Getting to Grips With HR Analytics

If there’s one topic that has both dominated and divided the on-going conversations around HR over the last year or two, then its data. Specifically big data and what to do with it. We constantly seem to be told that HR doesn’t have the capability or know-how to properly leverage the opportunities that all these extra insights offer us. When I wrote about the topic last year I found a range of perceptions and misconceptions – from the size of the data to the complexity of technology, solution focus to looking beyond the quantitative – that cloud the conversations in detail and jargon.

Keen to understand more I went along to the recent HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit and heard a range of speakers – from Coca Cola, Aviva, Nestle, Metropolitan Police, Unilever, Serious Fraud Office to name a few – share case studies and insights about how they had used analytics to drive business value and achieve results.

Here are some of the thing that stood out for me.

Getting the right people.

With a background as a recruiter I’m always looking at how we can get the hiring right. Certainly talent acquisition and performance are two areas with much to gain from deeper insights, and where there is already a lot of data available.

As with any specialist area it starts with scoping what you really need – “an HR analytics team needs to understand data and present it in a way that engages the business – they don’t need a background in HR

We can have a tendency to compile a long shopping list of attributes, skills and experience that we want and then complain that we can’t find it. The key for analyst roles is to understand what you really need. Don’t look for a list of technology and software skills, but for someone who can understand problems and tell stories. Analysts are hot property at the moment so not easy to find – many presenters came not from an HR background but from one involving maths, statistics and analysis. HR generalists can get bogged down with data and detail whilst analysts can’t always present or tell stories so the best teams will blend a range of skills.

Once there is data and analysis then someone needs to be able to bring it to life, tell a compelling story that will engage stakeholders. More than one speaker observed that stakeholder management is a very hard skill to locate when recruiting in this area.

The concept of storytelling came through loud and clear during most presentations and is one that resonates with me, given the day job. How many HRDs look for separate people? Those to work with the data and those who will present the results? And how many look at the people they already have in their teams who could develop into a role like this with some help and training. One suggestion was to ‘steal’ someone from another business area – maybe the capability is already within the business, just not HR.

The key attributes were described by fellow event blogger David D’Souza as “The 4 N’s – Nosiness, Numeracy, Narrative, Networking“. But also remember that analysts need a career and personal development plan just like everyone else – they need scope to hone their skills.

Quick wins, simple wins, ask questions.

The clear message was to understand exactly what you want, and to be patient and realistic, starting with basics. Many teams have little or no budget, but however small it is there will need to be some budget to either hire or train the right person.

Think big, start slowly, and get in at the top! When you start make sure you meet the CEO and FD. Let them know what’s happening. Coca Cola’s Vanessa Varney told us “Get the basics right. Don’t rush to do the ‘sexy stuff’. Laying robust foundations is a must and can reap just as much reward“. She also stressed the need to get buy-in from leadership and the rest of HR and warned not to underestimate the cultural impact of embedding a data-mindset within the HR team.

The simplest way to then start is to find out what problems that business has that need answers, and that means asking questions not offering metrics. As Andrew Gamlyn said “the business don’t want metrics, they need answers to questions. Educate the business in a mindset of asking for answers to business questions instead of metrics from HR“. Understanding the real issues is key else you’ll just be defending data. One example involved data showing that the best performers were those whose previous job title matched their new ones – but was this a real measure of capability or really just a measure of recruiter or hiring manager behaviour?

There is HR data everywhere in the organisation” said Hendrik Feddersenunderstand how the business operates. Then engage with users, tell stories, use graphics

And collaborate.

One of the most tweeted soundbites of the day was from Vanessa Varney “IT and HR must collaborate. There’s no way around it“. Although you need to lay ground rules as well. I chaired a panel that included Vanessa and Sally Dillon from Aviva, who took responsibility for FTEs from finance saying “You look after the £££, we own the FTEs“.

The quickest wins often seem to come from straightforward employee metrics. Absence, sickness, resignations and links to overtime, workplace pressure or even length of tenure of managers, the ‘people game-changers’ are all areas that provide valuable insights to the business – if the managers don’t like the data then they can fix the problem.

During Sally Dillon’s presentation she described the HR analytics role as “kill complexity, never rest, care more, create legacy” and reminded us that “we own definition, methodology and tools – we don’t own the data, the business leaders own the data“…

…whilst Vanessa Varney’s summary provided a useful round-up of many attendees’ takeaways…

Talking HR Data & Analytics at #HRAnalyticsLDN

Is 2015 the year analytics finally goes mainstream for the HR profession?

A few thoughts:

In most areas of our personal and professional lives we now have endless information on which to base a decision. No longer do we invest time and money without prior research – instead we do as much checking as we can to ensure that the decision we’re making is right.

And yet in business we’re too often stabbing in the dark. We hire the person that our instincts tell us may be right, even though we’ve got years of data to show the type of people who succeed in the organisation. We look to recruit someone who’s done the job before, without seeing how successful that approach has been in the past.

Walmart in the US have recently raised the pay of their lowest paid workers to try and reduce churn, yet as one commentator pointed out “if retailers really want to reduce churn, the next frontier will be promising more predictable schedules, rather than higher wages“. We have the data to produce predictable schedules – do we use it?

So why do so many in HR often see data and something big and insurmountable, rather than the way we can make better informed, more robust decisions? Or as Neil saysan HR person who “doesn’t like numbers” is a bad HR person.  I just think the idea of data being BIG in HR is a bit of a myth‘.

The 2015 Human Capital Global Trends Report found only 8% of respondents believing they have a strong HR analytics team in place., with this specialism registering the second highest capability gap. Suggested areas in which good people analytics can help the business immediately were:

  • Understanding and predicting retention
  • Boosting employee engagement
  • Expanding sources and quality of hire
  • Profiling of high performers in areas such as sales and customer service.

Starting doesn’t have to be painful nor involve massive expenditure – getting the right people in the team (mixing business and technical skills), starting with the tools you already have and focusing on a specific business need rather than a scattergun approach across multiple teams is sometimes all you need.

And learning from those who have already begun the journey.

Which is why I’m really looking forward to the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit in London next week. Across two days there will be sessions and presentations from HR professionals representing all sizes and sectors, and all at different stages of the journey. There should be some useful takeaways, whether your looking for quick wins of playing the long game. Some of the sessions I’m looking forward to are:

  • Beginning HR Analytics with No Budget (Andrew Gamlyn, SIG plc)
  • HR Analytics for Beginners (1 hour interactive workshop – learning from those who have taken the journey)
  • Driving Business Value from HR Data (Sally Dillon, Aviva – includes case study using data to reduce absenteeism, driving bottom line benefit)
  • Employer Branding Analytics (Alison Hadden. Glassdoor)
  • Analytics and Driving Cultural Change (Nicki Makin, Morrisons – the journey of moving from relying on gut feel to making data driven decisions)
  • Planning with a Blank Canvas (Dan Gordon, England 2015 – planning a large workforce for the Rugby World Cup from scratch)

Readers of this blog can get a £200 discount by using the code RECS200 when registering. If you want to know what to expect then check out this presentation from last year’s event – ‘Using Workforce Analytics to Create a Recipe for Success’ from Vanessa Varney, Senior Manager of HRIS Analytics at Coca-Cola.

Look forward to seeing a few of you there – and to finding out more about data driven workforce decision making.