?
3. What are some ways we can present this data to our leaders and trainers?
Step 3: Diagnose with Data—Write the Right Prescription—Follow the Directions
Another reason why smoke detectors are successful is that they are hard to ignore. They are disruptive by design and it is nearly impossible to carry on with anything else while one is going off. Well-designed business intelligence tools in the Talent space should sound the alarm in the same fashion. There are a number of ways to ensure this visibility—here are a few key strategies for keeping business intelligence front and center:
Utilize visualization best practices to make data and insights easy to glean – choice / layout of charts, color coding, etc. can be very powerful when leveraged correctly
Introduce business intelligence tools to monthly operating reviews – drive repetition and accountability by setting clear expectations early in the rollout
Create a system to alertmanagers when leading indicators drop below certain levels
Smoke detectors also help us with measured intervention before problems compound. We don’t call 911 when an overcooked pizza triggers the alarm, but we do turn off the oven and open windows so we can get back on track. BI affords a similar luxury in that we can make incremental adjustments that often help in re-railing otherwise wayward strugglers. By identifying this early, we do not postpone critical coaching opportunities for formal performance reviews. Rather, we have been able tocourse correct quickly by prescribing the right treatment.
Like any prescription, it is also key to see interventions through as intended. And while early detection can stave off a number of unnecessary performance spirals, we can’t expect this to be a cure-all for underperformance. As we know so well in the HR function, there will be strugglers who do not make it. Fortunately, with sound BI, we can intervene and document early.
Before making another investment in the latest talent tech, ensure that your department is centered on the right levers that matter. In many cases, Talent Management leaders may already have access to the right peers and reporting analytics that can support early detection. And while it can be compelling to make an expensive overhead sprinkler system-type talent investment, first make sure you have smoke detectors in all the right places.