Finding Meaning in Data

A people analytics strategy that draws data from all segments of the business is key to effective workforce planning and management.

By Simon Kent

For such a data-rich function, HR can seem behind the curve when it comes to making the most of the numbers it records about the workforce. But whilst finance and operations may still take the lead on number crunching, it is clear that HR has the potential to tap into its organisational people data to not only to deliver more value, but to demonstrate that value to organisation it serves.

Bernard Marr, author of the book “Data-Driven HR,” highlights two reasons why HR is challenged when it comes to realising the power of data. “First, the current HR data sets tend to focus on everything that is easy to measure rather than the data points that really matter,” he says. “Second, most of the data remains in siloes with very little analysis applied to it.”

This disconnected approach leads to the perception that there is a lack of strategy to HR’s relationship with data—meaning that data points collected for purposes such as recruitment, rewards, and performance exist without leading to a broader analysis of the bigger, strategic impact of HR on the business—but a global revolution in people analytics is transforming this perception.

Data in Action

Even limited data collection and analysis can enable particular elements of HR’s work. For example, HR teams can leverage data to improve four essential functions.

  • Upskilling. According to Tom Ricks, senior director of culture and talent systems and people analytics at Qlik, the right data can help HR teams identify where employees need upskilling, helping them feel more confident in their role and improving employee retention rates. “In the light of a talent shortage affecting multiple industries, having access to these insights will prove vital in the longer term for businesses who want to shore up a future talent pipeline,” he says.
  • Compensation. Ruth Thomas, principal consultant at Curo Compensation, says a comprehensive, data-based talent management platform can create actionable insight for HR. For example, by analysing compensation data together with an employee’s profile, technology can show managers how a proposed employee salary fits within and impacts the overall compensation structure for the business. This in turn helps the business achieve greater equality across its workforce.
  • Employee experience. Cathy Temple, vice president of HR at Oracle, suggests there is a movement towards analysing data for the good of the worker. “Data insights in HR are transforming the ways we help and support our employees,” she says. “The use of big data in employee journey tracking allows us to understand how happy our staff are in their roles and then take the steps to boost morale or identify alternative roles that may be a better fit.”
  • Recruitment. “Data insights are also highly effective in recruitment and promotion,” Temple adds. “Through the use of ‘what if’ scenarios, we can hypothesise the effect of new hires and changes within the team and how this will impact the overall dynamic of the organisation. This is just the beginning—by making the most of people insights, we can create better businesses and happier employees.”

According to Kirsten Edwards, author of the book “Predictive HR Analytics,” organisations can gain a further advantage by bringing together disparate data into a single source of truth. “Unless you have a fully integrated HR analytics team that is well networked into individual parts of HR, it is likely that many parts of the HR offering may be analysing data without connecting up with other parts of the HR team. The real value comes from linking different data sources across HR, such as recruitment and diversity or talent review data and retention, to understand any trends or patterns.”

Jane Keith, CHRO at IFS, leverages this approach, combining data insights from across the business to enhance the three key deliverables of a successful HCM strategy: operational capacity planning, skills development, and strategic capability planning. Keith believes the driving force behind all of these deliverables is clear, concise, and easy-to-access data.

Moreover, by using the correct data, IFS is able to develop workforce plans that align with short-term as well as long-term company needs. “In the short term, data from operations and projects provides the demand signals for capacity planning, where certified resource capacity can be mined to provide a suitable fit to enable supply to match,” she explains. “Medium-term demand signals compared to current supply capability and capacity allow for skills and capacity gap analysis to inform training, development, and recruitment. Long-term demand signals from the strategic outlook and socio-economic trends provides the information to advise on future role requirements, including skills, demographics, and culture.”

Gathering the right kind of data to do this requires comprehensive and effective systems, but rather than seeing this as a barrier, Keith argues that similar resources are frequently utilised by other parts of a business—so why should HR be neglected?

“An extensive amount of time and money is spent by companies evaluating customer data, but similar rewarding insights can be gleaned from doing the same with current and potential employees,” she notes. “Ease and speed of collecting and evaluating data is critical, giving HR teams insight in what they need to adjust—hiring trends, cultural fit, time to hire, time to productivity—understanding market data to make quick and rewarding decisions for both the new hire and existing employee population.”

As HR continues down the path of developing its use of data, the wider world of information data and collection is also bringing other challenges to light. Thomas of Curo Compensation raises the ethical dimension to collecting and managing people data.

“We’re collecting a lot of data from employees but we have to be careful of who owns that data,” she says, adding that this situation will be more complex if an employee works for a number of different organisations, as may be the case for contractors in the growing gig economy. “Larger organisations are now hiring chief ethics officers, so it’s no longer just about counting heads and getting the data, it’s about doing that process ethically,” she concludes.

Posted April 15, 2020 in Evidence-Based HR

Leave a Reply