Maximizing the Impact of Your People Programs: What's the ROI?

How do you know when your People programs are working? It’s an important question, but one that’s not always easy to answer. At the BetterWorks Goal Summit on April 20, several HR experts gathered to dig in to this question.

Jeff Rosenthal, Managing Director, Deloitte Leadership moderated a panel discussion between Cheryl Roubian, Director of Talent Acquisition and Management at Greenhouse, Greg Besner, CEO of CultureIQ, and Linsey Jackson, Head of Technical Recruiting at Lyft.

What were some of the key takeaways and themes that emerged during their conversation? Read on to find out!


Let’s start by defining “People programs”

The panelists defined “People programs” as anything that touches the employee during their interactions with your company. This begins with the recruiting and hiring process, continues on through onboarding, and includes employee engagement and retention.

Why is it so difficult to measure the ROI of these programs?

Moderator Jeff Rosenthal quoted a recent Deloitte study that found that only 8% of companies have usable data to measure HR program ROI and only 9% of companies believe they understand which talent dimensions drive their performance.

The panelists shared a few ideas on why measuring ROI poses such a problem for companies. Cheryl explained that trying to measure a single person’s impact can be challenging, Greg believes that the typical annual cycle of feedback and performance management is simply too long for today’s fast-paced workforce, and Linsey cited the difficulty in collecting and interpreting data.

What’s the key to making these programs and their metrics effective?

  • Think in terms of business impact

Cheryl gave the example of the new hire onboarding process here at Greenhouse. We put a process in place and sent out surveys to new hires, but it took a while for us to realize that we were getting feedback on the effectiveness of the program rather than its business impact. While we initially focused on making sure new hires had a good experience and felt comfortable, we later expanded our vision of the onboarding program to think about how new hires could get ramped faster. So now we measure the “ramp KPI.” We ask new hires (and their managers) questions about individual and company goals and how confident they feel in being able to perform their role. (Cheryl describes this in much more detail in this post.)

  • Be specific

Greg described the desire that many people have to do everything, but stressed the importance of focusing on a few key metrics. By aligning your goals to focus on one business outcome (rather than trying to achieve several), you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

  • Make it meaningful—and fun!

Linsey explained the importance of creating a clear sense of purpose for any initiatives you put in place. People need to understand why you’re asking them to do certain things. And it doesn’t hurt for them to be a little fun, too! Linsey has seen the greatest success when her team rallies around one clear goal (and giving it a special code name has been an especially effective tactic).

A few key takeaways

As the session came to a close, Jeff asked each speaker to share a few of their biggest lessons with the audience.

In Cheryl’s case, it was the importance of focusing on the business impact of your programs as early as possible. This is especially important when you’re trying to understand the ROI of your existing programs and make the case for investing in other programs.

Greg described the state of “analysis paralysis” he had encountered when confronted with so much qualitative and quantitative data. His suggestion for overcoming it is to focus on one specific area where you see the biggest opportunity and see that project through to completion.

Linsey described the ever-changing environment in the startup world and said that it’s always essential to focus your energy on what’s mission critical. Of course the challenge lies in determining what’s mission critical as opposed to what’s just important!

There were a few key themes that came up several times throughout the discussion: focus and prioritization, consistency, accountability, and communication. You won’t be able to do everything you want to do, so it’s important to determine what’s important—and stick to it. Having a clear owner helps ensure that projects get completed, and sharing your results helps get others interested and excited about your future programs.

Let’s keep the conversation going! If you have any tips on measuring the impact of your People programs, leave us a note in the comments to let us know.

Want to learn more about framing your People programs in terms of business impact? Check out our white paper on Employee Lifetime Value.


Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno is the Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse, where she gets to share her love of the written word and endorse the use of the Oxford comma on a daily basis. Before joining Greenhouse, Melissa built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Recruiting Metrics