Many organisations are still swimming in the slow lane when it comes to workforce analytics – but it needn’t be a struggle, says Olly Britnell

While commentary on the rise of workforce analytics is in abundance, there is still very little discussion on the practical approaches HR can take to make a real impact.

People data and workforce costs often drive and influence key business decisions, and analytics can be the conduit to unlocking this treasure chest of competitive advantage. But for me this ‘super trend’ is still very much evolving – at best – in most organisations, with many HR functions still swimming in the slow lane. So how can practitioners take advantage of analytics’ potential?

Engagement from senior leadership, both outside and within HR, is key, alongside a clear articulation of the value that HR can deliver by being insight-led. When these are in place, stay close to your influencers. In my experience, the vast majority of leaders have a business issue or problem to solve where HR and people data analytics could flex its muscles and provide insight or challenge, whether it be attrition at key levels or diversity planning.

Find these hot topics, work on them and cultivate those nuggets of insight that will capture their attention, or, as my team say, deliver 'provocative analytics'. Your influencers will become your biggest advocates if you can reinforce their position, make them look good, and/or help challenge a myth.  

With this in place as a solid foundation for success, here are some key areas to work on to further the analytics cause.

Get the basics right

Analytics and insight need data – but it does not need to be perfect. What it does need to be is credible. If you do not have credible data, spend the next six to eight months on cleaning and defining data, and getting HR business partners to understand why this is important, and their role in keeping data clean. It is amazing how quickly data improves when people see it.

Link to strategy

Producing volumes of ‘interesting’ analysis with no purpose is pointless. Start with your business strategy, mapping out how your people strategy has been structured to align to it, and you should be able to easily hang a number of key people metrics from its rafters. You will see that the original line of sight to strategy is critical and makes conversations with business leaders much easier.

Capability

You need a balanced workforce analytics team with a blend of skills. Our team is not large but has a real mix: technical capability (SQL, Excel), relationship management and consultancy, and scientific skills (statistics). By having a combination of expertise you can cater to most audiences and requirements without needing an army of people. You could even leverage internal capability to fill gaps. Sales, marketing and finance all have similar skillsets and needs; you might find someone looking for a new challenge or an area in which to make their mark.

Education and awareness

After stakeholder management, this is the most critical area to focus on from day one. Your team can create the best insight, data and analytics in the world but if the wider HR function – specifically business partners – don't see its value, understand it or are intimidated by it, then it could quickly die a death. Articulate your strategy, how it aligns to theirs and what is in it for them. Secure a number of HR business partners as champions of certain initiatives, whether that is technology, predictive analytics or dashboard-related.

Technology

Technology is certainly important, but you must understand the context of your wider organisational landscape before investing too quickly. Look at the technologies used by the finance and sales teams, and consider what might be needed in the next three to five years.

In the short term, get your key requirements clear. At Experian, we decided to bolt an HR-focused analytics solution called Visier on top of our ERP. This also enabled us to bring in all our data sources into one place – creating huge value quickly. 

Simple and sexy

While all this is going on, you can move in tandem, to the more advanced end of the spectrum. Show people the art of the possible to help garner support for your foundational steps. Simple work like projecting changes to the workforce generation or diversity mix, for example – ‘in ten years we will have X per cent gen Y vs Z per cent today’ – has a huge impact. Albeit not truly predictive, these basic projections can open up questions for leadership teams so far unasked: are we set up for this? What are our engagement, hiring and development plans? Likewise, in the first 18 months we developed a predictive attrition risk model that risk scores employees based on the same approach Experian uses to credit score consumers. We have incorporated a back-end that allows users to mock-up ‘what ifs’ based on the statistical model.

Don’t be put off by thinking all foundations need to be perfect before you begin to dip your toe into more advanced analytics. Whet the appetite of stakeholders with some bold insights – it can really generate the support you need to succeed.

Olly Britnell is head of global workforce analytics at Experian