People Analytics –it’s a mug's game. Isn’t it?

By Sam Hill, a member of the CIPD's HR Analytics Advisory Group and Founder and Managing Consultant at Workforce Dimensions 
Connect with him on Twitter or via LinkedIn 

...Or how the People Analyst can learn much about Predictive Analytics from the discipline of a professional gambler.

I struck my first bet in April 1987 – Maori Venture to win the Grand National; I overheard someone mention it favoured heavy ground (mud, essentially) and, as there was rain in the air... to cut a long story short it won at handsome odds of 28/1.

I didn’t examine the ‘form’, I was essentially clueless - I just got lucky. If I didn’t know it at the time I did three months down the line, when I’d lost my winnings and a whole lot more besides. Gambling was ‘a mug’s game’. But it was fun while it lasted.

Further research revealed this not to be a universal truth. For sure most bookies win over time, and most ‘punters’ lose eventually – but there are winners too, predominately those who are disciplined in approach and seek value.

And here I’m suggesting parallels with quality People Analytics practitioners – disagree if you will, but it’s only a minority (less than 10%?) who consistently derive value from their endeavours.

So what are these parallels between a Professional Gambler and the Quality People Analytics Practitioner? Broadly they share three common characteristics:

They do their research

The Professional Gambler studies the form; results from past races, cross-referenced against handicaps, distance, effect of the draw; they have access to, understand and analyse any information that may contribute to the unearthing of a value bet.

The People Analyst gathers and scrutinises information relating to the workforce’s capability, behaviour and configuration, data from tradition HR sources and secondary data relating to workforce performance and attitudes; anything that may link the workforce to, and can be influenced to improve, business performance.

They cultivate and maintain relationships

The Professional Gambler will, as best they can, build a rapport with jockeys, trainers, stable staff, breeders and the press – anybody who can provide ‘inside information’ that may provide a steer in the direction of that informed punt.

The People Analyst will keep formal and informal channels of communication open with HR process owners, line managers, senior managers, HR Business Partners and potentially external stakeholders to measure the pulse of their organisation and to identify emerging workforce issues or opportunities.

They invest only where significant ROI is most likely

Once the Professional Gambler has shaped an informed opinion, available betting bank funds are considered, and these are invested proportionately against a combination of success probability and potential profit; there is awareness that a value bet doesn’t always equate to a winning bet, and therefore all eggs are not placed in a single basket, however there is an unshakable confidence that a succession of value bets will provide a return in the long run.

Once the People Analyst has considered both quantitative and qualitative inputs, a shortlist of potentially insightful investigations is drawn up and prioritised to ensure that available resources can be used in the most effective manner; there is an acceptance that a hypothesis may be proved ‘false’, but recognition that this outcome may also provide value.

In conclusion, resources are finite, invest only in analytical investigations that have the potential to provide value to business decision making.

Planning to simply dive into the data in the hope of coming up clutching insight? Well, that is a mug's game – have fun while it lasts.

View CIPD resources on People data and scientific evidence

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  • apologies - just left a comment without being signed in so it appeared anonymously

  • An excellent point of view, with which I would concur.

    On research, we are entering a period of social media data mining that is adding a richer more employee centric opinion to the mix.

    On cultivation their is another critical relationship to add to the pie and that's employee's themselves, who give you the real sentiment and mood of the organization and employment offer they have.

    On ROI, I couldn't agree more that the investment in time effort and systems needs to not only pay for itself,  but also provide insights that you can tangibly link to levers you can influence.

    As we interact with our workforces in an Omni-channel way, we open up the stable doors for more richer data to feed the habits. The trick to success will be to join real time radar happenings into insightful information and stay ahead of the other punters to maximize desired outcomes.