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People analytics is a game changer for HR and the future of work

Yvonne van Duuren

In this day and age of digital transformation, how we handle change is crucial. HR practices have evolved greatly over the last decades. Big data and analytics have become key elements for HR professionals in order to initiate the transformation of traditional HR practices. I think we can safely say that data is, to this century, not unlike what oil was to the previous one – a catalyst for growth and change. However, even if companies are rich in data, they are poor in information.

A recent study showed that 71% of organizations believe that human capital is the number-one success factor for them, but only 43% consider investment in people analytics as a priority. Since human capital is not in the focus of big data investments, organizations stay in the dark with people-related information. This is a big challenge for HR professionals, in various ways.

Do you, as HR professionals, know which job roles are most affected by automation? Do you know which technology trends are most relevant to your business? Probably not. These are typical questions about the future of work and you have to deal with them sooner rather than later. Workforce analytics plays a pivotal role in helping you understand and answer these questions. This will also help HR professionals, like you and me, to have an impact on the business rather than just being a facilitative discipline.

In my 25 years of experience across various areas in HR, I have realized that as HR professionals we are more focused on the internal organization. Our image is that of being reactive and old-fashioned, with too much of a wait-and-watch attitude. This has to change and we have already seen the transformation in HR with the introduction of the role of strategic HR Business Partner. However, it is still not ambitious enough and usually, it is just facilitating.

In one of my projects, we wanted to recruit 50 train traffic controllers every year. However, even after training them for six months, more than half of them failed at their job. To improve on this, we introduced a predictive analytics tool. The tool was used to analyze why so many of the candidates were unsuccessful in their jobs. We found out the critical characteristics of these candidates and then deployed other employees with required competencies. This helped us reduce the failure percentage by more than 40%. Apart from this, we were able to achieve a faster selection process and a qualified conclusion for another talent profile. It also helped us reduce cost and make the client happier.

In my current role as team lead for future of work/future of HR-related topics, I use a model that predicts the risk of augmentation and automation on jobs as well as defining the addition of new roles. I truly believe people analytics gives the opportunity to make an impact and support the business in a better way. Organizations are seeking to improve their performance and the best way to do this is through an analytical approach. So it’s essential to increase the analytical skills.

As an HR professional, I am pretty sure that you, my fellow HR colleagues, might also face the same questions as I did when I started out on this path of using workforce analytics. Here are few tips that might help you answer some of these questions:

Where to start?

The best way to start is to just start. Define a people-related business question, and just start dealing with it. Examples are numerous: how do we derive a better talent fit for our company? How can we turn our people-data into actionable information? How can we efficiently find, grow and keep talent? By framing these questions, you will be able to define a goal that you want to achieve by using analytics.

Do you have the right data?

No doubt, you already have all the data needed to start your analytics journey. Do remember that data is never perfect, but it is often better than what you think. Connect a few dots and increase your data quality. Learn from the results over time and keep improving your data.

Do we have the right skills?

You might not have the right skills available when you start your analytics journey. I suggest you borrow some analytical skills from other functions such as Finance/Marketing/Supply Chain. These functions have been using big data and analytics for some time now. They have used it to generate better insights, to be efficient resulting in a positive impact on the overall business. You can always learn from a good collaboration.

Furthermore, you have to become more familiar with the subject and transform to a more data-driven HR. The Power of People, by Nigel Guenole, Jonathan Ferrar, and Sheri Feinzig can help you find a better approach to people analytics.

We live in the era of digital transformations and we have to do things faster, quicker and better. As HR professionals it is crucial for us to make our workforce future proof. Businesses need to understand their workforce better and we can support that by using analytics. This way HR will be able to add real value to the business by answering the business questions quickly or proactively.