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How to Prioritize People Analytics Initiatives in Small Teams

When you’re getting a people analytics practice off the ground, the first question is — where to start? It’s an even more pressing question when you work in a small team. Here’s how to prioritize initiatives for an early success — firsthand.

Leaders in people analytics would tell you an ideal team has data engineers, analysts, and scientists, all supporting one another to drive meaningful progress. Yet, in higher ed — which traditionally has much smaller HR teams — those responsibilities tend to land within the same position description.

So, when I took my position as an HR Business Intelligence Analyst within a higher education institution at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, I knew what I wanted — to play a pivotal role in providing analytical support to many different HR specialists on my team.

When you’re just starting to build a people analytics practice, the first question is where do you start? This is even a more pressing question when you work in a small team. How do you prioritize the responsibilities and goals of a people analytics role?

A small team, a big scope

Working in a small people team means that I contribute to our employee listening efforts, on the employee relations side, via survey management.

However, I also support recruiting and hiring analyses, such as time-to-hire and job board sourcing effectiveness.

By getting to partner with my team members across the HR disciplines, I get to see how data and analytics drive our HR strategy.

Fundamentals of prioritizing people analytics initiatives

When you’re working on people analytics within a small team, prioritizing initiatives is crucial. Here are the five fundamentals of prioritizing we’re trying to apply in order to get the highest impact work done first in our small team at The Citadel.

Emphasize impact

Determine the most “needle-moving” statistics for employees and leaders to drive the most value.

Over the past year, we’ve looked at hiring and retention data from across the board. The reason we’ve focused on these data points has to do with the applicant favoring market.

In recent months, the burden has been on the organization to source, interview, offer and gain the prospective employee’s acceptance before the other organization(s) that employee is considering, all other factors being equal.

In other words, the “war for talent” has been quite the battle for many organizations.

For us, these data points and metrics include, but are not limited to, hiring speed, turnover rates (compared to other years), new hire feedback and interview data from our most tenured employees.

All these individual elements come together to paint the larger picture on our ability to get new faces in the door while keeping our best and brightest.

Not measuring pre-employment speed and effectiveness metrics could prevent your organization from fixing slow hiring issues in the future or replicating previous success. Your recruiter can probably tell you when their job is more, or less, difficult in a job market. Your job is to supply leadership with data to help supplement that “feeling.”

Getting a good grasp on this data helps you be more efficient in building your human capital strategy.

Coordinate data cleaning

Systematically cleaning data, like creating reports to show what data is clean or not clean helps keep you stay on track when your data needs to switch from one project to the next, in a given day.

One of the worst cycles your people analyst can get stuck in is only cleaning the data right before your decision makers need it.

Speed and accuracy are competing interests.

Therefore, pushing for perfectly clean data, at the last minute, is bound to lead to bad insights.

Bad data in, bad insights out.

Get ahead of your needs where you can. Setting calendar notifications can be a very practical way to stay prepared for the next time you need certain data for a project with a quick turnaround time.

Automate often

Turning recurring requests for data into automated, recurring reports/visualizations can really help you make the most of your limited time, with the demanding schedule of a small HR team.

Our HR group makes an effort to review automated reports frequently. Most of the time, we are asking the same questions and monitoring progress. As I mentioned earlier, we are looking at data on our hiring practices. Automating those reports has taken the routine emails out of my inbox and allowed our team time to think about the progress we see and areas we still need to improve.

However, don’t just automate for the sake of automation. Having reports fill your team’s inboxes can begin to overwhelm them. In other words, you don’t want to give your team “analysis paralysis.”

Put the power of data directly into the hands of those who use it to make more informed decisions. Just be sure to do so without too much automation. “Analysis paralysis” can lead to a disengaged team.

Simplify with storylines

Decision makers in small teams may not have time to deeply review the actual data. Plus, they have other pressing challenges to manage.

So, tell a story with the data.

Ask yourself, “what are the main takeaways leadership needs to know” and “why should they care.”

Then, organize that into an easy-to-follow story.

A great leader I worked with told me, “The audience is going to take away 3 things. You get to decide what those are, but no more than 3.”

If you choose to abide by that strategy, your data story can have a beginning, middle and end.

Just remember that any good story keeps the interest level high, throughout. Otherwise, you lose the audience. Knowing what they will find interesting can help make your data story interesting.

I try to focus on pulling in emotions. Don’t over do it, but speak to specific anecdotes that can help drive your point.

Sure, maybe you have a great metric that you are excited to share with the leaders of your organization… but unless you make them feel what you feel, it might be just another data point they hear about, during the course of their day.

The beauty of people analytics is that we are dealing with numbers and people. Don’t overlook that advantage when crafting your story to leadership.

Making the most of leadership’s time, in a memorable way, is one of the most valuable skills you can offer.

Scheduled synergy

On a small HR team, everyone is busy. Carving out time to brainstorm, well in advance, to discuss trends or meaningful results can keep everyone on the same page, when they have a lot to balance.

Plus, it can be a great time to hear from all different perspectives, regarding the data at hand.

On our team, we have a quarterly survey debrief. All of the highlights from each survey we offer our candidates and employees are worked into a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) analysis.

That way, our group is on the same page in a format that everyone can grasp. Usually, it leads to broader topics about how to press our competitive advantage and improve our weak spots.

I make it a point to speak to areas that we have an advantage, even if the employees don’t think of it that way, simply because employee surveys can have a negative tilt to them – especially exit surveys. The other thing I focus on is trying to distill the most common themes throughout our close-end questions (e.g., agreement Likert scales, satisfaction Likert scales, etc.) and open-ended questions (e.g., do you have any more to add about…)


  1. Emphasize impact: Drive the most value by prioritizing “needle-moving” statistics for people within and outside of HR.
  2. Coordinate data cleaning: Speed and accuracy are competing interests. Therefore, coordinate your data cleaning before you need it to prevent bad insights.
  3. Automate often: Put the power of data directly into the hands of those who use it to make more informed decisions. Just be sure to prevent “Analysis paralysis.”
  4. Simplify with storylines: The beauty of people analytics is that we are dealing with numbers and people. Leverage logic and emotion when crafting your story to leadership, so you aren’t lost in the shuffle.
  5. Scheduled synergy: Small teams are busy. Do the coordination work ahead of time. Schedule quarterly recaps with your team and do it in a way where they can be involved.

These five fundamentals are not a comprehensive list and context matters. However, hopefully this list has sparked some new ideas for you and your team, which can help elevate your data-driven HR strategy.

Big thanks to Zach Stinebaugh, HR Business Intelligence Analyst at The Citadel, for sharing the experience and insights. 🙌

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