As we enter 2018, HR professionals are under siege. According to Gallup analytics, just 33% of US workers (and 15% of global employees) are engaged at work. There is also a profound skills shortage to deal with, with low unemployment levels and a failure to train staff for the digital age conspiring to wreak havoc. This issue is particularly pronounced in the tech sector, with research from the nonprofit Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) finding that 'at least eight in 10 US businesses are being negatively impacted by the lack of technology talent.'
It is, therefore, more important than ever for HR departments to collect and analyze every possible shred of data about their staff and any prospective employees. HR must be able to evidence productivity, engagement, and performance if they want to become more proactive and make better-informed decisions. And they are. While in the past, HR’s data efforts have notoriously lagged behind other departments, this is changing. According to the High-Impact People Analytics study, this year 69% of companies are integrating data to build a People Analytics database . In prior years, this was always about 10-15% of the organizations surveyed. The 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends, meanwhile, found that 39% of business people believe their company has ‘very good’ or ‘good’ quality data for people-related decision-making and 31% understand what ‘best-in-class’ people analytics looks like.
The challenge now is for HR teams to use their data to its full potential. In order to do this, they need to build a data-driven culture. A recent study by MIT Sloan Management Review and SAS ‘The Analytics Mandate’ concluded that an ‘analytics culture’ is the driving factor in achieving competitive advantage from data. David Kiron, executive editor for MIT Sloan Management Review, noted: ’We found that in companies with a strong analytics culture, decision-making norms include the use of analytics, even if the results challenge views held by senior management. This differentiates those companies from others, where often management experience overrides insights from data.’
We asked six analytics experts what they believe HR teams must do to adopt a data-driven culture, and best exploit the wealth of information they are collecting to solve some of their most pressing issues.
Robert Lanning, People Analytics, Insights, and Research Lead at Tesoro Corporation
Without a data-driven culture, you are throwing money away and wasting your team’s time. A data-driven culture is best achieved by partnering with the HR CoEs and HR Leadership (including the HR Business Partners) in the design/development and deployment of the analytics/insights/research function (including tools and policies). Having regular meetings with everyone and training on latest developments, new tools, and new ways to use existing tools are easy ways to begin to change the culture. Having one-on-one training and 'lunch-n-learn' sessions are helpful as well. Also, new hires coming into HR should have 'data-driven culture' assessed during interviews. I’ve even seen HR analytics pros who are part of the interview process for every new hire in HR, regardless of position. I’ve experienced a culture change – over 3 years from 20% data savvy-ness to 80% data savvy-ness – following the suggestions I’ve just provided – it works, but it can’t be driven just by the HR analytics team – it needs the 'real' support of HR leadership.
Michael Gethers, Data Scientist at Salesforce
Department-wide cooperation on data initiatives is usually required, and this often requires something of a culture shift if the department has not traditionally been data-driven. Unsurprisingly, this can be a real challenge, but in theory it shouldn’t be. Data is tremendously powerful, and when people start to recognize that and understand how it can help them personally, they hop on board pretty quickly. So the challenge simply lies in demonstrating exactly how data can make each function within the department more effective and more efficient. It almost always can, and if you are able to communicate that to key stakeholders, you can generate some real excitement for the potential of workforce analytics.
Soumya Bonantaya, Senior Workforce Planning Analyst at Ball Corporation
A data-driven culture is a must to be successful in this space. At Ball, our top leaders are heavily data driven and thus we have a great pull for some HR data. If we had to push this info up to a population that is not data driven then I can see it being a huge uphill battle. What we struggle with is some of the middle management who struggle to understand the value of data. It is almost as if they feel threatened by it.
David Gainsboro, People Data Analyst at Dropbox
For folks outside of Analytics and Engineering, data literacy is one of the hardest but most important skills. Increasing literacy needs to be both a bottom-up and a top-down effort. By top-down, I mean that leadership needs to be fully educated and needs to push for all business decisions to be made with the support of data, to both validate and challenge gut instincts. By bottom-up, I mean that the analytics teams need to offer training and access to data to those individuals who are already excited about data.
Faranak Raissi, Senior Director of Integrated Talent Management at Gap
I think it’s important to introduce a data-driven culture across the organization as it will help us better understand how we can best organize/manage talent to measure the business results we are trying to achieve and to track progress against those results. The key to getting this is: know what you are going to measure (e.g. KPI’s), do you currently have the tools/technology/processes to collect that data?, specify what/how the data will be used and how that data will inform business decisions, determine the frequency the data is needed to derive actionable insights, and package the data in such a way that it tells the story (taking into account the quantitative and qualitative aspects).
Martin Oest, Director of True Picture Europe & Former Head of Strategic Workforce Planning & HR Analytics Metropolitan Police
How important is it for the organization to survive? There is no end to the importance, it’s critical. If a data-driven culture is not currently embraced by an organization in its entirety, then I think it needs to be driven from the top. The board needs to demand robust, quantifiable evidence for the decisions they have to take. Similarly, those making the recommendations need to feel confident in the proposals they put forward. As W. Edwards Deming said ‘without data you’re just another person with an opinion’, and I for one couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked in enough businesses to know that often the availability, the comparability, and ‘cleanness’ of data can be an issue but I would urge professionals in this situation to just start – see the opportunities and start small if necessary and then improve – and it’s essential they begin to have a data driven culture across the organization. And if HR isn’t taking this seriously, there will be other departments that will take this space. HR, demand evidence based proposals.