HR AnalyticsI recently came across the definition of HR analytics on the CIPD website, and it left me thinking that I’d need a degree in applied maths to even begin to get my head around it. Does “the application of mathematical, statistical and data mining techniques” really fit in with what HR is all about?

The truth is, unless you work for a company with tens of thousands of employees and have a lot of data to crunch, it’s really not rocket science. It’s more about the approach you take – and the way you use the information you discover.

Even the big consulting companies are saying the same. While they acknowledge that really “big data” will need specialist tools and specialist skills, the overall message is ‘just have a go.’

Here are our top tips for getting to grips with your HR data.

1. Start with what you have

Whatever the size of your company, you’ll have information about employees that, used in the right way, will tell you a story. Even simple data, like dates of birth and length of service can provide valuable insight into the makeup of your workforce, and the issues you may need to address.

Once you’ve gathered the information you have, and map it visually. That way you’ll find it easier to interpret. If you don’t have an HR system with analytics built in, it’s worth figuring out the basics of Excel, or using one of the free data mapping tools – like Microsoft’s Power BI.

2. Apply your creative thinking

When you have your results, look at what they could be telling you. What percentage of employees are close to an age they might retire? Do you have successors in place for when they do? If not, where will they come from? Should you be having conversations with key employees about their thoughts for retirement, taking about a phased retirement approach, or setting up mentoring or other knowledge-transfer activities? A people management software can help with this.

Are new recruits leaving after just a few months? If so, can you find out why? Are you haemorrhaging staff when they reach a certain point in their careers, or failing to hang on to your high performers? What could you do about it?

3. Focus on outcomes

Once you’ve developed your hypothesis, think about where you can make the most impact, so that you can demonstrate positive results for the business quickly. For example, a common reason for first-time employees heading for the door is a mismatch between their expectations, and what they discover when they start work with you.

It goes without saying that reducing unplanned staff turnover, and recruiting the right staff from the get go, will have a positive impact on your bottom line – and on the moral of the rest of the company. So, take a look at your recruitment processes. Could you be doing a better job of matching the opportunity (and company culture) with the candidates you take on? Are you managing inductions in the right way, so new joiners feel engaged and involved from the very start? Would refocusing your development program or career progression to take into account the motivation of millennials help?

4. Share your thinking – and your data

If you are to make an impact, it’s highly likely that you’ll need the support of others in the organisation. Show them your data, explain your hypothesis, how you tested it, and what conclusions could be made (and be prepared to answer questions).

Once you have proven the value of your approach, you’ll find it’s much simpler to get support for other initiatives that you’d like to work on.

5. Build on your success

Once you’ve made use of the information you already have, start to gather other data that will help inform an evidenced approach to HR. For example, even though it’s too early to be sure of the implications of Brexit, having an up to date audit of the make-up and skill set of your workforce could be key to helping your business adapt to changing circumstances. How many overseas nationals do you employ? Who would be affected if free movement of labour within the EEA is no longer allowed? What would happen if you could no longer easily recruit European nationals, and had to compete for home-grown talent?

Having this information at your fingertips will help you have meaningful conversations with management. The more you understand the better you are positioned to make decisions – and win funding and support for your ideas.

Sue Lingard author image

Sue Lingard

Sue studied Personnel Management at the London School of Economics before taking on management roles in the travel, recruitment and finally HR software industry. She's particularly interested in how technologies enable HR teams - and the people they support - to work better together.