How can HR improve performance with big data?

Written by
Changeboard Team

31 Mar 2015

31 Mar 2015 • by Changeboard Team

What is big data?

Big data is one of those terms that has recently come to the fore and is already in danger of becoming a cliché. Put simply, it is the fact that the amount of data is doubling every year and the IT tools that are now available means it is possible to analyse this data in real time to drive insights that when acted on can enhance business performance. IT and data have of course been around for decades but what is new is that in the last few years the sheer quantity of data and the effectiveness of analytical tools have grown exponentially.

It would appear to be obvious that data analytics is a tool that when used effectively can transform HR’s effectiveness. Data analytics provides HR with the opportunity to create game-changing insights from data within the function, from other functions (marketing, sales, risk, finance etc) and/or from the external world. 

HR can use this opportunity to move beyond gut feel and intuition to identify the core drivers behind workforce and capability issues, thus ensuring HR doesn't just do what HR has always done because it has always done it, but focuses its activity where it can directly impact business performance. Not only does this transform HR’s potential impact but it can also transform its relevance and hence credibility by ensuring it talks the language (data) of the business and engages in issues (profitability, productivity, capability etc) the business sees as central, rather than HR issues that the business see as things they can delegate to HR.

How can I use big data to solve business problems?

We have found that the key to successful HR analytics initiatives is to drive action from business problems where insights gained from HR analytics can be applied to drive business performance. In many cases this means that the current data collected by HR (sickness and absence, turnover, diversity, grades, training days etc) isn't relevant. CEOs care about addressing business performance and capability constraints, not attrition and absence. However, we see a lot of functions driving their HR analytics activity from left to right, from the data to the problem:

  • We have loads of data how can we analyse it? 
  • How can we generate a data pack so we can show the business all the HR statistics we think they need?

Rather than right to left from the problem to the data:

  • What are the challenges the business is facing? 
  • What insights can we create that will address these challenges? 
  • What data do we need to collect?
  • What analysis needs to be carried out and how can we present this data in an insightful way that will engage the business in taking actions to address these challenges? 

Changing big data mindsets

The mindsets of, and the language we use within, HR are the keys here. We should  think about translating and not producing, insights and not generating data, solving business problems and not HR reporting. We need to think in terms of how will analysis provides insights that, if action is taken, will increase the chance of something happening that impacts performance? We need to think about data in terms of whether it is addressing questions the business needs answers to.

The danger is the fascination with the ever evolving and more sophisticated technology results in raised expectations while the tools are only ever as good as the user. Organisations that focus on the problem and standardise the tools around the capability of the end user tend to be the most successful especially where there is no underlying analytical culture or capability. The key isn't the data or the tool but what you want to get from it. 

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