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Justin Rix

Partner and Head of People Advisory, Grant Thornton

The effective use of data is key to helping a business attract, retain and engage the right talent needed to drive growth and remain agile and resilient.

What are the most important areas of focus on the people agenda for businesses in 2021? They’re largely the same as they have been for years, says Justin Rix, Partner and Head of People Advisory at Grant Thornton. It’s just that the pandemic has brought them into sharper focus. Through using data, we can look into these focus areas to help find the best solutions for businesses.  

One major challenge is the issue of employee wellbeing. During lockdown, many staff have either been ultra-busy working from home, or not busy enough and put on furlough — in some cases, this has taken a toll on their mental health.

“Organisations understand that they have a duty of care from a physical, health and safety perspective. Our March 2021 Business Outlook Tracker found that 76% of businesses are set to invest more or the same amount into employee wellbeing over the next six months” says Rix.

Addressing the upcoming challenges 

COVID-19 has also highlighted the issue of the skills gap. “Organisations want skills to help them become more agile going forward, because they know that everything will change again.”

Other challenges include the role of the workplace and the way we’ll be working in the future. What will this look like? The idea of agile working was becoming popular pre-COVID but required an element of trust on the part of management, a worry that quickly disappeared with the enforced working from home last year.

Why you should never base decisions on anecdotal evidence

However, Rix warns that whatever changes businesses make to address their people-based challenges, it’s vital to base all decisions on the best possible data you can get, rather than relying on questionable anecdotal evidence.

“For example, you might assume that a particular demographic of your employees is keen to be in the office every day. But then, when you survey them, you discover that many would prefer to take a more hybrid, flexible approach to their working week. From our survey, 62% agree that their employees expect more flexible working options to remain in place post-pandemic. That’s why it’s important to base your decisions and strategy on the best information available to you” he says.

You must first understand how the issue affects your company. Then, when you know what’s right for you, you can target the problem more effectively and amplify the things you’re doing well.

Data in the diversity agenda

In the same way we are surveying staff around the return to office, data has important applications around diversity and inclusion (D&I). Grant Thornton works with many organisations that are keen to move the dial on their D&I agendas. To begin with, they need to know how they measure up in this particular space.

In April 2021, the company organised a roundtable to ask diversity leads about how their organisations are using data to make progress on their inclusion journey. The result of which was 70% of leaders strongly agreeing that data helped them to make more informed decisions.

“First, we help them understand their quantitive D&I data,” says Rix. “Second, we look at their policies, procedures and processes to find out how inclusive these are. And third, from a more qualitative perspective, we discover how D&I translates into the real, lived experiences of their people, with employee questionnaires and focus groups, etc.”

A measured, clear-headed, data-based response can help a business retain and attract the right people, engage its staff, and turbocharge the employer brand. So, cautions Rix, it’s always important to avoid reacting on instinct. “Don’t say: ‘We’ve seen other companies do this — so we should do it too’. You must first understand how the issue affects your company. Then, when you know what’s right for you, you can target the problem more effectively and amplify the things you’re doing well.  Remember that no solutions will work overnight; but by looking at the data, you can see where you were, and how far you’ve progressed.”

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