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Fearing math doesn't add up

CFOs — the ‘numbers people’ — care about HR metrics. A lot

By Todd Humber

Journalists, as a rule, hate math. Most of us got into the profession because we’re good with words, not numbers. Maybe that’s why I get along so well with human resources professionals.

HR is all about people, after all, and the majority of the HR professionals I’ve talked arithmetic with have expressed a similar loathing of number crunching.

But despite my feelings about mathematics, there is a calculator sitting on my desk, and I use it every day. Just flip through the pages of any issue of Canadian HR Reporter or click on any story on this website. You’ll be hard pressed to find articles that don’t contain figures, percentages, ratios and more. My math teachers, amid comments of “I told you math affects everything,” would be proud.

Not only do editors have to correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, but we have to check and double-check the numbers. You’d be surprised at how often statisticians and PR people make mistakes. There’s a big difference between a 10 per cent increase and a 10 percentage point increase — yet I regularly receive press releases (even from banks) that get that nuance wrong.

So, despite a career choice I thought would steer me well clear of math, I’m still wrapped up in numbers and calculations on a daily basis. I suspect many HR professionals can sympathize with this.

There’s always been a certain element of math to everything the HR department does, but the recent focus on HR metrics has multiplied it by the power of 10.

That’s why we decided to do the “CFOs talk” feature — which you’ll be able to read in the Nov. 5 issue of Canadian HR Reporter. Senior editor Sarah Dobson spoke to five chief financial officers across Canada about their thoughts on HR metrics. We’ve done features like this in the past where we’ve talked to senior HR leaders and CEOs about critical workforce issues, but we wanted to take the pulse of CFOs — the “numbers” people  — to get their take on the importance of HR metrics.

The short answer: The numbers people care about HR metrics. A lot.

This is hardly surprising. In the last decade, the HR profession’s profile has heightened significantly. With that has come a true awareness of the huge financial benefit of getting HR right, and the extreme cost of getting it wrong.

HR professionals, like it or not, have to become experts at math on top of all the other hats they wear. None of this applies to calculus and algebra, though — there’s simply no need for any of that.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter. He can be reached at

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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