Using analytics to boost productivity

Subway, Movember Canada, Town Shoes see improved engagement, lower turnover

Disturbing figures in a 2015 report on productivity confirmed a nagging feeling at the back of many business owners’ minds for some time — Canadian labour productivity had been in steady decline for over 10 years, according to Statistics Canada. The agency also noted a widening productivity gap between the United States and Canada. These trends were confirmed by statistics, for the same period, from the Conference Board of Canada. And the numbers suggest Canadian leaders were not taking full advantage of employees’ abilities.

Roots of productivity

Many new hires decide their future with a company based on their onboarding experience. A good experience can be mutually beneficial for both the organization and the employee, providing stability for the organization and advancement opportunities for the employee.

However, a negative experience can be costly, in leading to employee turnover. This is why behavioural analytics can help create job descriptions, craft relevant interview questions, measure candidates against specific behaviours required by the role and tailor employee-specific professional development and coaching.

Paying more attention to the available data to clearly define both the role that needs to be filled and the workplace behaviours of the potential employee will allow hiring managers to identify candidates who are truly the best fit for the position and corporate culture.

Most organizations have some type of onboarding practice, whether formal or informal, to manage the transition from a “newly hired” to “fully embedded” employee. However, the strategies used, and the results, can vary widely. The following framework and examples can help organizations to effectively engage and develop employees to ensure they become productive, long-term team members.

Ensure alignment

Using employee data collected during the hiring process allows organizations to structure the onboarding process so new hires quickly understand the business’s goals and where they fit within the organization. By doing this, managers can quickly help employees find their comfort zone and maximize the value of their key skills and natural talents. This approach helps to ensure successful integration with the company’s corporate culture and reduces the risk of employee turnover.

Applying analytics to his hiring approach, Harold Jackson, owner of several Subway Restaurant franchises, realized part of the reason for his employee turnover was due to placing new hires in the wrong positions. Jackson recalls one employee who was originally in a key customer service role.

The data showed Jackson the employee was more suited to a behind-the-scenes position, so he moved her from customer service to food preparation. With this change, he noticed almost immediate improvement in the employee’s productivity and comfort level.

By applying workplace analytics across all his staff, Jackson saw turnover reduced by 50 per cent, which resulted in increased productivity and significant cost savings as the amount of training for new hires was also reduced.

Understand employee behaviours

To properly onboard and integrate employees, managers need to understand the answer to one simple question: “What unique needs does each employee have?” Behavioural analytics answers this question by comparing working style, management style and motivational factors. It also enables leaders to examine the employee’s basic drivers, including his perception of how he should perform at work versus how he actually performs.

Knowing this allows a leader to motivate each member of her team by satisfying their individual needs, which leads to a much more productive work environment.

Movember Canada, a charity focused on making an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health, faced the challenge of growing its team without negatively impacting the “Havin’ fun doin’ good” culture it had worked so hard to create. One poor hiring decision could throw the high-functioning team off course and hamper its fundraising capabilities. Using behavioural analytics, Movember Canada developed an understanding of the behaviours required for the role and implemented behaviour-based interview questions. The questions and associated processes identified gaps between the behaviours needed for the position and those the candidate possessed. The end result was the selection of a candidate who was best-suited to meet the demands of the job and the delicate workplace culture.

Provide support, help employees make connections

Creating an ongoing support and development network is essential for new employees. Establishing connections at a new job improves engagement and retention. However, the type of support each individual employee needs can vary depending on their behavioural makeup. For instance, one new employee may gain confidence through rapid connections with people, whereas another may prefer to first gain a deeper understanding of the job requirements.

Ignoring each employee’s motivating factors and applying a cookie-cutter approach can cause frustration, stress and underperformance. The subsequent low employee engagement becomes a precursor to turnover that is above the industry average and leads to a further deterioration of the workplace culture. Ultimately, this means project delivery or service delays and customer dissatisfaction.

Town Shoes, with 200 locations across the country, faced this type of situation. With 47 per cent turnover — 26 per cent above the industry average — the retail chain was beginning to suffer from an unhealthy company culture and decreasing employee engagement across all its locations. Through the implementation of behavioural analytics, from senior management down to the front lines, Town Shoes was able to ensure all employees were placed in roles that matched their abilities. The result was an immediate improvement in engagement and culture. Over the longer term, the company has seen turnover decrease to 20 per cent, just below the industry norm.

By focusing on workplace analytics, companies can gain insight into employees’ potential and can tailor individualized onboard and training programs based on their communication style and motivational factors. A data-centred approach also gives hiring managers powerful knowledge about how each individual will perform in a specific role and how she will fit with the organization’s culture. This method of hiring employees allows organizations to retain workers over the long term to build a skilled, knowledgeable and engaged staff that outperforms the competition.

As more and more companies adopt this approach, the Conference Board of Canada’s next productivity study might just show an increase in Canada’s labour productivity.

David Lahey is the founder and president of Predictive Success and author of Predicting Success: Evidence-Based Strategies to Hire the Right People and Build the Best Team. He can be reached at or (905) 430-9788 or for more information, visit

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