HARD data and SOFT skills development: Avoiding paralysis through over-analysis

By Declan Noone


HR Analytics is providing a wonderful array of data for businesses on their people from recruitment, to retention, and learning and development. This data can provide important insights to key decision makers and help shape the direction of our soft skills development. Certainly, the data provided can be incredibly useful in providing insights into our behaviours and strengths, as well as, our challenges and areas for improvement. However, before integrating analytics into your leadership and soft skills development, important questions should to be asked:


  • how is/will data and analytics drive the soft skills development of current and future leaders?
  • Where do we allow for intuition and experience to develop and flourish? and
  • where do we utilise the data we gather to enable leadership development?


The answer! First define what type leader you require for a 21st century organisation and marketplace. For example, you may require a leader with: strong cognitive agility; effective behavioural decision making skills; enhanced behavioural fitness; and a people first approach to business. In a human centred organisation, understanding what type of leader you require starts with a conversation throughout the organisation, across both horizontals and verticals. In our experience, appreciative inquiry interventions provide an exceptional framework upon which you can grow a constructive and insightful internal conversation. These interventions enable an organisation to capture the collective knowledge of participants, encourage clear alignment and shared vision on both the challenges and the solutions while developing strong ‘buy in’ from all communities within your organisation.


Once you clearly define the leader you want to develop, design thinking (or at least components of design thinking) provide an excellent tool to take the next step and map out the career journey you would expect a leader to follow. This enables you to map key performance and development periods or indicators in the career cycle of an individual. In turn, this allows an organisation to assess what metrics will enable them to not only assess and monitor progress at each stage, but to also measure the impact on the wellbeing and culture, of a team, and individuals. The tools available to organisations to establish and measure these metrics are increasingly present in the market. Design thinking with its focus on meeting genuine human needs, creating solutions for complex problems and the fact that it works well with multiple uncertainty factors, is an ideal tool for such a project.


However, with increased data comes increased responsibility regarding how to use it constructively. In Serrano 99, we are very cognisant of the following concerns regarding the use of data in leadership development in the following  areas:


  1. Data can be used as a bludgeon: Collecting data is not an issue, how you correlate it, package it and communicate it is critical to a leaders’ development. Too much data, provided too frequently, can overload an individual to the point of paralysis. Paralysis through over analysis does not allow for a natural evolutionary course of development for the individual. Therefore, considered thought needs to be given to the who, what, where, when, why and how in your messaging.

Who: delivers the message – coach, immediate superior.

What: message is delivered – positive and constructive.

Where: in a non-threatening space, where ever that may be.

When: in real time, quarterly, bi-annually, annually.

Why: is it necessary, will it enable development.

How: face to face, electronically, etc.


  1. Too much data and analysis creates a culture of fear and anxiety, and it can encourage risk aversion in young and evolving leaders. Allowing leaders to develop through knowing, doing and being is an important part of all our development. They should be allowed to error without anxiety of assessment. Developing your personal intuition and experience is critical for those moments when a leader will be expected to make the right decision at the right time.


  1. Data becomes the only means of assessing a ‘successful’ leader: We are in the situation we find ourselves, with increasing levels of people reporting higher levels of stress, greater disengagement in work and poor levels of happiness because in our current workplaces ‘success’ is measured through output. We are thought today that leadership has a direct impact on output, yet increasing volume of research clearly demonstrates that leadership has a direct impact on wellbeing and wellbeing has a direct impact on output. So we need to define success differently and we need to accept that not everything in that definition can be measured. Sometimes just because ‘you feel it in the air’ or ‘feel it in your gut’ does not mean it can be measured. Allow for that, embrace that, rely on the human factor.


Therefore, when designing a positive and mindful leadership development program we are in a continuous cycle of co-creation with our clients. We encourage an internal conversation on the type of leader they want. We establish the conditions that allow people to imagine what is possible and empower them to find the right solution for them. Finally, through the co-creation process we ensure that the key factors are considered and examined throughout the design process. Ultimately, we enable you to design the solution that’s right for you.

Posted on June 2, 2017 in Insights, Positive Leadership

Share the Story

About the Author

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top