Doom and Boom? 3 Reasons why Brexit Presents an Unmissable Opportunity for HR Analytics to Prove its Value to Organisations

By Mark T Lawrence, Founding Member of the CIPD's HR Analytics Group and Principal and Co-Founder of Growth Business Portal. Connect with him @MTLawrence or via LinkedIn.

The exit of the UK from the European Union is a topical subject. Far from a position of doom and gloom, amidst the uncertainty are presented hitherto inconceivable opportunities; such that HR, as a profession, cannot afford to ignore. This article is a 'call to arms' - to wage war on uncertainty using information and insight.

Uncertainty abounds

Immediate reactions to 'Brexit' found restrictions of spending and investment - this is rooted in confusion and anxiety concerning the future of the UK's relationships with European markets, and beyond.  And there are big questions to resolve:

  • In the UK, political parties on all sides are embedding new tiers of leadership;
  • Europe ponders what is taking so long, as it pushes for 'Hard Brexit';
  • China is consolidating ideological controls;
  • Japan embarks on a mission of economic diplomacy; and,
  • in the US, one of the most contentious and divisive Presidents is elected

Focusing in on the EU-UK relationship, primarily (as that which accounts for the majority of British exports), years-long negotiations are still to come, as the complexities of existing political and economic ties are unraveled. Meanwhile, short-term effects, such as tumbling currency strength, were swift and significant; causing the collapse of several companies that failed to hedge against such a possibility and difficulties for other more established organisations. The slower burning issue, however, will involve the retraction of government funding - both domestic, and from Europe - and the migration of jobs out of London and the risk to the manufacturing heartlands of the North and the Midlands.

However, despite such effects, we should not ignore the potential for benefit.  Although there was little objective evidence presented by either side, in the lead-up to the referendum, something clearly struck a chord with the majority of the electorate... Perhaps a golden period beckons for ‘Great Britain, Plc’…

The Luxury of Time

I do not seek to explore motive, here, but a majority of the U.K. voters opted to leave the EU; there must be something in it for these Brexiters - the promise of stronger border controls, perhaps, or the restoration of sovereignty over political decision-making... Or could it really be a belief in our ability to write a better economic future?

A recent survey by YouGov found strong confidence in British commerce and capabilities, whilst feelings of the strength of British talent (in areas such as Innovation, for example) are also evident in the media and the political arena. as evidenced by Google's recent commitment of £1bn to growing UK operations. Perhaps what is needed is 'faith' - enough time to allow the Best of British to carry us into a new era of success and strength.

Certainly, we can see that this will be a slow process; nothing much has changed overnight, which gives analysts time enough to innovate and gain sponsorship for their activities, to plan really impactful analyses and to gather the data needed to drive high-quality decisions.

The Triumph of Rationality

The problem with 'faith' is that it seldom goes (convincingly) hand-in-hand with science.  As Analysts, HR professionals must adopt a scientific approach to such studies - hypothesising, planning, testing and refining before presenting reasoned and logical findings. However, the job does not end there: analysis is worthless if it is not consumed, digested and acted upon. Analysts must also plan for the end-point, that objective which often eludes HR professionals: informed decision-making through data-driven insights.

Kahnemann & Tversky pointed to numerous examples of decisions being made as a result of experience, intuition or gut feeling, and consistently violating the rules of logic and reason. At an organisational level, corporate history and business literature, is littered with examples of organisations that have suffered as a result of poor, or rushed, decisions. What is needed in this world of half-truths and scaremongering is a tool for deciphering and sorting the myriad of information which tempts decision-makers towards their inherent biases and which, for the most part, is irrelevant for the decision at hand.

Enter our hero: Analytics

If uncertainty is the problem, the root cause is a lack of viable and meaningful data. If the required information is missing, then a hypothesis, business case and expectation of results is reduced to mere gut feeling.  However, increasingly, business leaders are getting used to having the information they need and we should expect this situation to reinforce the importance of having a data-driven approach.

It's not without its warnings: a recent MIT article raises the question of ethics and invisible human judgements coded into algorithms designed to make our lives easier.  However, in HR, as in many other disciplines, Analysts are increasingly required to think creatively, but to work methodically, through the issues and subjectivities thrown up by an uncertain brief...

Some of key questions business leaders should be considering, off the back of Brexit, include:

  • What are the people-related threats to our corporate strategy and how can we mitigate them?
  • How will we retain talent from overseas?
  • From where will we best attract new talent, for the longer-term?
  • What does our reward strategy look like for the coming 5 years? What can we afford now, and how can we plan for the future?
  • Will uncertainty in the economy impact employee performance, or absenteeism? What other indicators could point to a downturn in our staff engagement and happiness and how might we mitigate those?

Then, working methodically, an analyst will soon uncover the data required to quantify the risks around such decisions, more accurately.
So, when dramatic changes to a firm's people arise, there are three underlying principles that warn against acting hastily. Now is the time for HR Analytics to provide value:

  1. Uncertainty reigns over all else - however, opportunities to innovate and drive competitive advantage exist, even at the worst of times.
  2. Nothing will change quickly - time is on our side, there is a lot of political unraveling to do and, (at the time of writing), there is no timetable or plan published –use it wisely.
  3. Data-driven insights provide an opportunity to turn uncertainty into quantifiable risks, which in turn, will inform stronger decision-making.

This article is a summary of a blog post published in LinkedIn, the full version of which can be found here (link).

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.