Scotland the Blog: Analytics, Hidden Figures and getting hard numbers on fair work

CIPD Scotland hosted an HRD event on people analytics in Glasgow this week. A panel discussion brought together Ed Houghton, Acting Head of Research and Thought Leadership at the CIPD; John Stewart, HR Director at SSE, and Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD who positioned people analytics as a priority area for professional development and skills. The audience was made up of HR leaders and senior specialists in analytics as well as key individuals from Scotland’s business and professional bodies, from a wide variety of experience who took the discussion forward.

Peter got off to a flying start by talking about the challenges we face in a shifting world of work. He put it starkly ‘if we can show the value of what we do and fulfil the rising need for better people management and answer the calls from government at all levels to transform the world of work; we will be indispensable. If we cannot our relevance will rightly be questioned.’ He also discussed the lack of a common approach on very basic people measures such as headcount and drew on his extensive consultancy career with this insight ‘HR teams who don’t get the numbers get side-lined’. He explained that as the workplace gets more digital on everything from people’s health habits to how much time they spend on collaboration, we needed to get savvier on people analysis skills. Without this, the world of work could get worse. This was a nice segue into Ed Houghton’s contribution.

Ed leads the CIPD’s global research on analytics capability. The latest people analytics survey of nearly 4000 HR and business professionals gives critical insights into the current state and future challenges around analytics.

He explained how strong analytics cultures build powerful business performance as 65% of organisations with a strong culture in this regard delivered in terms of business performance compared to 33% who reported weak analytics culture. Strong cultures are those where managers seek out evidence, look at the data and share that data widely and willingly. Although, in HR three quarters were using analytics to tackle issues like talent and workforce planning only two fifths of our principal business partners on people analytics finance, were accessing that data.

Ed continued to explain that only around a third of other business professionals thought HR have the numerical and statistical skills and were experts at using people data compared to over half of HR, who thought they have these skills - so a big perceptions gap there. Furthermore in the critical area of data security less than two thirds of HR professionals thought it was adequately protected.

So Ed’s evidence based wakeup call left us all feeling a bit daunted but the capability in the room saw that challenge as an opportunity. We all wanted to know what good looked like and SSE’s John Stewart shared (pardon the pun) the utility of driving sustainability by numbers. John explained within the market context of SSE as a regulated energy provider, it needs to work with communities, to serve customers in a regulated commodity pricing environment, to deliver value to shareholders and to be environmentally sustainable. This people, planet, profit perspective means SSE needs a credible long term vision. That vision is driven by sophisticated but manageable people metrics. John explained how he persuades the board to invest in people initiatives like apprenticeship, training for new technology and building diversity by showing the return on inclusion in monetary value. This demonstration of strategic value of people investment is a keystone of how SSE operates.

In the interactive session we found our audience understood the analytics proposition. Indeed, one HRD pointed out that he had been attending events on analytics for the last 15 years and wondered what was stopping us. He also said he couldn’t wait for HR people to get skilled up and he had to use people from other areas. A further question around how smaller businesses could drive this approach was raised followed by one senior leader from banking and finance suggesting that we had a problem with perfectionism, with too much data being held in silos and not being too sure about the capabilities that are actually needed. This event and indeed this blog won’t of course address all of those issues but the CIPD is determined that we will make analytics a central part of our practice.

A thought was raised that we can monitor the numbers that matter when it comes to the living wage, gender pay gap, apprentice levy or the next government regulation. Indeed as Ed pointed out in ground breaking research with University of Ulster, the CIPD analysed the statements in company accounts to see what was being reported. Too much people data reporting on compliance and risks were often not addressed.

Finally Ed also stated that for Scotland’s to build Fair Work we need to measure it effectively. The CIPD has some current thinking which can help which we will share in a future blog.

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