'If HR Is Not Comfortable Talking Analytics, Adoption Becomes Very Slow'

Interview with Dave Sachs, Manager of Workforce Analytics at Johnson Controls


Dave is a Workforce Analytics and Strategy Manager at Johnson Controls. As the lead Data Scientist on the Workforce Analytics and Strategy COE, Dave owns creative control and is the architect behind the design, development and execution of all large-scale data models and sophisticated predictive modeling driving enterprise performance. CSV, SAS, SQL, ETL…there are few three letter abbreviations Dave is not an expert in. Prior to joining Johnson Controls 2 years ago, Dave was a consultant with Mercer for 10 year in the areas of workforce analytics, workforce planning, and actuarial consulting. In his role as Senior Associate in Mercer's Workforce Analytics and Planning COE, Dave used data and analytics to help many large, global companies improve bottom line results through a focus on human capital strategy and measurement, workforce planning, attraction and retention, talent management, pay equity and diversity analytics.

We sat down with him ahead of his presentation at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit, taking place in Chicago this November 29-30.

How did you first become interested in analytics, and how did you get started in your career?

I first became interested in analytics through my former and current manager Wendy Hirsch. I began my career in actuarial consulting and met Wendy who transitioned me into Workforce Analytics and Planning at Mercer. I was fortunate to learn under true pioneers in the field through my team and the Mercer Workforce Sciences institute. Starting in consulting really allowed me to see a variety of problems, solutions and cutting-edge approaches to business and HR issues.

How have you seen attitudes towards analytics in HR change? Do you think they have lagged behind other departments in terms of analytics adoption? If so, why, and what has been/needs to be done to rectify the situation?

I think overall the attitude has improved in the sense that the demand is there from the business. Business leaders want a clear understanding of how many people they have and where they are. While these questions are often in reference to cost implications, it is the collective job of HR to help our leaders see beyond the cost and look at the potential return on investment and how that aligns to the business strategy. The challenge, however, is that if HR is not comfortable talking analytics, adoption becomes very slow. A workforce analytics team must spend as much time consulting and educating HRBPs as they are the analytics ambassadors which will ultimately drive the demand for your team and function. The greater the partnership and coaching, the better you are long-term as the demand will grow for your services.

What advice would you give young people looking to get into the analytics field?

People looking to get into this field should be prepared to manipulate and work with non-standardized data. While earning your degree you often have the ability to work with relatively clean datasets and the focus of your classwork then becomes the analysis. In reality, however, the time spent manipulating data is very large in comparison to the analysis itself. I also think you cannot get hung up on data quality and perfection and must work towards incremental improvement as well as staying agile when it comes to delivery methods. Sometimes an advance technique will be needed and sometimes not.

What will you be discussing in your presentation?

Our presentation is focused on creating demand for workforce analytics. At Johnson Controls we’ve been successful in creating this demand by being agile and meeting our customer’s requests. It’s easy to get pulled down rabbit holes regarding data quality or analytical techniques, but above all else customers want you to answer the question they have. The example case we will drill-down into focuses on predicting hourly voluntary turnover within our manufacturing organization. By combining various analytical techniques, we were able to create a compelling data-driven story that urged leadership to action.

You can hear more from Dave, along with a host of other industry leading experts, at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation this November. View the full agenda here.

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