People analytics

How to get better people-analytics data and actually put it to use

HR data experts tell us how HR departments can improve their use of personnel data
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

Does the question “Can you run a quick report?” give you hives?

HR departments tend to amass large quantities of data about employees, yet, for many, implementing well-oiled data-driven processes remains frustratingly out of reach. The 2021 State of HR Analytics report, from the HR Research Institute and Oracle, found that only 44% of organizations are “good or very good at gathering people analytics” data and even fewer (29%) are “good or very good at making positive changes” based on that data.

HR Brew asked several experts about common barriers to effective data analysis—and how to solve them.

In a field that’s increasingly data-obsessed, why does HR struggle to analyze data?

  • Missed connections. Andi Britt, senior partner of talent and transformation at IBM Consulting, said data is often collected “sporadically, in varying formats into different HR technology systems,” which can create siloes. “Once a silo is created, it grows from there, and it’s increasingly difficult to break those siloes down.”
  • DTV (Define the variable). According to Jamaal Justice, managing director at Deloitte, and Alison DiFlorio, managing partner of the human capital division at consulting firm Exude, it’s near impossible to collect useful information if you’re not crystal clear about what you’re measuring. “At the most basic level, many organizations never set up data standards that defined common assumptions regarding primary measures, such as full-time employee (FTE),” Justice told HR Brew.

DiFlorio said setting up these systems “takes time” and warned against rushing: “Once a system is implemented, it is extremely difficult and time-consuming to go back and correct work rules. Dedicated time and resources on the front end of implementation is key to a successful system launch.”

What is something that seems simple to track in HR but is deceptively complex?

  • Employee skills. Britt called employee skills the “oxygen supply” of workforce planning but warns many skills have a half-life of as “little as three to five years.” Their short half-life makes accurate, timely tracking vital to talent management. Unfortunately, “tracking and measuring skills” is easier said than done. “Especially for behavioral skills like leadership and adaptability that may be defined differently across an organization and an industry,” Britt emphasized.
  • Turnover. Justice said it should be easy—count the employees walking out the door!—but gets hairy in the details. “You need to consider the seasonal nature of turnover that can affect both parts of the turnover equation,” Justice said. “[And] there are different ways to display turnover data. For example: Is rolling monthly turnover a more effective way of displaying turnover than looking at monthly year over year comparisons? Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong.”
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  • Who’s online. Even just figuring out who’s working (and where they’re working) can be a challenge. Maria Colacurcio, CEO of Syndio, a pay-equity technology firm, said that hybrid and remote work has complicated the task of monitoring hours. “Tracking who comes in and how often is a pain and not tracked unless hourly workers ‘punch a clock.’”

What should HR departments’ 2022 New Year’s resolutions be to collect, organize, and deploy data effectively?

  • Time to train. Justice recommended training all HR team members in the hard skills in order to build a “well-rounded team with the foundational skills to operate an effective analytics.” Training should include fundamentals in “data literacy, database and data visualization skills,” as well as “knowledge of statistical models.”
  • Jump on spring cleaning. DiFlorio said step one is to “create a data quality plan to clean up existing data.” She admitted that “this can seem like a daunting task.” Her recommendation is to break it up into pieces to make it more manageable. Once you identify issues, “establish a solid process for entering data moving forward” and “regularly review reports for accuracy” to keep the data squeaky clean.

Bottom line: Just start, Colacurcio says. Most organizations, according to Colacurcio, are “acutely aware of [their] data deficiencies.” She thinks that the worst mistake an HR team can make is to suffer from “analysis paralysis” where they wait for the data to be perfect before taking any steps forward.—SV

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Contact Susanna Vogel via the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram (@SusannaVogel) or simply email [email protected].

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.