Analytics skills set the “new breed” of HR professional apart


Analytics skills are becoming increasingly essential for those wishing to get ahead in HR, says Anthony Carnell of Talent Gene.

Everybody is talking about HR analytics. The debate on data and analytics skills for HR will be as commonplace over the next decade as “HR getting a seat at the table” was in the last 10 years. Both debates are, of course, inextricably linked. Analytics skills are essential for HR professionals wishing to make an impact on their organisation.

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It comes down to a basic challenge; why should I, as an managing director or a CEO, give as much credibility to HR as I do to finance, operations, procurement, sales, and marketing?

Those functions are data led. They can provide me with numeric business cases, forecasts and scenarios. I know where I stand with them.

I know that they will deliver reliable, data-driven input on the likely outcomes for the different choices that I, as a business, can make. HR needs to be able to use data in the same way.

Analytics skills are what sets the new breed of HR professional apart. It is all about HR learning to speak the language of the business. And it is well placed to do this. Perhaps more than any other department, HR works at multiple levels within the organisation, dealing with a wide variety of topics and people.

The HR department is also in a good position to access and pull together people data. It is fine providing data and analysis, but you also need people skills to influence others with that data in a meaningful way. Fortunately, people skills are an area in which HR tends to excel.

This is where the opportunity lies for the new breed of HR professional. But this new breed may not be joining the profession through traditional routes.

Wake-up call

HR has been slow to wake up to data and analytics. We call ourselves human resources, but we still do not live up to the “resources” part of the name in a lot of businesses. Twenty years ago, I remember asking students at university milkrounds why they wanted to go into HR.

The overwhelming response was: “because I like people”. When I used to run career workshops and ask people to describe their achievements in numeric terms, HR attendees often said: “But you can’t measure what we do.” That element still exists in HR today, but is not so widespread.

There is a growing understanding of the importance of analytics and metrics in HR today. People are either interested in and “get” analytics, or realise that they need to do something with analytics.

The growing centrality of HR analytics is likely to result in two distinct trends emerging in HR careers and the composition of HR departments over the coming decade.

The first trend is the HR practitioner entering the profession or switching from another profession and naturally utilising their numeric or analytic skills. For very career-focused people from more “methodical” disciplines, HR is increasingly seen as an easy career target to make an impact.

The second trend is senior HR practitioners learning to include those with a natural pre-disposition to data in their teams and to spend some money on enabling and building analytics skillsets.

What does this mean for those already in HR? Analytics skills are not necessarily essential for the senior HR person of today, but senior HR professionals with an eye on the future would be well advised to build teams that strongly demonstrate analytics skills.

And if you are just starting out in HR and you want to progress, then developing and demonstrating metric and analytic skills are the most essential way to make an impact and get ahead, now and for the foreseeable future.

About Anthony Carnell

Anthony Carnell is a director at talent management solutions provider Talent Gene.
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