• Can data help HR improve productivity?

  • 27 Mar 2014
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Experts share their views on how HR professionals can get closer to the numbers

People Management’s focus on productivity this month outlined the ways HR professionals can positively influence operational efficiency, from upskilling to reducing bureaucracy.

But the missing piece of the puzzle may be the most important: the ever-growing importance of metrics can help both HR and the colleagues it works with be more productive.

Data starts with basic absence figures and takes in timesheets and comments gathered from exit interviews, right up to the cutting edge work being done by social scientists who can use wearable technology to track health goals and identify stress flashpoints.

But getting hold of data is the easy part. It’s deciding what to do with it that’s more tricky.

Edward Houghton, CIPD human capital metrics and standards advisor, is studying how companies manage and use data as part of the Valuing Your Talent project. And he says: “There’s a real struggle to turn data into something that’s useful for the business.”

Many HR professionals, he says, haven’t previously been required to think analytically about metrics, and while perfectly numerate can find the idea of trying to make sense of statistics daunting. He suggests that collaborating with more analytically minded colleagues may be part of the solution.

“Other departments are doing data analysis really well,” he says. “Marketing, for example, regularly has to collect data on customers and performance on products and make use of it.” He advises HR to set up work shadowing or secondment schemes with other departments.

The data being collected also has to be appropriate for the task at hand.

“Most HR departments will try and derive insight based on what they have in whatever core HR system they’re using,” says Laurence Collins, director of HR & workforce analytics at Deloitte. “They need to start thinking in a more expansive way about data.”

The solution, he says, is to work backwards from the problem that needs solving. For example, in order to figure out how effective a training course is – an issue that both Deloitte and the CIPD see analytics frequently being used for – HR really needs to be thinking about collecting data that answers that question rather than trying to force an answer out of the data currently available.  

Even if the data does throw up a groundbreaking idea to make the workforce more productive, HR might still struggle to get other departments on board, Collins says, because a lot of findings made through analytics are counterintuitive.

“Quite often analytics will challenge decisions that were made intuitively by business leaders,” he says. “So you potentially get into a situation where you’re bringing into question somebody’s previous judgment. Doing that in a way that doesn’t create resentment requires skill.”

So what should HR professionals do to get better data? Houghton offers this advice: “Share your processes with the rest of the business and open it up for discussion. Be more critical of yourself in the way you handle data and learn from each other.”

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  • A great article that highlights two issues - the collection of data by HR and analysis.

    In my experience whilst I have seen data collected, I have rarely seen HR functions analyse the data. Ironically data from other people's research, or white papers is more readily taken on board and acted upon.

    The article really drives home that when it comes to creating a better performing culture, we need to focus internally and then act on the findings.