Analytics can help HR achieve real strategic influence. But what are the essentials for success? Michael Carty reports from last week’s CIPD HR analytics conference in London.
“Numbers are your seat at the table,” declares Jeff Nelson, group HR director at Aviva, describing the central importance of HR analytics to delegates at the conference.
HR has made great advances in HR analytics success over the past 12 months, according to conference chair Dr Giles Slinger of OrgVue, and HR professionals are now achieving a level of capability and influence that is having a real impact on organisations.
The conference presented insights from HR professionals at all stages of the HR analytics journey, from beginners to advanced users.
Find one source of truth
“Identifying ‘one source of truth’ and communicating it to the organisation is the foundation of all HR analytics projects,” says Ian Bailie, global head of talent acquisition operations at Cisco.
HR analytics cannot be effective without an agreed definition of the data the organisation needs. For example, many organisations face disagreements between internal departments on how to measure headcount.
HR can take the lead on analytics by creating consensus on what is to be measured and how best to measure it. It must then take ownership of compiling the relevant data and reporting it consistently.
“Your finance counterparts don’t change their measures every month,” says Nelson. “You should be talking about HR in the same way. Set clear measures about the quality of data from the get-go. Keep looking at the same measures throughout the year.”
Remember data is more important than tech
HR analytics success does not require investment in costly specialist software packages. The basic tools for measuring, monitoring and reporting on HR analytics are already at the fingertips of most HR professionals. Nelson puts it succinctly: “Excel is your friend.”
XpertHR guidance on Excel for HR
“HR analytics success is mainly about data, not tech,” says Bailie. In common with many organisations featured at the conference, Cisco started its HR analytics journey with a humble Excel spreadsheet.
“The first stage of our HR analytics journey was very manual,” he says. “We used Excel functions such as VLOOKUPs and merging to interrogate the data. We also used Excel and Tableau for basic data visualisation.”
“You don’t have to invest in a great deal of software integration,” says Aggy Dhillon, head of people insight at Virgin Media. “We did a lot through Excel.” Her team achieved a quick win for its HR analytics activities by tackling high absence rates.
Excel analysis of organisational data revealed that absence was highest in business units where line managers were not aware of company absence policies. To tackle this, HR nominated absence champions in each department, tasked with ensuring that absence policies were understood and acted on.
This initiative drove a 50% reduction in absence rates across the targeted business units. Following this, HR analytics is rapidly moving up the agenda at Virgin Media – for instance, it will play a key role in meeting the resourcing challenges arising from the company’s plans to double its customer base over the next decade.
Build strategic internal alliances
HR analytics success “is impossible without executive leadership buy-in,” says Nelson. “It is essential to build strategic internal alliances and for HR to be effective in speaking the language of the business.”
Dhillon agrees. “You can do a lot with HR analytics with a lean number of people in a large organisation,” she says. “But with three people in the HR insight team we can’t do everything. So we formed strategic alliances with finance and other departments to push our objectives through.”
HR analytics careers
Make analytics part of the HR skillset
“Analytics is now part of the job description” for all new hires to Virgin Media’s HR department, says Dhillon.
Virgin Media has also introduced a two-stage HR analytics training programme to upskill the 100-strong HR team. The first stage comprises case studies on the business benefits of HR analytics. The second stage is a technical course, covering understanding and creating graphs, data visualisation and how to make effective presentations.
Be passionate about HR analytics
Using data to create, communicate and “land” a compelling message is vital to HR analytics success.
At its most effective, it creates a virtuous circle. “Internal word of mouth drives other departments to ask for analytics data,” says Bailie. HR analytics have been so successful in Cisco’s talent operations that Bailie’s team is now creating self-service talent tools for the its recruiters.
Finally, it pays to be passionate about the data and the value it can bring to your organisation, concludes Helen Parkinson, HR business partner at Arriva, “otherwise you won’t be able to get anyone else excited about it”.