'A Data-Driven Culture Is A Must To Be Successful In This Space'

Interview with Soumya Bonantaya, Senior Workforce Planning Analyst at Ball Corporation


HR departments have a reputation as laggards when it comes to implementing new technologies, and data analytics is no exception. This is a reputation that has been earned. In PwC US’s latest Annual HR Technology Survey, 52% of respondents said they do not have a dedicated HR Analytics team, while just 40% of US organizations said they have an HR analytics strategy in place. However, there is a significant amount of work being done to change the situation and data is increasingly put at the heart of HR’s decision making.

The reasons that HR departments fall behind are complex. Many cite simply a lack of analytical capability among HR staffers. According to a Pulse survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, HR departments often lack the analytics skills necessary to convert the data into anything useful. Josh Bersin, president and CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based consultancy Bersin and Associates, agrees, noting that ‘HR teams are not very analytical in their thinking yet. That is holding them back from doing more data-driven decision making.’

These skills come from training and understanding. This has not been there in the past for two reasons. Firstly, a lack of respect from senior management, who do not see HR as ‘numbers people’ and do not understand how they could use it. Secondly, there is a reliance on gut instinct within the function that is hard to shake, whether this is because HR professionals do not think it will work, or because they fear that they will be out of the job if it does. Gustavo Canton, Senior Director of Research at Walmart, for one, has noted that this is changing though, telling us, ‘Based on my interactions in conferences or meetings with other analytics experts and colleagues in the industry, it appears that more and more organizations are starting their journey or investing more in HR Analytics.’

HR must be able to show credible data to evidence productivity, engagement, and performance if they want to become more proactive and make better-informed decisions. Building a team that can do it is not easy, though. It often means forcibly changing mindsets formed by years of experience. At the upcoming HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit, Soumya Bonantaya, Senior Workforce Planning Analyst at Ball Corporation, will discuss how she managed to successfully achieve it. She will run through the things that need to be done, what pitfalls you need to watch out for, and how to bring others to get as excited or ambitious you are about analytics.

You can hear the full presentation from Soumya at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit, which takes place this June 19-20 in San Francisco.

How did you get started in your career and what first sparked your interest in analytics?

I did my MBA in HR in India and then my MS in HR Analytics and Strategic Planning in CU Denver. I took this path only because I was so tired of hearing people back in India say ‘Oh, that’s HR talk’ or ‘That’s all Fluff’. These kind of comments made me want to prove some of our HR concepts, theories, and practices with numbers. Basically, I wanted facts to support my decisions or people related recommendations that were being made in an organization.

Do you feel HR is behind other departments when it comes to implementing data initiatives? If so, why do you feel this is the case and what can HR leaders do to rectify the situation?

I do think in HR we are a little behind in implementing data initiatives.

The reasons I experience are:

1. We feel like we need to protect our data so much that we are not comfortable sharing it widely

2. It’s hard for our customers to not personalize the information that the HR data is providing

How important is it to introduce a data-driven culture across the organization? How is it best achieved?

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.

You can hear more from Soumya, along with other leading experts in the field from the likes of Facebook, Airbnb, and Chevron, at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit. View the full agenda here.

BONUS CONTENT: Tiffany Morris, VP, Talent Management & HR Business Partner, Sears Holdings discusses data-driven talent management at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit in Chicago in November 2016

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