Demystifying People Analytics – Part 2: What skills and capabilities do you need?

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Last time, in the ‘Demystifying People Analytics’ series we looked at where the team should sit within the business. Now, let’s focus on the skills and capabilities you need to succeed with people analytics.

This is where it gets a bit tricky. The mix of skills required is extremely diverse and rarely found in one or even two people only. To exacerbate this situation even further, the majority of skills required do not typically reside within the auspices of the traditional HR function.

The skills and capabilities outlined here are based on research and interviews with organisations and practitioners who have achieved a high level of maturity in the people analytics space. They are, in some respects, a utopian ideal. Reality (and budget) will likely dictate a phased growth of the team rather than a ‘big bang’. Indeed, the option to of share resources with other analytics teams in the business and/or partner with an external service provider can accelerate capability.

So, in no particular order, these are the skills I believe you need:

  1. Strong leadership

Given the relative immaturity of people analytics in most organisations and common misconceptions amongst many CHROs as to what the discipline actually entails, the role of the leader is of paramount importance. It is likely that s/he will possess a number of the capabilities outlined here. Ideally they will have business as well as HR experience, be able to build organisational capability, manage stakeholders across the business and easily articulate the business outcomes derived from the work of the team.

  1. Business knowledge and acumen

The best people analytics teams help solve business rather than HR problems. This means understanding the business: the strategy, the customer proposition, the commercial and financial model etc. All of the successful teams I have encountered are composed of people with business and HR experience.

  1. HR domain expertise

Whilst many of the skills outlined here do not typically reside in HR, that doesn’t mean that HR domain knowledge is not required. HR expertise is key to understanding the requirements from the business and perhaps even more critically to help interpret and translate the results. This HR domain expertise should be combined with I/O psychology skills to further improve understanding and avoid challenges such as bias.

  1. Consulting skills

As outlined in the Smarter Workforce Institute white paper (see Reference Material below), consulting skills such as business problem definition, hypotheses, facilitation, problem solving and project management are an important part of the jigsaw. This will help ensure that the team works on the ‘right’ projects that are not only the ones important to the business but also that they are properly defined.

  1. Statistical analysis

Clearly to do good analytics your team needs to possess excellent statistical and analytical skills and be able to use a variety of tools and methodologies. It is a no-brainer. If you don’t have the right statistical capability, your work will be of poor quality.

  1. Data science and management

Poor data quality and governance will not a good people analytics journey make. The ability to clean, combine and understand data and a multitude of data sources is critical to being able to perform analytics. Moreover, having access to a data scientist with classic and advanced analytical skills will take your capability to the next level including the mastery of predictive analytics.

  1. Programming and database design

An additional capability that has helped the likes of Aviva and Cisco with their people analytics efforts is having programmers within the team that can design databases and integrate different sources of HR and business data. Naturally, these skills can also be ‘borrowed’ from the IT department or outsourced to an external partner.

  1. Visualisation

A picture paints a thousand words (or numbers in the case of analytics). Visualisation can help you present complex data in a way that is easy for your audience to understand and compel them to take action (see also Storytelling below). This skill is a core component of the most mature people analytics teams I have encountered. For example Walmart, which has a people analytics team of 70+, has defined the visualisation role as a ‘Data Artist’, which seems entirely apt.

  1. Storytelling

A skill often lacking in HR, storytelling skills are vital to compel a business leader to make a decision based on the insights derived from your analyses. If you don’t get the story right then no action will be taken and all your hard work will be a waste of time. Understanding your audience: what you want them to know, how you want them to feel and what action you want them to take may sound simple but it isn’t. Finding someone with excellent storytelling skills who can translate insights into a language that will resonate with the audience is a must-have cog of any successful people analytics team.

  1. Change management

People analytics does not finish with a decision from the business stakeholder to take action. Implementation and change management skills are required to execute the decision. Whilst others in HR or the wider organisation may do much of the work, it is vital that the people analytics team ensure the work is done and that the value is measured. Their reputation within the business and future investment in the team will likely depend on it.

Final thoughts

Some of the skills outlined may reside in one person e.g. a leader that has a business, consulting and HR background who is adept at telling stories. Certainly, when building your team you may decide to prioritise candidates that have multiple skills. That said try not to compromise too much. You can always partner with experts inside or external to the business. If any of these skills are not present then you will face challenges e.g. a lack of business acumen will likely mean you focus on the wrong projects, poor storytelling will likely lead to no action being taken etc. Finally, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Start small, be creative in terms of resource, demonstrate success and lobby for investment to grow your team.

Reference material

For more on building the right skills and capabilities within your team, please refer to the excellent resources below:


About the Author

David is part of the HR Tech World Blog Squad and is a respected influencer, writer and speaker on people analytics and the future of work. He was recognised as Best Writer at the 2015 HR Tech Writers’ Awards, and was awarded one of ten LinkedIn Power Profiles for HR in January 2016.  David’s role as Global Director, People Analytics Solutions at IBM enables him to help clients apply an analytical, insight led and business outcome focused approach to their talent strategies and people decisions. Connect with David on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter and read his blogs on LinkedIn, ERE and HRN.

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