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Wrapping Your Brain Around Big Data for HR

HR analytics. Just reading those two words might make your skin crawl…and you’re not alone. Like it or not, big data for HR seems to be the wave of the future. But what HR metrics should be applied to your hiring process?

According to Gartner, more than three quarters of employers are investing or are planning to invest in big data initiatives. However, very few of those employers know what to do with that data. A separate study shows 72 percent of organizations gather data they end up not using because they feel:

  • Managing data is too time consuming.
  • They lack the internal skills to do it.
  • They don’t have the proper tools to sufficiently process the data.

HR teams are not at all immune to these challenges. Big data for HR includes collecting and using certain HR analytics including predictive analytics and behavior analytics in order hire, retain and manage employees better.  Halogen Software (a provider of strategic talent management software) points to an Oxford Economics Global Talent 2021 report that indicates HR leaders must take “a more evidence-based approach to their people management strategies…drawing on improved analytics to identify talent segments and gaps, optimize resource allocation, integrate workforce plans and manage unavoidable risk.”

“The goal,” explains Cathy Missildine, co-founder of Intellectual Capital Consulting, Inc. and a past president of SHRM-Atlanta, “is to uncover something that the business didn’t know and to be predictive when it comes to certain HR functions like hiring, training and choosing between HR initiatives.”

Two trends moving big data for HR further along go hand-in-hand: HR analytics tools are becoming smarter while, at the same time, they are becoming simpler and more affordable to use. TalentCulture points out companies such as Dell and Oracle have even embraced HR Open Source (#HROS), a movement to bring “an open source approach to HR and recruiting.”

So where should HR start? How can employers get a leg up without finding themselves knee deep in data they can’t use? Caroline Valentine, president of ValentineHR, recommends first tracking and applying the HR metrics that make the most sense to your organization.

“Of course, you can’t measure everything,” she says. “What if you kept track of where most of your turnovers, promotions, sick days or disciplinary actions come from? Keeping numbers could show you things that would surprise you, like [if the] majority of your ‘problem’ employees or your ‘promotable’ employees tend to come from one department. It could be that your manager there is particularly troublesome or commendable, and you might not have known had you not been measuring.”

Janice McNulty, who manages Halogen Software’s Continuous Advancement Team, recommends the business strategy as a starting point. After all, knowing what you want to achieve lets you create key performance indicators (KPI) to measure success. Then, once the top-down methodology is in place, she advises investing time and effort to determine whether you are collecting the right data to measure success against strategy. The third step, she points out, focuses on action.

“HR leaders must make a commitment to taking action with the data and stay accountable to that goal,” says McNulty. “There needs to be ongoing sharing with executives, management and the leadership team. And persuasion and tenacity may be required to fight for the changes that the data shows are necessary.”

As a recent Harvard Business Review report points out, big data in HR will allow HR teams to move beyond simple headcount and be more predictive than reactionary. Are you ready to jump in or are you scared of what’s lurking below the data waters? Let us know: What excites you about big data in HR? What scares you when it comes to embracing HR analytics?


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