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CIPD HR analytics conference: how far are you along the analytics journey?

Published by Giles Slinger

Last week I had the pleasure of chairing the CIPD HR analytics conference. There were some great speakers, including Angela Brandist from GreenThumb, Mark McGuire from Baxter Healthcare, Juan Mateos-Garcia from NESTA, Mark Lawrence from IBM and the University of Leeds and Tom Marsden from Saberr.

HR is on a voyage of discovery when it comes to analytics, and in the last two years it feels like real progress is being made. In my opening remarks I outlined my perspective of 5 general steps along the ‘HR analytics journey’:

The HR analytics journey - OrgVue

Over the day, we heard many people emphasise the first three stages of this journey: starting with the intuition, building the hypothesis and then gathering the data to test it. Many organisations still have far to go, but several speakers encouraged starting small and ensuring above all that the analytics urge is based on a strong business interest in doing something with the end results. 

Out of all the takeaways from the event I thought I would share my favourite insights:

  1. The agile approach: Craig Scriven from Warwickshire County Council and Peter Frampton from UBS talked about practical implementations, using an Agile approach to building analytical toolkits; building from user interfaces quickly, testing, then going back to the underlying systems to ensure projects keep moving forward and blockers are constantly removed.
  2. Tackling data ownership: Who owns what data can be a contentious issue and a potential blocker. We heard about one case where ownership of data quality was transferred explicitly to business managers so they could correct data errors themselves and avoid the blame game with HR.
  3. Finance and HR as friends: Finance and HR data have a lot of overlaps. Neal Barnes of Tullow set out the benefits of his approach towards workforce planning; integrating finance and HR data to understand fully and accurately the organisation’s headcount and where the workforce is across multiple countries.
  4. Asking the question: HR professionals are becoming more inquisitive and bolder in their hypotheses. Michael Cowan brought an image of Lutheran transparency by pinning up publicly a list of 80 hypotheses that he wanted to test against the data. I wonder if we should all have such a list pinned up behind our desks!
  5. Play in harmony: I particularly enjoyed Placid Jover of Unilever’s analogy of wanting his team to ‘play the piano’ – covering all the notes on the keyboard from descriptive reporting, through analytical insight all the way to prediction and intervention.

However, despite many stories of insights from organisational data, it is clear that many still remain to be explored. In the morning session, a straw poll of the audience suggested that 75% had a view of the number of vacancies in their organisation or area, and perhaps 65% had a view of the average time to hire, only 5% or so said they had a view of their quality of hires. An exciting challenge to connect the dots – perhaps one to be reported on next year.

This is the challenge now for HR, to join the dots. And it isn’t too difficult. This data is already in the hands of HR professionals –the fascinating area of what I call ‘middle data.’ This exists between input data, such as staff demographics, pay and training and output data such as performance, absence and turnover. The ‘middle data’ informs about the journey from one to another. For example, the impact self-directed learning, teaching and communications systems.

It is this data and the connecting of that data within and across the organisation which I hope HR professionals will start to bring to life. This is how we will start being able to  see correlations between those who contribute to learning, those who use communications systems and those areas that show differences in performance. An exciting area to investigate for return on investment.

I look forward to hearing everyone’s analytics story develop and be put into practice at future CIPD learning events.