Whether you are at a conference watching a videographer recording the event, or witnessing a $100M film getting made, the process of recording to final editing is always the same. Actually seeing how stories unfold is rather amazing – it’s the real life is nowhere near as linear as the resultant film that everyone sees. Instead, what gets recorded onto the raw film is more of a patchwork of completely random thoughts, statements and images. If you actually watched all of the film in the order that it’s recorded, most of it would make absolutely no sense in the context of what surrounds it. The editing process is about bringing together the common elements and magnifying the key points, and then putting everything back into an order than is meaningful in the sense of a story.
The problem with HR is that HR executives are not like finance or technology executives. The art of story is a bit more important than the science of numbers. Where we can always count on having a detailed TCO or ROI study ready for our CFO’s, sometimes HR looks at the numbers and wants to know “why?” And the “why” is never about the number, but about the qualitative.
Whether you are a consultant or a HR practitioner creating a business case, the same thing tends to happen. You pick up random conversations, have random meetings, perform sets of broad interviews, and at the end of collecting data, you have… lots of data. It’s not until you distill everything you have that the major concepts and key points start to emerge. You then start analyzing each of these key items and start to observe where interactions are and how they are related to each other, interweaving them into a storyline that executives can digest and understand.
The art of story is important in HR because even though we are interested in efficiency and cost savings, we are really about effectiveness. We enable employees to grow and managers to execute, and as much as we hate it when people say that HR is “touchy feely,” the truth is that we are not a strictly quantitative function. At the end of the day, we use the science that we have (cost studies, analytics, data) to enable increased effectiveness in process, engagement, and talent.
I obviously love talking about technology, and I’m pretty good at figuring out what data is telling me, but presenting data to executives is never the answer. Sure a nice graph helps out, but there is always a story behind the data, and that story tells us where we have been and where we should be going. What the data does not tell us, is what the outcomes are that we need to achieve. We use data to inform our stories and direct where we need to get to based on HR strategy.
HR is comprised of quite a few random pieces of data, from technology enabled analytics, process outcomes, talent data, HR transactional data, etc. HR outcomes and strategies are usually aggregations of each of these areas as individual data points combine to create overall direction and outcomes – formulating the data in such a way that it can actually give us a sense of place, direction and story is more important in HR than any other function that I can think of.