Mining ‘people data’ central to future of HR: Expert

Solid tool for navigating changing workplaces, career development
By Marcel Vander Wier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/09/2018
Employers are turning to data to “support better decision making, improve employee experience, and actually raise the impact of HR,” according to David Green, an expert in the field. Syda Productions/

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In the world of HR, people analytics is growing in importance as the “digital revolution” rolls on, according to David Green, an analytics expert in London, U.K.

“We’re in a period of massive change,” he said. “Change has never happened this fast before, and arguably will never be this slow again. Companies now seem to be in perpetual transformation, continually trying to invent new products or services to survive and thrive in the world.”

In the last two years, humans have collected nine times the amount of data than previously collected in the world’s history, said Green.

“This is really elevating the role of the CHRO and the HR function to almost become one of the three most important roles within the company, along with the CEO and the CFO,” said Green, speaking recently at the HR Tech Summit in Toronto.

Automated roles and skills training requires proper preparation and workforce planning, with analytics proving to be a solid tool for navigation, he said.

State of analytics

“Analytics and data are the centrepiece of a digital agenda for HR,” said Green. “It can help us understand: ‘What is the shape of the organization we need? What are the skills we need within our companies?’”

“Analytics can really help bring all this together, giving organizations some level of certainty in the decisions they need to make.”

In essence, HR is taking a page from the marketers’ book, many who have been using analytics to make decisions for close to 20 years, he said.

Analytics can provide up to 13 times return on the dollar, said Green, citing research.

“There’s not many HR programs that we can talk about like that.”

In pursuit of high-performing teams, senior leaders have accepted that people analytics are a vital ingredient to success, spurring further growth in this area, he said.

Companies big and small are turning to this data to “support better decision making, improve employee experience, and actually raise the impact of HR.”

A data-driven culture and foundation comes by communicating the benefits of analytics to all employees — not just human resources, said Green.

“Be transparent. Communicate to employees what data you are collecting and why, what the benefit is to them, and the organization.”

Best practices

There are still challenges with HR data quality and consistency, but most employers should have enough to get started, said Green.

But data alone isn’t enough. Reporting data just for the sake of analytics is not always relevant to the business, he said.

“Don’t start with the data. Start with the business problem and then you can start to understand what data sources you need to bring together to solve that problem,” said Green. “This isn’t necessarily about using analytics and data within the confines of HR. We’ve got to try and break out of the silo mentality and really focus our energy on trying to solve our business problems.”

“Normally, with every business problem an organization is trying to combat, there is a people element to it.”

Linking people analytics such as employee engagement to business performance is helpful, for example, he said.

Having a CHRO who fully believes in the power of data is also beneficial in terms of identifying key business problems, connecting stakeholders and turning insights into action.

“This isn’t about creating a team within HR that’s siloed,” said Green. “It’s about cross-functional collaboration… The ability to leverage resources from outside of HR is really the key.”

“Advanced people analytics teams use multiple data sources,” he said. “It’s not just around internal HR systems or surveys.”

“Not everyone in HR needs to suddenly learn how to become a data scientist — rest assured on that.”

Green recommended a methodology including the framing business questions and building a solid hypothesis before gathering data and conducting analyses to reveal actionable insights.

From there, excellent storytelling can compel senior leadership to move on recommendations, he said.

Road ahead

While HR trends further towards people analytics, managing expectations will be necessary — at least initially.

“Unfortunately, when people invest in people analytics, they expect a return straightaway,” said Green. “It doesn’t necessarily happen, unless you happen to strike gold with the first project that you work on.”

Personalized career trajectories are a natural benefactor of people analytics, with data recommending skills paths for workers to earn roles they covet, he said.

“This is great for the employee, because it really supports career development and it really personalizes it for them as well... You can’t do any of this without data and analytics underpinning it.”

Ethics and privacy of data collection require early consideration, as all employers operating in the European Union are now required to adhere to data protection rules laid out in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Eighty-one per cent of analytics are “jeopardized” by ethics or privacy issues, said Green.

“If you can’t articulate the benefit of collecting data or doing a people analytics project to employees, maybe you shouldn’t do it.”

But while data, analytics and other emerging technologies can increase HR’s impact within organizations, human capability will remain at the forefront of the practice, he said.

“This is not about replacing judgment or experience,” said Green. “This is about augmenting it and hopefully making it better.”


Balancing humans with tech

In the age of analytics, maintaining a human touch within HR remains important, according to Marc-Etienne Julien, CEO of Randstad Canada, a human resources and recruitment service provider.

“Leveraging the benefits of technology and maintaining a human-forward approach do not need to be mutually exclusive,” he said.

In a time of labour market shortages, organizations should be leveraging technology to simplify the job search and application processes for candidates, as well as automating repetitive tasks in the HR process.

“This allows employers to reinvest that time in creating a more human experience by building human connections through face-to-face interaction,” said Julien.

And while the world of work changes rapidly, HR practitioners would be wise to begin implementing analytics in an effort to remedy specific and immediate challenges such as high turnover or problems in hiring for specific skill sets, he said.

The user experience should be a central focus throughout the process, said Julien.

“Prioritizing the user experience is central to the development of accessible and usable workplace tools, both for candidates and for your employees. Involve your employees early on as they’re the main users.”

Time saved through technological solutions should be reinvested through training programs, he said.

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