People analytics: How data can boost productivity and retention


As HR accelerates to keep up with multiple changes in and outside the workplace, what role can data analytics play in creating cultures that retain the best staff and foster productivity? Jonathan Ferrar from Alderbrooke Group explains.

HR is having to adapt and evolve rapidly. Economic factors, social change and technological advances mean that businesses are operating far more holistically than previously, posing major challenges for the HR profession.

One of the biggest issues facing businesses today is increased competition for skills. Many find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain the right talent at the right salary. Without the correct level of skills productivity and performance are at risk.

This new “war for talent” has been fuelled by several factors, including globalisation, automation, the growth of the gig economy and the increasingly ubiquitous nature of social media.

The ability to procure specialist skills at lower price points, and at the time and place needed, is one of the central challenges for businesses.

Remote working

With the workplace now vastly more connected than ever before and technology allowing people to work remotely but still collaboratively, employees have greater flexibility and more control over their working lives. But companies now face more of a challenge to find the right employees.

The development of artificial intelligence is challenging businesses too. This could see entire roles being automated and carried out at a speed and accuracy that humans cannot achieve.

Finally, the socio-economic changes taking place in the world further enhance the competition for skills.

It’s predicted that an expected one billion extra people will enter the workplace over the next 30 years, mainly from Africa and Asia. Geopolitical changes mean that businesses and governments are being challenged to a greater degree than ever before on everything from taxation to immigration, to privacy and protectionism.

HR leaders need to consider and react to the wide range of factors shaping the modern workforce, shifting their strategy to reflect these socio-economic trends and technological challenges.

How can data help?

Within this “new normal”, the amount of data and information that businesses have at their fingertips is exciting but daunting.

There is now access to much more data about people that can be used to help businesses compete for skills and expand into new markets, products and services. No longer is HR limited to just demographic details, work history, promotions and salary, for example.

Notwithstanding the need to maintain ethical and privacy standards, businesses can now extend their use of data to include social media, GPS positioning, apps, wearables, sensors, real estate monitoring and biodata to build a better picture of their workforce.

Employees’ expectations of their employer are greater than ever too. People want to have the same technological experience as an employee that they would receive as a consumer.

They want recommendations, for example, for training courses in micro-bite chunks on their mobile devices in the same way as they get information from retail outlets and their TV company on clothes, food and movies.

Employees want to receive the healthcare and benefits that are linked to their current lifestyle, and look to their companies to notify them when changes happen – again via their mobile devices.

By using data to address this, employers can communicate with staff in a bespoke fashion and ensure that they’re meeting employee needs, reaching everyone as an “employee of one”.

Their managers are also pushing for this insight. Managers want to know more about their teams, their performance, their targets, and employees’ strengths and weaknesses.

Recent research has shown that the global workforce analytics market is currently growing at 16% compound annual growth rate, and is expected to reach £1.9bn by 2025, according to Grand View Research.

The HR technology industry, by contrast, over the past few years is growing at 8% annually and expected to be $15bn in size in 2018 (IDC, Forrester; from Shea & Company 2015).

Taking the temperature on culture

With all these changes shaping the world of work it is no surprise that companies also want to manage their culture. Data and analytics can now also be used to measure and analyse the behaviours which underpin corporate culture.

This activity is supported by new powerful analytics technology that enables organisations to measure and quantify their corporate DNA, isolating behaviours that influence and support the delivery of planned targets.

This approach allows organisations to address a variety of issues such as how they manage risk, how they improve their performance, and increase their diversity and innovation.

One of the benefits of this is that, by developing a strong and healthy culture, organisations can both attract and retain employees – as well as create a talent pool that enables their strategic objectives to be achieved.

Although culture should be discussed regularly by boards and senior teams, it needs to be fostered and encouraged by staff at all levels. By doing this, organisations provide clear guidance to new and existing colleagues regarding appropriate ways to behave.

Businesses that use analytics and data to make their organisation a better place to work and more competitive will reap the rewards and retain the best staff, by creating a positive culture that improves performance across a range of metrics.

Jonathan Ferrar

About Jonathan Ferrar

Jonathan Ferrar is on the Board of Advisors at Alderbrooke Group. He is a respected consultant, speaker, author and business advisor in HR strategy, analytics and the future of work.
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