4 ways to conquer HR’s fear of the living data

thinkMuch as ‘it’s Friday, it’s 5 to 5 would bring a certain joyous warmth to the HR soul, the words ‘it’s Monday and it’s an all day board meeting’ would have the complete opposite effect. For too long the poor HRD has been forcing herself to smear the rancid guts of the incomplete reporting innards of the enterprise HRIS on offer as a weekly facepaint ritual. That system, implemented without anything nearing the self-service savings it offered, the artisans and shysters across the ‘business’ continued to disregard the ‘change’ as the voice of the customer component remained badly executed during implementation. So at best, slide decks of incomplete ‘dead data’, the whole insight thing was at best an endurance and at worst a weekly embarrassment played at the end of each corporate meeting. It set the unspoken tone for how HR continued to look irrelevant at the board table, stormtroopers of transactional delivery or purveyors of bust and boom consequences from a CEO reacting to the vagaries of the VUCA world.

As we look forward to the ‘what could come to pass’ opportunity in HR data analytics – all whizzing technology, new skillsets and inquisitive mindsets, for many we stand paralyzed by years of the picture above cementing the HR department’s place in the modern organization.

“We (HR) are heavily conflicted through a combination of our legacy DNA, unconscious bias within the business and our own siloed insularity. Breaking out of this pre-determined organisational existence is our biggest single professional challenge”

I recently saw IBM articulate the 4 barriers to entry for HR as a lack of Capability (soft skills legacy versus a need for hard analytical and technical ones), Clarity (a lack of real impactful questions and relevance to the business), Complexity (various sources of truth, dirty data and poor legancy HRIS systems) and Culture (Heritage as the last gut-based function, Ulrich’s organisational design isolating data analytics).

Unhelpfully or otherwise, amongst this existential funk we do very well, the man who replaced Dave Ulrich as the profession’s new poster boy predicted last year that :

“2016 is the year that HR becomes digital” – Josh Bersin

But according to the pointy heads at the CIPD :

“whilst 78% of organisations see analytics as essential technology, only 4% believe they currently have the capability”.

For every uninspiring HR leader who fears change as it threatens their prevailing concierge service there is a pathway for the more enlightened that could be summarised as follows :

  1. It is well to remember that the data analytics story is a continuum and is best tackled methodically in this manner understanding that as pointed out earlier the reporting of ins and outs is not the endgame.

bersin maturity

  1. Beware the fallacy of creating fancy endless reporting dashboards. It’s a HR indulgence that doesn’t reflect progress and is often a means of drowning the business in irrelevant graphics in the hope that it ‘looks’ cool. There are plenty of HR Analytics graves peppered with that choke point between reporting and analytics.
  1. Beyond a purge on dirty data, a true starting point for your redeeming HR rebirth lies in crafting the right business-centric questions. No longer is ‘how many people are on maternity leave’ sufficient but as a function we must move from boring the business to death and instead go after those questions that make the CEO purr like a wolverine as a consequence.

The accuracy of the data, the quality of the analytics, the figures you come up with — everything is irrelevant if you’re not asking the right questions” Cornerstone, 2016

4. With the endorsement of a question that is going to tickle the CEO’s underbelly, then the growth mindset within the Data Analytics journey is tantamount to that of building an internal consultancy and scaling accordingly :

  • Start modestly and pick some low-hanging business questions to go after.
  • Insource some much needed new HR capability (plugging the gap on data management, excellence with numbers and statistics, creating visualisations and understanding the business). In the first instance this tends to be about hustling for resources within Finance or if you are a big Financial Services outfit, then within the bowels of the introverted Reward team lies a great place to go.
  • Look at the technology market for investing in self-service data analytics tools (usually after proof of concept has been established within the business and investment might be available) as a SAAS cloud solution without having to break the bank.
  • Storytelling and data visualisation make or breaks that touch point with the business as everything the new and improved HR department goes after is perfectly narrated and actionable. Repeat, market successes and scale resources accordingly perhaps reaching a stage where the HR Analytics team is either joined at the hip with the customer, marketing and other analytics teams but at the very least defines the ongoing service that historic functions could only dream of.

There is a real opportunity and that 4% figure for adoption is pretty pitiful despite the upside of more bums on seats at the People Analytics conferences in 2016. If HR doesn’t grasp the nettle then another part of our organisation – such as Finance or Marketing – will.

Until next time. Get your ass in gear HR.

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