Five people analytics strategy essentials for 2017

Joanathan Ferrar at the People Analytics Forum, London, November 2016
Photo: Tucana

With data and analytics moving up the HR agenda for 2017, Michael Carty identifies five essential principles for an effective people analytics strategy.

“Analytics is no longer a ‘good idea’ for HR – it is now mandatory.” This is according to people analytics expert Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, in his predictions for HR in 2017. “I believe in 2017 we will see analytics move from a niche group in HR to an important operational business function.”

Having an effective people analytics capability is critical for high-performing HR teams as the modern workplace becomes increasingly digital, argues Bersin. “I believe in 2017 we will see analytics move from a niche group in HR to an important operational business function.”

Bersin identifies the minimum requirements for HR to flourish in 2017: “Effective digital HR means you have good data; you have an analytics team; your systems are integrated and cleaned up; and you can find accurate information quickly.

“Without this data ‘platform’, you will likely fall behind the rest of the business and decisions may be made too slowly.”

HR departments looking to develop a people analytics strategy in 2017 need to consider these five key principles.


1. Be clear on what people analytics is

A clear understanding of what people analytics is and what it can achieve is critical. Speaking at the  Tucana People Analytics Forum towards the end of last year, Madhura Chakrabarti – people analytics research leader at Bersin by Deloitte – offers a definition: “People analytics is the discovery, interpretation, and communication of meaningful patterns in data to drive high-quality people-related business decisions.”

It’s not all about data and data tools, but insight. It’s all about interpreting the data ” – Jim Matthewman

People analytics can have a significant impact on organisational performance, in turn helping build the strategic impact of HR. Organisations with advanced people analytics capabilities “produce output that is 5% to 6% higher on average” than their competitors, according to Bersin by Deloitte research quoted by Chakrabarti.


2. Put people analytics at the centre of what HR does

HR should work to “make people analytics the ‘new normal’,” says Chakrabarti. The most effective way to put people analytics at the centre of what HR does is to “have a vision and mission statement,” she says.

“Make sure everyone knows it by heart. Particularly everyone in HR.” She provides an example people analytics mission statement: “To support the company’s business strategies with better, faster workforce decisions informed by data.”


3. Ensure everyone in HR has people analytics skills

“Every role in HR should have people with analytics skills,” says Chakrabarti. This can be achieved through upskilling or hiring in new HR team members with specialist people analytics skills.

HR business partners (HRBPs) can play a key role in driving the success of people analytics, she believes. HR departments should concentrate on hiring “data-native” HRBPs – “a high-level, ‘trusted counsel’ role with a direct reporting relationship to senior executives in the lines of business.”

The skillset for these roles should include advanced capabilities in “consulting agility” – which she defines as “data analysis skills and the ability to align HR solutions with business imperatives.”

“HR needs consulting skills,” agrees Jim Matthewman, consultant, at JMA-HCA, also speaking at the Tucana conference. Investing in team members who can work with and interpret data offers HR greater returns than buying in expensive analytics software or systems.

“It’s not all about data and data tools, but insight,” he says. “It’s all about interpreting the data.” It is also essential that HR acts quickly to take the lead on people analytics, he continues. “If HR doesn’t push out data, other functions will.”


4. Be clear on the people analytics message

For people analytics activity to have a positive impact on the organisation, HR must be able to communicate its results clearly and with confidence. Storytelling is therefore a critical skill for effective people analytics, consultant Jonathan Ferrar told delegates at the Tucana conference.

He offers three key principles for communicating the people analytics message: “Educate, don’t fabricate. Enlighten, don’t overwhelm. Convince, don’t confuse.” It is essential that HR pitches its message correctly for its target audience, Ferrar says. “Keep in mind the expertise of the audience when communicating. Don’t confuse them by putting in too many things.”


5. Put people at the centre of people analytics

HR must always remember that people analytics data and the decisions it drives are all related to human beings: “Do not forget the ‘people’ in people analytics”, says Chakrabarti.

Ferrar takes up this theme, arguing that HR can use people analytics data to help employees. For example, people analytics offers HR the opportunity to boost productivity by taking a proactive approach to supporting employee health and wellbeing.

In the future, HR might be able to use data on employee health to “push notifications to people (in advance) about the health and wellness benefits that meet both their needs and the needs of the organisation.”

Bersin believes that a holistic focus on “‘human performance’ and wellbeing will become a critical part of HR” in 2017 and beyond. People analytics will play a central role in this.

“The strategy for 2017 is to move HR from the ‘personnel department’ to a new role as the ‘consultant in human performance,” adds Bersin. “One of HR’s biggest opportunities in 2017 is to get away from designing more programmes to focusing on making work-life better.”

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