Seven steps to getting started with people analytics

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The potential people analytics offers to help drive improvements in business outcomes, employee experience and the impact of the HR function itself is enormous. I’ve been working in the space for a number of years and I’ve sensed a real momentum shift in 2018 towards people analytics becoming an expected capability for organisations.

If your company hasn’t already started to develop their people analytics capability, don’t worry it’s still not too late. If you want to get the ball rolling here are seven practical steps you can take to help accelerate your progress.

Learn the business, focus on the business, answer the right questions

The first commandment of analytics is ‘thou shalt start with the business question’. Successful people analytics teams help solve business rather than HR challenges. This means understanding the business. What are the challenges keeping your CEO and board awake at night? Think sales productivity, product quality, customer retention and risk. This is where the company makes money and what determines its ultimate success – all have a significant people element to them. Learn the business and when you are ready to commence your analytics initiatives, focus your efforts on identifying the right strategic questions to answer with analytics and you can expect to flourish. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s an essential ingredient for people analytics.

Expand your mind: read, learn, network and grow

As well as improving your knowledge of your organisation and its challenges and strategy, you should also take advantage of the growing compendium of external resources on people analytics. Read some books (e.g. The Power of People, Data Driven HR and Adaptive Space), dive into an expanding repository of research, subscribe to some blogs like UNLEASH News (myHRfuture and Empirical HR to name two others), immerse yourself in some people analytics articles, take an online course, go to a conference and (when your organisation is ready) join a professional network to learn and co-create with your peers. Whilst I should urge caution on merely trying to imitate others, there is a wealth of information available that can inspire you, expand your knowledge and ultimately help accelerate your journey.

Get your CHRO involved

Without executive involvement, your analytics adventure may be condemned to a life of obscurity. Get your CHRO excited and get them involved. S/he should have a good understanding of the key business challenges, the influence to provide access to the right stakeholders in the business and, crucially, that the powerful insights provided through analytics are implemented. With people analytics increasingly being regarded as table stakes, any CHRO worth their salt shouldn’t take much persuasion to get on board. Their career may depend upon it!

Focus on a quick win

Don’t be too ambitious too soon. Start small and focus on some quick wins. This doesn’t mean you cannot have a big impact — you can, especially if you identify a business problem where you can make an immediate difference while also delivering longer-term productivity gains and cost and/or time savings. Securing a quick win and having an impact not only helps build momentum for people analytics within your company but also increases your chances of securing a bigger budget over time.

Don’t obsess about the data

So now we’ve established that you start with the business challenge rather than the data, but what about the purity of the data? This is where many analytics initiatives get bogged down. You certainly need to be able to trust your data — you may be challenged on it — and of course it needs to be specific to the business problem you are trying to address, but don’t obsess that it has to be perfect. Data collection, preparation, and hygiene will inevitably be the most arduous part of the process, but in itself it has no value, and don’t be afraid to ask for help…

Remember that analytics is a team sport

Make friends with analytics practitioners in Finance, Marketing and IT. Their experience in obtaining, cleaning and analysing data will be invaluable in giving you a head start. Moreover, if you want to solve business problems, you will need access to more than just HR data. This Case Study demonstrates how by combining recruiting data with customer data, Virgin Media was able to identify the extent to which a a poor candidate experience was affecting customer loyalty and revenue. So, don’t be shy and get out of the HR bubble!

Encourage your HR buddies to brush up on their skills

The HR function is changing and the skills that HR professionals require are evolving accordingly. Whilst the emergence of people analytics does not mean that every HR professional needs to develop the skills of a data scientist or statistician, it does mean that they need to be data literate and able to communicate the insights of analytics projects to the business. As such, HR professionals should look to regularly augment their skills by adopting a mindset of continuous learning. There are a growing number of courses available on people analytics. One example is “An Introduction to People Analytics”, which I developed together with Jonathan Ferrar and was launched in August. Click here to find out more and to use my code DG25 for a 25% discount.

See the latest developments in people analytics in Amsterdam on 23-24 October…

Another way to gain external inspiration is to go to a conference. The Smart Data breakout at UNLEASH is perfect for this and speakers at next week’s conference in Amsterdam include practitioners such as Oliver Kasper (Swarovski), Amit Mohindra (formerly of Apple) Arne-Christian van der Tang (TomTom), Carsten Bertling (Henkel), Rodolphe Guerin (ABB), Florian Schubert (Talanx) and Stefan Heeke (Deutsche Bahn) all providing insights on the analytics journeys at their organisations. When you add opening keynote speaker Josh Bersin and the numerous people analytics technology vendors that will be exhibiting in Amsterdam, UNLEASH offers an enticing prospect to HR practitioners looking to develop their people analytics capabilities.

Start today

People analytics is central to the future of HR. If you haven’t already started to develop this capability within your organisation, why not start today? Be bold, be curious and be prepared for the occasional failure, but stay the course and expect to reap the benefits – for the business, for employees and for the HR function itself.

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