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HR Analytics: Avoiding Getting Stuck in Neutral

Posted On08/08/2016

ContributorTracy Fischer

By David Bernstein, Vice President of Talent Acquisition Products – Brightfield Strategies


As I discussed at Nelson’s recent NELSONtalks: Business events, using big data to inform HR decisions is the next HR evolution. And as HR professionals utilize more and more data to drive decision-making, they’re creating value and driving competitive advantage like never before.

But big data can be scary, and getting started can be overwhelming. Avoid “getting stuck in neutral” and kick your big data efforts into high gear with the tips below.

What is big data?

In short, big data is rapidly increasing amounts of data generated by multiple sources in many formats. Storing, searching, and analyzing this data presents challenges, especially with legacy or limited systems and tools. However, big data also presents many new opportunities to use this data to make decisions that are crucial to business strategy and outcomes.

A recent article by Michael Carty from Personnel Today outlines three ways HR can lead with data. If you attended any of the recent NELSONtalks: Business events where I presented, these tips will sound familiar! I agree (and expand on their thoughts with two tips of my own):

  1. Use HR data to solve business problems now. First, define your business problems that can be solved using data.

    If: You’re losing clients or investing more than you’d like in recruiting and training because of employee attrition
    Then: Identify the indicators of flight risk among top performers to understand better how to mitigate them.

    If: You’re recruiting, but not sure how to identify who is likely to be a top performer
    Then: Identify the traits that are commonly shared among top performers in your organization, and contrast them with those of average or low performers.

    Next, standardize and define data collection and retention methods that will help you get the data you need to solve these problems. Standardized collection and retention makes it easier to analyze that data to solve these cross-functional business problems, even if the data is collected within different departments in your organization.

    Finally, present this information in a format that’s user friendly and easily accessible. After you’ve defined what metrics are most important to solve your business problems, put together dashboards so the most relevant information is at the fingertips of HR leaders who need it. According to a recent survey from the Human Capital Institute, 43 percent of companies still rely on spreadsheets or other manual reporting systems to capture, analyze and report HR data. Be sure to invest in the people, processes, and tools necessary to analyze and report on data to get the most out of it.

  2. Learn the language of data. Modern HR departments require people with skills necessary to deal with complex data analysis and statistical modeling. Companies can accomplish this by offering training to current employees, hiring new employees with more advanced data skills, or outsourcing a component of (or more) your data-related functions. Keep in mind that you, as an HR professional, do not need to perform the advanced statistical analysis to make use of big data; you just need to understand how to use those findings to support your story.
  3. Balance people analytics with “traditional” HR insights and competencies. Leverage your HR consulting prowess to tell stories (or reveal the stories that are in the data). Numbers mean nothing without the insight to explain “why.” It’s important to not just blindly follow the numbers, as well. Numbers and analyses can be wrong, or they can point you down incorrect paths. Traditional HR skills are required to tie the data together with rationale and actionable insights. As long as you’re using the data for “story-telling” and not “story-selling” (remain impartial and consider all the data when looking for conclusions instead of cherry-picking data that fits the narrative you’ve predetermined), data will transform your stories from “I think” to “I know” and help you drive business-critical decision making.
  4. Make sure your HR stories are consistently tied to business-relevant stories that management can relate to. While this point isn’t covered in the article, it’s one I always include when discussing this topic. HR is increasingly given a seat at the table on executive teams and strategic planning groups; in nearly 80% of companies, the top HR leader reports to the CEO . However, only 38% are viewed as key in the company’s strategic planning.Big data and predictive analytics can help HR leaders move their story from people-focused to impact-focused. Tell the business story, not the HR story. For example, instead of discussing talent management with your leadership team, talk about resource allocation and risk management. Ditch “HR-speak” phrasing like increasing internal mobility and decreasing attrition. Instead, show how the data relates to your talent supply chain, and how giving employees growth opportunities and reducing turnover reduces spend and increases HR ROI.
  5. Tell your stories and share your data in a format that is personal and relevant to your audience. As a final tip, always remember that when you’re telling stories or sharing data, your messages must be presented in whatever format works best for your audience. When you’re preparing to share your stories supported by data, your first question should always be “Why does my audience care? What’s in it for them?” Data can help you tell your story in a way that’s quantifiable and accurate, but it’s up to you to frame it in a way that is effective for your audience.Don’t fall into the trap of overwhelming your audience with a million charts and graphs to convey data analysis. Make sure your story comes through first. Visual components help, but photos and graphics can help personalize as well as, or better than, charts. Your job is to tell your story in a way your audience finds compelling, not convey every detail of data analysis.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to start, or amplify your efforts to use data-driven decision making to solve business challenges and advocate HR efforts as they relate to business objectives.

About David Bernstein

nelsontalks-speaker-bernstein-150x150Having been an HR practitioner, an HR leader, and an Executive at three HR Technology Software companies, David Bernstein brings a unique perspective to the conversation about the Future of Talent and the role of Strategic HR in driving business results.

David currently is the VP of Talent Acquisition products at Brightfield Strategies – a workforce analytics consultancy and technology company. Prior to that, David launched eQuest’s Big Data for HR/Predictive Analytics division, which enables organizations to make better-informed decisions about their recruiting and hiring strategy by leveraging Big Data. He is uniquely qualified to discuss these topics, with his long history of creating innovative HR technology strategies for Fortune 500 companies.

David is a renowned speaker and writer on the strategic capabilities big data brings to HR, David has been a featured speaker for SHRM, HRPS, HCI, HRO, HRIQ, IHRIM, and IQPC conferences. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley. Follow David on Twitter (@bigdata4hrguy) and LinkedIn.