Category Archives: HR Metrics

Why Data is HR’s Big Opportunity

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

Since the year dot, HR has been wondering why it’s not “on the board”. And when it is on the board, it wonders how it can stay there. Or how it got there in the first place. There are few occupations who navel-gaze so willingly.

The answer to all of these questions is summed up in four letters: data.

One thing that HR has always had is data. People data. The capabilities may not always have been there to amass and analyse that data, but it has always existed. Many organisations are now waking up to the potential held within their metrics, and are developing an understanding of how those metrics correlate with business success, or failure.

A simple example would be voluntary turnover of sales staff. How does this correlate with sales figures in the same period? It’s quite likely that if there was a high turnover, then sales figures would be low compared to periods where there was low turnover of staff.

A more complex example would involve taking engagement survey data and correlating that with departmental performance statistics. Deep-diving into engagement survey data gives insight into the various levers that HR can pull in order to better understand what is driving success (or failure).

For instance, a marketing team could be perceived to be underperforming. There will be marketing metrics to understand what is happening, but the people metrics are there to explain why it is happening. Engagement surveys can throw up problems with line management or remuneration, and this can correlate with absence and sickness statistics. Exit interviews / questionnaires, as Lisa Butler points out, can actually result in actionable data, so long as they are consistent.

As HR has moved increasingly towards a shared-service environment, it is easier than ever to centralise this more transactional data. HR’s big opportunity is owning and interpreting this data, reporting on it and saying “hey, I know why you’re not performing well here, and I can help you change it.”

I disagree with Phil Simon, who wrote in the Huffington Post about the “sad state of HR”. I don’t think HR is the “redheaded stepchild” of an organisation either (potentially offensive to both red-heads and stepchildren!) I especially don’t agree that HR are administrative, anachronistic behemoths who don’t understand how data works. I really, really don’t agree that HR departments make decisions based on gut instinct.

However, he’s right when he says that data is HR’s big opportunity. He’s partly right when he says that HR people don’t use data as well as they could. With the mass of data related to payroll, remuneration, productivity, performance, engagement and retention, HR can focus in on the influencing metrics that define business performance, and potentially offer predictive insight.

This data, which some call “big data”, gives what Talent Management’s Michael Custers calls a “multidimensional perspective”. I like this – because it involves the bringing together of all of these metrics, the analysis thereof, and the interpretation in a wider business context.

Harnessing this mass of data and putting it in a board-level context will not only put HR on the board, but it will give HR the opportunity to carve out influence, and prove its influence.

No more navel-gazing – more like excel-gazing.

To Inherit or Not to Inherit – That is the Question

I myself am a huge proponent of finding new ways to work smarter. In today’s world, we are continuously looking for ways to improve current processes, or to create new ways for work to be done with more efficiency and higher effectiveness.

When a process feels overly complex, repetitive, or redundant, it usually is- trust your HR instincts!  Processes like these are prime candidates for reinvention. Often when I ask someone the ‘why’ behind what they are doing, their answer is along the lines of “I’m not too sure, that’s how it was done before me”. These are what I like to refer to as ‘inherited processes’. When we first inherit a task, whether it is as a result of starting a new job or you are expanding your work responsibilities, we are much more analytical and curious about our work. Once we zoom in on our day to day work we stop questioning the why and focus more on the how and what, loosing that fresh perspective. Try your best to keep this viewpoint well after the honeymoon is over!

Tools can be created that are effective but not efficient, managing to measure or assist the process they were designed to help with but at a cost of time or money greater than the original process- that’s not a good tool! Perhaps the tool is overly complex, tedious, or is simply seen as a make-work activity. It’s like the old adages ‘It’s only a good deal if you need it’ referring to purchasing items on sale for the sake of getting a deal, or, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. These little sayings can be applied to many situations in life, including making processes at work better.

I’m sure we all have been the victim of inheriting a common problem that many small HR shops have: multiple spreadsheets to track very similar metrics- needing to update one sheet, taking that information and entering it into another sheet and so on… This process is common yet leaves ample room for human error, often feels repetitive and is easily solved. For example, the change or elimination of some of these redundant spreadsheets would save a world of time and error but nobody thought to change the process…it was inherited, learned and acted upon- no questions asked.

I challenge you to not shy away from an opportunity to revamp a process you inherited, or comment below and share an experience of your own. Try to look outside the box for alternative methods and to challenge the ‘why’ behind some of the processes you encounter that strike you as improvable. Remember, the fresh perspective you have when you enter a company fades quickly, and when we don’t ask questions or make suggestions right away we often loose these opportunities to improve. Don’t be afraid to think big picture even with the smallest of tasks; value your time and take in to account the opportunity cost not being as efficient and effective as you could!