The Engine of People Analytics

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Oct 8, 2021

It is natural for a CHRO to ask her HR analytics manager to produce analytics. It’s also a classic mistake. 

The first step in child-rearing isn’t to hire a nanny; it’s to have a child. Similarly, the first step in analytics is not to request work from someone who does analytics; it’s to consult the customer who needs analytics done.

Defining the Customer

The customer is your regular HR professional, often an HR business partner. This is the individual who can identify business issues and from there formulate a hypothesis and then partner with the people analytics team to find evidence to test that hypothesis.

If we look at this from the people analytics team’s point of view, if someone comes to them with a clear hypothesis, or to use the language of evidence-based management, “a clear answerable question,” then they are more than capable of producing a useful insight. If you ask them to do analytics in a vacuum, don’t expect anything of substance.

The limitation of this approach is that HR pros may be weak at thinking in terms of business issues, and even weaker at turning a business issue into an answerable question. It’s not that these skills are beyond them. Certainly, these skills are easier to teach than statistical analysis. It’s just that this involves a new way of thinking, and that way of thinking needs to be taught, much like you might need to teach an old-school IT team some of the principles of “agile.”

Creating the Pause

The first step in this education is creating “the pause.” That’s the moment when HR pros go from running around doing stuff to sitting back and wondering what the critical business issues are. From there, they can identify the critical questions that need to be answered. This is something any CHRO can do by setting up a time to talk to each of their team members about the business issues.

Boiling an issue down to an answerable question is challenging. It involves thinking about what’s most important about a multifaceted issue, what you need to know to move forward, and what some of your options are. 

When I tell HR pros that they need to do this, they complain this is too easy, too obvious, too junior for them. When they try to do it, they complain that it’s too hard. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the weeds or too many directions or too many ideas. You can’t teach this in a class; CHROs need to coach their people through it.

Ultimately, when HR pros can take the time to pause to identify issues rather than unload that work on the people analytics team, then it’s those HR pros who become the engine of people analytics. And without this engine, people analytics will always fail to reach its potential.

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