Effective data collection, storage, and analysis is critical to future business success.
By Simon Kent
As the pandemic took hold of workplaces across EMEA, organisations found it necessary to shift every aspect of their business online. HR was among the departments where data had to be digitised, ensuring people information was accessible to all who needed it. The move to digital has emphasised two connected learning points for businesses:
- the importance of having good data; and
- the importance of leveraging that data to make even better decisions.
In fact, Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2020-2021 study reports that HR has moved data up the value chain, quadrupling its use of predictive analytics from 10% in 2016 to 39% in 2020. Additionally, 61% of executives say using talent analytics to inform decisions is the top HR trend that has delivered the biggest impact on their business.
“HR data is more critical now than ever before,” says Peter Ryding, founder of the HRD PathFinder Club and VICyourcoach.com. “Many CEOs were shocked at how poor the people data was in the first lockdown, and whilst some HRDs have responded, many haven’t.”
Ryding emphasises that HR should take advantage of the technology shift occurring around them. “Ahead of moving processes online, HR directors should note that moving online is not just automating what you have, it’s about improving and integrating at the same time,” he says.
Marine Fournier, HR manager at Powell Software, was one HR leader who took the bull by the horns and made the online environment work for her business. Taking on this challenge was not easy.
“In a fast-growth environment, it is usual for the verbal way to be one of the most efficient ways to communicate,” she says. “This was our pre-pandemic culture. The pandemic, however, pushed HR and other business departments to switch from a verbal communication to a written one.”
With businesses across the EMEA region being impacted in different ways due to the varying spread of the pandemic, HR information needed to be available in many languages and time zones so it was always ready to serve the organisation. Fournier says having an online portal was key to providing employees the information they needed when they needed it.
Powell’s HR team built an intranet that delivered easy access to everything HR: guides on managing employee relations and onboarding, recruiting, and interviewing virtually, and advice on the latest employment regulations and legislation.
“We then asked each department within Powell Software to do the same—to share information that is relevant to their department and teams,” she says.
According to Fournier, the main challenge was ensuring the business selected the right tool for storing and presenting each kind of information whilst also ensuring their workers knew the resources were placed there.
“No one will accept the change if they do not see the benefit of it,” she notes. “To ensure a fast change, we needed to mix the information flow and engage with employees.” This was done through surveys, employee advocacy programmes, and gamification apps.
According to Andrew Drake, client development director at HR and benefits consulting firm Buck, taking HR data online has called for companies to collate vast amounts of employee data—an “intense and daunting” experience for many.
“It was especially hard for companies that didn’t have a data system in place before,” he says. “They required significant data cleanses to remove inaccurate and irrelevant data that had built up over years—even decades—before they could even begin the process.”
Drake explains this change has been ongoing, with businesses addressing the way they manage their data and introducing new best practices, such as regularly updating data to reflect changes in the company.
However, Antoinette Weibel, professor for HR management and organisation transformation at the Institute for Work and Employment Research at the University of St. Gallen, highlights another aspect of people management that needs addressing if HR data is to be usable: employee consent.
A survey carried out by her department in the Summer 2020 found that 63% of their Switzerland-based respondents were using at least one technology-based application to help with retention and transition management. They found the use of these applications to be in their infancy, although inroads were being made to make use of that data through people management dashboards.
“Our main premise is that HR will only be able to use the data if it is good data,” explains Weibel. “This, in our view, mainly applies if employees are willing to share their insights or have themselves observed and interpreted by their employer, which is dependent on employee trust in their employer.”
Pulling together HR data in one place has far-reaching benefits for every organisation. John Faucher, senior director of business solutions at HR and business data platform SplashBI, says the use of people analytics has been a major factor in the progression of HR.
“It is crucial that data-driven decisions are observed and implemented rather than made on assumptions in order to strive towards success,” he says. “Analytics support numerous day-to-day tasks facing businesses in many different variations, from face-to-face to quarterly reviews and beyond. It’s imperative that we understand the data around us to aid growth, especially if businesses are questioning if they should reopen the office or not.”
Faucher also recommends that people analytics and HR teams collaborate with other departments, including finance and strategy, to take a deep dive into today’s pressing questions around how many employees are not currently working because of the pandemic and how many workers can be successful working remotely.
HR leaders who leverage the insights gathered from people analytics will always be in a stronger position when planning for the future. “They’ll also be ahead of other organisations in addressing the near-term challenges that the pandemic has raised in analytics itself, ready to take the next leap forward,” Faucher notes.
As a new normal emerges in the next year—one that blends workplace location, employee skills, and organisational risk—having the right data will be of increased importance for HR. With efficient data collection, storage, and analysis, HR leaders will continue to be able to inform the businesses it serves of the right way ahead.