Over the past year, the term “big data” has gone from something that most people had never heard of to a term that is being applied to almost every facet of business operations.
It is, we are told, a disruptive, revolutionary, transformative, “paradigm-breaking” tidal wave that will change the way we live, work and think.
So what is the potential impact of the “datafication” of human resources and workforce management? Delve into the HR departments of global giants such as Google, AstraZeneca, Procter & Gamble, HP, Intel and General Motors and you will find dedicated people-analytics teams hard at work.
Their first task is determining which data matters and can provide a competitive advantage to their company. The long-established HR metrics of the past, such as “time to fill” or “cost per hire” and simplistic turnover numbers are quickly becoming irrelevant and being replaced by metrics that matter to the CEO and the board.
The HR department is just as much in need of the insights that data analytics can bring as any other part of a business, which means careers in analysing HR data are on the up. That is not just true for recruitment, but organisational development, succession planning, workforce strategy productivity, customer service and even team profiling – matching managers with team members to maximise fit and performance.
The returns can be significant in terms of driving global hiring plans, long-term workforce strategy, getting the best out of organisational capacity and – crucially – in establishing HR’s credibility with the board.
For example, energy giant Shell recently carried out a pilot project with Knack, a Silicon Valley start-up that uses game-based tools and data analysis to improve talent analysis. It found that it was able to increase its success rate at identifying innovators from about 30% to almost 80%.
In 2014 and beyond, data and analytics will have a seismic impact on HR – and where multinational giants lead, smaller organisations will inevitably follow. That means that HR departments will be crying out for people with data analytics experience, while gaining this experience will be a real career accelerator.
Typically, the workforce analytics function comprises three different roles. The lead role requires someone with credible business experience who can help the organisation understand which data is most relevant to measure and can sell this concept to the rest of the business, including the senior management team. This is a non-technical role where an HR background is helpful, but not essential. Strong communication and leadership skills are the primary requirement. Salaries for this role tend to range from £150,000 to £250,000, so it is a senior-level role.
Then there are the people who can extract meaning from the numbers. This position can be filled from one of two sources. This could be a credible HR professional who is building their career portfolio with a future HR leadership role in mind, and it will probably be someone who has a compensation or rewards background and is familiar with statistics and their analysis. Alternatively, this could be someone with a commercial background and previous analytical or even actuarial experience who is gravitating toward working in HR.
Finally, there are the data scientists – the people who can analyse the data and crunch the numbers. They will come from a statistical/mathematical background and make extensive use of sophisticated IT and computer modelling.
Importantly, understanding data represents a prime opportunity for HR to demonstrate its ability to add strategic value to the business as a whole. It lends the function credibility based on data and commercial performance. While it is early days in terms of how exactly organisations can apply the insight gained from this data, we are currently seeing a significant demand from clients to recruit people to lead this function and our list of Hot Jobs for 2014 further reinforces that there will be recruitment growth in this area.