By Cheryl Allen, Head of HR Analytics at Atos
We all hear phrases such as “data is the new oil” and “we are in the data revolution”, but how important are all of these to HR? The answer is simple: they’re critical if HR functions are to be fit for the future.
For years, as HR has evolved, its focus has varied from industrial relations in the 1940s, to personnel and process of the 1970s through to relationships and the business partnering model in the late 1990s. And whilst we now generally have the right focus on “partnering the business” and adding value to our clients, what is interesting is that until now, we have made decisions and have addressed business challenges largely based on gut instincts, intuition, what others are doing and “what feels like the right thing to do”.
Depending on the type of business you are in, people costs typically equate to somewhere between 50-75% of a company’s cost. This makes it the biggest cost, and yet we are leaving decisions relating to these assets down to instinct! No other part of the organisation would leave such cost decisions to fate or luck. Every marketing team is using data to inform their marketing strategy to clients. So why aren’t HR teams taking a similar approach?
This is where HR analytics comes in. For me it is the “game-changer” for HR and our stakeholders, and is key for all HR functions if they are to continue to function and be relevant to their organisation in this rapidly changing world we live in. Right now, nearly every organisation is impacted by change. Whether it be the impacts of Brexit, automation, changing consumer habits or many other factors, all are demanding that organisations transform in some way. Many of these challenges impact people, which gives the HR function a real opportunity to come to the table and add real value and insights to address these challenges using data analytics.
Our journey into HR analytics at Atos started two years ago. After hearing lots of stories and attending conferences where other organisations were presenting on their use of analytics, we recognised it was important but weren’t quite sure on the what and the how’s of doing this. We started off with a small team of two: an HR Business Partner (which was myself at the time) and an HR Analyst. We focused on one really important challenge that was impacting our business at that time, and we ran a pilot to prove a) the value analytics could bring and b) that we could actually do it!
Our business challenge at that time was absence. We were seeing an increase and were not really sure why. This gave us a hook to look at a topic that was interesting for our senior leaders and that we could give insights about. What it actually did was enable us as a function to start to have a different conversation with our leaders. In the past, we had typically presented statistics at the monthly leadership team meetings and most of the conversation had focused on accuracy and disputing the numbers (HR and finance numbers never seem to align!). Overnight that changed, as we moved from sharing data to sharing insights. Instead of telling them how many days of absence were lost last month, we shared with them golden nuggets of insights about where their real absence challenges were and – more importantly – what was causing them. The conversations immediately moved up a level and were focused on actions to address this issue; the added value of the function add grew almost overnight.
Two years later, we are still a small team (we added another HR Analyst but with a mathematics/statistics background into the team a year into the journey) but we now have a key role at the centre of the HR function. We now are the “sat nav” for the HR function as to how to tackle the challenges we are facing within our business. Gone are the days of throwing every initiative at the problem to fix it and hoping some or all of them would work. We now take the time and use our capability to get the insights as to what the next steps and right actions need to be.
And quite simply that for me is why analytics is key to the future of HR.
So what next? We are still very much on the journey and have strong ambitions to expand our capability and offer even more value and insights. For every priority we work on, we challenge ourselves to try new techniques and approaches to add the most value we can for our clients. We also thrive on the “always learning” and get personal satisfaction from providing the “wow” factor wherever we can.
I hope our journey outlined above gives you food for thought and inspires those of you who have not yet started to join the HR analytics journey. It really can start very small and simple. Key to getting started is to pick a challenge that is relevant and impactful to your business. If you succeed with that, then you will have an open door to do more, and from that you can learn, build and grow. It has been a crazy two years but it has also been an amazingly fun and rewarding time. Give it a go, you really will never look back!
Cheryl Allen will be presenting on her analytics journey at Atos at the Mission Critical HR Analytics Conference in London on 5 September 2018, alongside other analytics leaders from NHS England, McKinsey & Company, Citi Group and more. Please see the conference website for the full programme and for information on tickets: http://www.symposium.co.uk/event/mission-critical-hr-analytics-2018/.