COVID-19 Lessons for HR Analytics

A common frustration for HR analytics professionals is that they produce data that is ignored by leadership. We now find ourselves in a time when leaders, and even the general public, are obsessed with data. It’s not HR data; it’s COVID-19 data. Nevertheless, there are lessons to learn.

Here are some takeaways:

  • Leaders are obsessed with data that address an urgent business problem. Too much HR analytics is just ‘nice to know’ stuff.
  • Leaders often just want basic facts, “How many?” and “How has it changed?”. We should recognize the value of basic data; not insist we must do advanced analytics.
  • There is a role for advanced analytics supported by good visualizations. The predictions of COVID’s spread involve advanced analytics, and they are most useful to leaders if boiled down into a simple image that makes just one point. The famous example is the flattening the curve graphic. Note that there is much value in this graphic, even if there is no specific data. In this case, the public needs to know, “This is how things work, and hence this is the action we should take.”
  • It’s easy to get sucked into data for data’s sake. There is something mesmerizing about the dashboards showing various cuts of COVID-10 data. We can spend hours just sifting through it. It’s okay, even admirable, to do that once. Sometimes a wild dive into the data is necessary just to prepare your brain for the next step. The next step is asking a specific question and using the data to provide an answer (e.g., “Given Italy’s experience, what are the likely deaths in the UK in 12 days?”) Don’t forget to take that step from being interesting to being useful.
  • Leaders also get mesmerized but may get stuck on the next step of asking an important question. When you first present a spectacular dashboard like the ones we see for COVID-19, leaders will sing your praises. Then after a couple of weeks, you’ll find no one is looking at the dashboard. This is because it is mesmerizing; however, it’s got limited use if leaders are just swimming randomly through the data. They need help in asking the right questions.

I’m sure all data-minded (and some not-so-data-minded) HR professionals are paying close attention to COVID-19 data. I’d like to encourage you to also consider what lessons we can learn from this unique occasion when the world is immersed in analytics. Ponder what makes data interesting, what makes it useful, and how that changes over time.

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The lessons learned from the COVID-19 emergency should guide your thinking on HR analytics for years to come.

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. Based mainly in Toronto and partly in Kuala Lumpur, he’s best known for his research on the latest issues in human resources.

He works with think tanks such as Talent Tech Labs (New York), Works Institute (Tokyo), Workforce Institute (Boston) and CRF (London). He’s collaborated with leading academics such as Henry Mintzberg (leadership development), Ed Lawler (“Built to Change”) and John Boudreau (future of work).

His books include The CMO of People: Manage employees like customers with an immersive predictable experience that drives productivity and performance with GrandRound’s CHRO Peter Navin; and Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau (USC) and Ravin Jesuthasan (Willis Towers Watson).

You can connect to Mr. Creelman on LinkedIn