How to get to grips with people data

HR people have long been the target of accusations that they are not sufficiently tech-savvy and are behind their peers in other professions when it comes to leveraging data. But while there are undoubtedly a few technophobes still out there, the profession does seem to have woken up to the important role people analytics can play in the business.

Recent CIPD research shows that there is increasing recognition of the value of people-related data, plus a small but growing cadre of practitioners with the skills to analyse it– even if they are not always using these skills in their day to day job.

Of course, not all HR people are in a role where they can use data analytics to a sophisticated degree – in a smaller company, for example, the numbers can’t be used to drive business decisions in the same way as in a larger organisation. There’s no doubt, however, that people analytics is going to be a core HR competency going forward and a key skill for HR professionals who want to future-proof their career.

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So what are your options if you feel you would like to develop your skills in this emerging area of HR practice?

1. Professional training

If there is budget available to invest in formal training, the CIPD runs a two-day programme on ‘Leveraging HR analytics and data’. It’s suitable for people with no prior experience and is delivered in small groups to allow participants to think about how their learning can be applied to their own business. If limited funding is available, there’s a series of five practical one hour webinars on the same topic  Later this year (November), there will also be an opportunity to attend the HR Analytics Conference and Workshop.

2. Online resources

A Google search will unearth a whole variety of MOOCs and on-line learning modules covering this field, some of which are free or low cost. There’s everything from the fundamentals of HR analytics on www.udemy.com to high level virtual programmes run by the likes of Harvard and MIT. Many of the providers are overseas – perhaps a reflection of the CIPD’s finding that UK confidence in conducting people analytics is much lower than in international markets. If you’re planning to go down this route, look at the courses carefully to assess the quality of the training and materials and to make sure they will be delivering the kind of learning you need.

3. Experiment with your existing HR system

With HR software systems now widely available, many practitioners are sitting on data that they are simply not using. Set aside some time to look at the data that can be generated by your HR system. Is it revealing potentially worrying trends in absenteeism in certain areas of the business, for example, or could it help you get a better picture of how current employee skill sets match with future corporate ambitions? Your system may not have all the bells and whistles (and indeed that may not be relevant for the size of the business) – but the data that you have will be telling you some kind of story, however simple, that could help inform your thinking about any future initiatives.

4. Learn from colleagues

Marketing, IT and finance colleagues are your friends and mentors if you want to learn more about data and what it can tell you. Sales and marketing teams, for example, may have been using quite sophisticated data analytics techniques for some time to help them understand more about customer needs and behaviour. Ask if you can spend some time with them, understanding how they extract and analyse data to see if there is learning that is transferable to your HR context. Some of your IT colleagues may also have data analytics skills and expertise that they could share – or at the very least demystify for you. Developing deeper relationships with these colleagues – possibly even collaborating with them on projects – will not only help you learn, it will lead to development of a stronger internal network too.

5. Build your background knowledge

As people analytics has grown in importance, so has the pool of resources and experience that is out there to help you learn. The recent CIPD/Workday report People Analytics: Driving business performance with people data) is a good start if you want to get up to speed with the subject. Good old Amazon has a couple of interesting and accessible-looking books – Data-Driven HR and the Power of People (just search for HR analytics) – and there is an increasing number of articles and case studies cropping up in the professional press. It may not seem the most fascinating of topics, but if you can avoid the temptation to glaze over and get some background reading done, it will be an important first step to improving your understanding.

As the CIPD report concludes: “The HR profession is at an important point in its history; it can either take the lead in using people data and being evidence-based, or it can cede responsibility to other functions and act as a user of people information.” Which would you rather be?

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