By Chuck Gillespie, executive director, Wellness Council of Indiana

I read with great interest the article in Workforce Magazine titled “Predict (Still in) the Future.” The focus is to acquire better decision-making skills on predictive analytics through the use of new technologies. Those who know me are aware that my passions include how behavioral health affects employee engagement and utilization of technology to positively impact work.

What struck me about the main conclusion is what I have seen, analyzed and trained over the last 20-plus years of my professional career: We are data mining into levels of decision paralysis. My favorite quote in the article is, “It doesn’t matter how pretty the charts are; if you don’t understand the science behind the data, it isn’t going to work.” (attributed to Derek Beebe, director of HR technology at Towers Watson & Co.).

Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics for consulting firm Sierra-Cedar Inc. (formerly Cedar Crestone Inc.), also expresses concern about data privacy. “Unless you have a baseline,” she contends, “you can’t measure change.”

The article was written with a focus on hiring and the need for better user experience. Due to the extremely high level of data analytics that has become so expected in many of today’s workplaces, we’re too busy analyzing and unable to make data-driven decisions to take action. If you’re going to collect data, know what the data is, how you will utilize it and then communicate to employees your plans for using it. This is especially true if you collect data and don’t do anything with it. Tell your employees why. If you don’t, expect less participation and engagement going forward.

For many organizations across the state and throughout the country, the goal of measuring what matters should be to utilize data points that are operationally focused. Try to begin by executing data decisions on basic information like unscheduled absenteeism and retention rates before tackling something complex like health care costs. I would suggest that drilling into the complexities of health care claims data and presenting “pretty charts” to leadership is a slippery slope – especially if you’re unable to explain the science backing the data.

By starting with an operational data point like unscheduled absenteeism, you can begin to drill into the issues related to employees’ performance and possible health issues that are affecting it (keeping in mind privacy and other regulatory issues). You have an operational baseline from which to work: lost productivity due to unscheduled absences. What causes these missed days? Is it injury, health or a desire to not come to work?

Let’s face it, good front line supervisors will be concerned about the health and well-being of their employees, but their immediate problem – and the one affecting their team’s performance that day – is to find a way to operationally cover the job for the person who is unexpectedly absent.

When reflecting on a new resource, technology or training for workplace wellness – or anything workforce “productivity” related – consider the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics of your team and what it needs to succeed. A bad vendor selection, poor program choice or lack of training will cause even the best strategy and vision to fail.