Should we do people analytics without the "people function"?

People data and people analytics is at a cross-roads. Whilst many professions and functions are data-rich and are maximizing how they use data, new research coming in June from the CIPD seems to show that HR continues to miss the opportunities that people data presents to the function. And this isn’t just a problem for HR. In my view organisations in which data of all types is centralised, analysed and reported risk losing the unique perspective that data literate HR professionals may provide. The use of people data without the perspective of the “people function” is potentially harmful to employees.

Who is responsible for people data matters because if HR professionals aren’t the ones enabling and informing workforce related decisions (and enabling senior leaders by sharing their expertise) then the value HR is lost. This risks organisations making poor or even damaging work related decisions. So should HR take control of people analytics and make it a core part of its expertise, or should it cede control to centralized data-science functions and instead become a “learned customer” of analytics outputs? Which route is best for the profession?

In academia the emerging view seems to be that HR should maximize outsourcing from the function and create integrated data-sets, of people, finance, operation and customer data. Some leading organisations are combining data functions centrally, building cross-functional relationships through people and finance data, and even utilising AI and machine learning to automate people data reporting – and these are all expected to be steps in evolution of analytics practice. But many HR teams aren’t even off the starting blocks with their practice – there are still many barriers preventing practice from having an impact.

Some of the barriers above have been known for some time – CIPD research has shown that technology, skills and investment in analytics have all previously been highlighted as preventing progress in HR towards being data savvy. And now with high-profile data-related scandals, such as that of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, have highlighted to us all why debates on data and its use are critical. Facebook has shown some significant issues customers and consumers face, but what about employees? Are there hidden risks associated with the use of people data that HR has yet to face up to?

These issues are front of mind for many HR people today. How to enable HR to improve its people analytics practice is part of the agenda for our upcoming CIPD HR Analytics Conference and Workshop 2018 in London on the 5-6 of June. I’m really thrilled to be chairing a day of discussions which will touch on many issues that analytics in HR is facing, including those I mentioned above. Some of the big topics we will be touching on include:

  • How to build personal and team skills and capabilities for conducting basic to advanced analytics practice.
  • How to act as a strategic partner to the business by using people data and analytics
  • The ethics of using people data in a GDPR world; what HR needs to consider when using people data.
  • Using data to engage through storytelling: bringing data and analytics insights to live.

I’ll be joined at the conference by experts from across the analytics space, including Jonathan Ferrar and Luk Smeyers, as well as leading practitioners from HSBC, Unilever and Cap Gemini. It’s a great opportunity to debate what we need to do in HR to ensure we make the most of people data, and help our business colleagues to make the most of the data and insights the profession is generating.

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