How Walmart Is Pushing People Analytics Forward

The retail giant makes good use of emerging software


The importance of human capital is clear. In fact, it may be one of the key differentiators for corporate success; if a company is even with its competitors in every other area, it’s human capital that will make the difference. Very few companies underestimate its importance, yet it remains an area of business that is difficult to quantify. People analytics could have answer, bringing together human and business data from across a company to build a picture of its employees.

According to Deloitte, 77% of all organizations consider people analytics to be a priority, and after a relatively slow adoption it seems that the HR industry is ready to kick up its analytics efforts. There is, however, a lot of confusion around what HR analytics (or people analytics) actually means. Since analytics exploded in business, data on employees has been collected, but very few companies have really found how best to exploit it.

One company leading the way is Walmart. The retail giant has used various analytics presentation and data visualization tools since it started taking people analytics seriously, and its recent deal with Workday adds another potentially game changing piece of software to its already powerful arsenal. The products are essentially about making Walmart’s immense data set digestible and giving it a narrative, empowering front-line managers to make properly informed decisions regarding their staff.

Walmart’s current Senior Manager of Global People Analytics, Adrian Goh, described Tableau as a tool with which the company can present a ‘data story’ rather than a ‘data sheet’. What this means practically is that the visualization platform is such that the data can be taken to a problem, tweaked, and presented in such a way that is far more easily received. For Goh, it’s the speed with which his team can pull out new visualizations that amazes leadership the most. Being able to answer queries quickly helped with boardroom buy-in, and made the whole process of using data in decision making smoother.

Elpida Ormanidou, Walmart’s former President of Global People Analytics, spent three years putting together a more than 60-strong team of HR analytics professionals for the commerce giant. She said: ’Now that we’ve learned how to put together a good analytics team for HR, how do we now strip out the analytics capability portion and go and start teaching it to our 65,000 managers in the US or maybe the 2.2 million associates across the globe? They don’t have to be technical experts. But if we can get our workforce to actually, based on these principles, be able to consume analytics information faster than their competitors, then we believe that’s something that will move us to the future.’

Walmart has experienced something of a skills shortage in its data efforts so far, given the sheer size of the enterprise and the number of its employees it would ideally have data literate. The company hopes that more accessible visualization tools will go some way to plugging that gap. The deal with Workday is another step in the right direction as Walmart looks to embed data use further into its processes. Ormanidou said in 2015: ‘One of our strategic priorities [set by our CEO] is bringing digital and physical together. We believe the way to do this from an HR perspective is to actually get people very comfortable with how to use quantitative information. So that’s the next part of our journey.’ With its arsenal of data visualization software, Walmart looks set to reach that goal.

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