How to effectively use data analytics for workforce success

By Jana Reserva

Jul. 21, 2020

There’s a lot of emphasis put on data-driven decision making. But how do organizations start that process? Serena Huang, global head of people analytics at the Kraft Heinz Co., shared some helpful insights into how leaders can use data to better understand the workforce and improve overall management and performance. 

Workforce recently caught up with her, and she shared her thoughts on how to use data analytics and gather information and employee feedback for better workforce management. 

Workforce: What do leaders need to know about the relationship between strategic business planning and data analytics?

Serena HuangSerena Huang: I’d encourage leaders to think of data analytics as a new mindset and a new language rather than a new tool from IT. There are several areas where analytics can improve business planning, such as more accurate demand forecasting and a better understanding of consumer behaviors. 

WF: What is the importance of using analytics in managing people? How did the COVID-19 pandemic highlight this?

Huang: It’s always been important to use analytics in managing people. Many companies would say that “people are their most important asset” and even the most technologically advanced companies cannot operate without people. Instead of relying on intuition, analytics can help organizations make more informed decisions faster and at scale. 

Employees’ health, safety and engagement have never been more important. The pandemic has provided an opportunity for HR to become heroes by caring for employees and ensuring business continuity.  At Kraft Heinz, this is critical because our employees are crucial to making food that everyone needs.  We have a responsibility around the world to feed people, and our employees make it happen.

WF: What are the common misconceptions about people analytics and its role in workforce management?

Huang: One of the biggest misconceptions is that data must be perfect before you can do analytics. I always recommend starting with the business problem rather than the data. You’d be surprised how much usable data already exists. Another misconception is that you need data scientists or know how to code to start doing people analytics. It is much more important to focus on the right questions before hiring a data scientist or learning how to model.

Also read: Labor data analytics can inform better talent decisions

WF: How can organizations effectively use and make sense of the data they have? 

Huang: Visualizations and dashboards are great ways to turn data into insights. To know where to start, it’s best to align with business leaders on solving problems. 

For example, in workforce management, companies often have significant data on time and attendance, so a starting point can be using analytics to optimize labor costs. If there are different systems, it’s helpful to choose a country or location that needs the most help and start with a pilot.  

To create the most value, it’s important to monitor data quality on an ongoing basis.

WF: How can organizations track the right type of data for their workforce? How can they identify metrics of success?

Huang: It’s crucial to stay closely connected with the leadership team on strategy and business problems. If you can figure out the top three to five pain points, you can then frame questions to answer and think about what data you’d need. 

The metrics of success will vary from one problem to another. I’d recommend thinking in different time frames and ask yourself what success looks like in six months, 12 months, and two to three years.  

WF: How can managers use data to improve productivity and boost employee engagement?

Huang: Managers can certainly leverage surveys if they have a large organization. Often organizations conduct engagement surveys on a regular basis, so start with existing surveys for potential areas of improvement.

For managers with smaller teams, it is most beneficial to conduct regular check-ins and one-on-ones. Managers must create an environment where there is psychological safety, so team members feel comfortable sharing concerns openly. 

WF: What are different ways companies can collect feedback or listen to their employees, especially in the era of remote work?

Huang: There are several ways companies can listen to employees, including surveys, virtual focus groups, and Q&A during employee town halls. It’s helpful to monitor the participation rates as it could signal overload if participation decreases. It’s also important to encourage managers to connect with their team members directly on a regular basis in addition to this corporate-level feedback. 

WF: What are the factors to consider when choosing the right tools, methods or technology to measure and improve employee engagement?

Huang: A good starting point will include an evaluation of how many employees, how many languages, local legal requirements, reporting/analytics for users, text analytics capabilities. In my article published on LinkedIn, I explain why there isn’t the “right” number of times to pulse employees, and it depends on how quickly the business leaders can act on feedback. 

WF: What do you think the future of work will look like given current times?

Huang: It’s hard to predict what will be a temporary rather than permanent shift in the future of work, but I see more focus on flexibility, diversity and inclusion, well-being and skills development. 

Data from COVID HR-Pulse show that fewer than 50 percent of companies had a remote work program before the pandemic, and now office employees have been working virtually for months. Employees will demand more flexibility, and organizations can use flexibility to attract new hires. 

We have seen different businesses get creative during the pandemic. At Kraft Heinz, we’re focused on being agile at scale because we believe that agile and nimble organizations will outperform those that cannot pivot quickly when needed. To be truly agile in workforce planning, an organization should know the skill sets needed to deliver business results and the skills its workforce currently has. 

Also read: A midterm outlook on the future of the workplace

The recent tragedies have brought diversity and inclusion front and center for many organizations. Companies that can create an inclusive environment where everyone belongs will continue to be able to attract and retain talent. 

While mental health remains a difficult topic to discuss, especially in a corporate setting, the pandemic has made it more critical to talk about this topic. We will likely see a focus on employee well-being extend beyond the pandemic.  


Jana Reserva is a content manager for

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