HR Careers Live or Die by Analytics – Agree?

data-visualization-ot-by-employeeThis guest post is courtesy of our board member, David Creelman.  David is CEO of Creelman Research, where he helps HR leaders to identify, understand and address important new issues in human capital management.

I host a monthly call for HR leaders interested in analytics, and last month’s call focused on the sometimes sorry state of HR business partners. The consensus, unsurprisingly, was that too many HR business partners lack the skills and support they need to use analytics in their work.

We’ll get to the issue of support in a moment, but the pressing issue for HR professionals is whether a lack of analytics skills will derail their career. Being seen as non-analytical puts you in the category of “old HR,” whereas showing analytics smarts puts you in the “future of HR” club. This is true even if analytics is not particularly relevant to your job. A lot of good HR people will end up sidelined if they don’t figure out how to demonstrate an analytics mindset.

One nasty challenge is that many HR analytics training programs do little good; in fact they may leave the participant worse off. I saw a course from a well-known HR association that immersed HR pros in issues like how the definition of a “metric” differed from the definition of a “measurement.”  That’s pedantic nonsense; HR pros need to learn to solve business problems – memorizing definitions just gets in the way.

The good news is that to become analytics savvy HR pros do not need dull definitions or mysterious math; they just need an analytics mindset. Whether your background is a B.A. in English or a B.Sc. in Biochemistry, here’s what you can do right now:

1) Get in the habit of asking for the evidence. Simply say, “How do we know this?” or to be a bit more sophisticated, ask, “Why do we think this is probably true?”

2) Be explicit about your beliefs on cause and effect. If you think engagement is a good thing have, a clear argument about why you believe it leads to improvements in business metrics like reduced stock outs or faster order processing. Try to get beyond the generic “engaged people work better” to more specific scenarios based on the component elements of engagement.

3) Include data as part of every HR discussion. Never say, “We have a good coaching program.” Instead say, “We have a coaching program that worked with 28 managers last year, which is up 10% from last year, and got an 87% approval rating from supervisors.”

As an HR pro you need to develop an analytics mindset, as leader of an HR team you need to provide support for your team to deploy that mindset. Our group identified the importance of educating business leaders on what to expect from HR: Providing “intelligent data” to HR business partners that would reduce the time it took them to draw conclusions while potentially creating new specialist roles to provide the average HR pro with heavy duty analytics backup. You owe it to your team to give them an environment that will allow them to build a career in the future of HR.

Is analytics a topic you care about? Feel free to join the discussion below and LinkIn to me (You’ll need my email:


2 thoughts on “HR Careers Live or Die by Analytics – Agree?

  1. These questions remind me of an example I used a while back while teaching an HR Certificate Program. The class wanted to know how to convince their managers that training in sexual harassment and discrimination prevention was beneficial to the company.

    I pointed to a recent case (at the time) where Coca-Cola had recently settled a race discrimination claim at the cost of about $192million. Discussing that amount in the context of Coca-Cola’s annual net income of the year – which was $2.1B, put the settlement amount in perspective. Also, at the time Coca-Cola has about 56,000 employees worldwide. I suggested the discussion to have with management was to compare the settlement costs – which excludes the costs in time, money, and other negative outcomes that occurred prior to the settlement, for this particular claim, with the cost to train their supervisory and management employees to avoid activities and comments and treatements that are not appropriate (or legal).

    In this case, 56,000 employees worked for 5 weeks to pay for the cost of poor management and negative cultural behaviors (resulting from the claims).

    The message that “we need to train our supervisors and managers in anti-harassment issues because we want to treat people right”, can be made much more compelling to managers when we add “and to avoid the extreme cost of litigation by a valid claim, as occurred in Coca-Cola in 2000”, along with adding the above data points on the impact to Coca-Cola for their specific claim.

    Once we compare the time and cost of training to the cost of the Coca-Cola settlement, it becomes evident that training to help avoid a massive lawsuit is a far better financial deal, and this does not even account for the positive cultural outcomes over a period of time by reducing the inappropriate mindset regarding race with good training.

    This is one example of how item (3) above is right on point, and subtly supports the concepts presented in items (1) and (2).

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