Bringing HR Analytics a Bit Closer to the Business

By Martin Jessen, VP, HR Strategic Customers and Segments, Schneider Electric

Martin Jessen, VP, HR Strategic Customers and Segments, Schneider Electric

I feel very optimistic about the HR function and get the impression that we have never been closer to become a function that professionally uses data and analytics to deliver insights, diagnostics, scenarios, and predictions to deliver real value to the businesses that we support. But, I also personally observe a gap in our ability to exploit the potential of the digitization of HR especially on the topic of analytics. We get lost in the maze of data (creating analysis that serves no purpose). We do not work effectively with other functions to shed light holistically on specific business problems. We misjudge that analytics are only as good as the decisions it tries to influence, and we often do not anticipate and sometimes ignore the complexity of execution of these decisions.

The analysts who are specializing in data and analytics and the HR folks who are facing the business, both the teams need to collaborate to make this work. The evolution of our function has been breathtaking. Just within the last few years, many of us have observed how many critical processes have become digitized from performance management, rewards, and learning to talent management. Moreover, other functions are often digitizing at an even faster pace than our function: finance, sales, customer relations, marketing, and offer management. All this produces enormous amounts of data. There are only very few themes where we are not able to access factual data of reasonable quality.

“The depth of understanding the business and how the workforce and talent impact the business dynamics drives the direction of the analytics and ensures relevance”

Then, observe the business leaders that we partner with. Not a week passes by where we are not receiving a CxO report that confirms that talent is a top priority, and without the right people, their companies will not deliver on their missions. There is a huge expectation out there that our function develops talent and HR solutions that are based on thoughtful analytics – because making people decisions based on intuition (rather than factual analytics) is a business risk that business leaders are no longer prepared to take.

But I think we are still stepping into some very basic but fundamental traps that hinder us from exploiting our capabilities. I would like to dig deeper into two common traps that I have observed:

Why is no one asking why?

Attrition analytics….I am so tired of attrition analytics. Many of today’s HR analytics departments appear to have been created just for this reason. But it is quite discouraging to see a representative from our function go to a business with the most fantastic attrition analytics (including predictive of course) and the business leader responds: ‘sorry but I don’t have much attrition and it doesn’t seem to be a problem for me….”. It gets worse when the HR representative then interrupts with: “… but see here when you do the following simulation….” Please stop! We are wasting time of our own efforts. Even worse, we are wasting time of our business leaders who carefully have to manage their time and efforts to concentrate their focus on developing and transforming their businesses.

Purpose is king—if there is no business problem, we have no problem to solve and no one will have the time or energy to listen to us. Analytics have to be aligned with urgent as well as anticipated business problems (and opportunities). Business acumen is absolutely the key. The depth of understanding the business and how the workforce and talent impact the business dynamics drives the direction of the analytics and ensures relevance. Not surprisingly, the HR business partner needs to play a key role here to ensure that only the most important business issues are detected and are subject to analysis and diagnosis. The HR analytics experts need to be agile and creative to respond to these issues and develop the appropriate analytics strategies.

Why are we not looking at data more holistically across functions?

CFOs, they intimidate me. It’s their analytical sharpness, often a bit introvert but also conformational. They have a tendency to let you feel their dominance on the art of juggling numbers, and who are we to have the indecency to occupy their space. In the eyes of our business leaders, numbers are the domain of finance—full stop. It’s nothing new, a close collaboration between HR and finance is crucial and I strongly encourage the HR analytics community to follow the example of HR business partners on building strong ties with the finance folks. The correlations between people and dollars are obvious. In my experience with workforce planning, I had some great interactions with finance, for example, to analyze productivity, anticipating workforce evolutions, and building business cases for strategic initiatives. Real decisions are made much more effectively with them in the boat. Recruitment plans, learning investments, any people investments that carry a dollar tag get a much smoother treatment when your friends from finance were part of the journey from the beginning. And this not only comes from the fact that they sit with the key to the safe but also because they are simply more experienced in the art of navigating and influencing decision making; there is so much we can learn from our dollar minded companions.

There are other stakeholders. Especially functions that have in their job description to anticipate the future are crucial in your attempts to articulate business needs, talent trends. Strategy experts, talent managers, and innovation champions are functions worth considering. They bring the injection of thought leadership and the anticipation for how the future could look like and even the future that your business wants to shape. These experts are capable of giving the right impulses to move up the ladder from sound analytics to thought-provoking insights.

To conclude, the collaboration between analysts and HR business partners is important. We need some deep empathy from both sides to understand each other’s opportunities and constraints. You will only be as successful as your ability to align with each other. I have seen examples on how talent and workforce analytics have shaped and influenced business strategy and business planning–that is a pretty cool feeling when the HR function is elevated to be perceived as equals around the table of business decision making. Let us conquer that space–our function deserves it!

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