Finding Data for People Analytics Might Take You on a Safari

At the heart of most people analytics work is data pulled from the HRIS. HR professionals struggle with this for two reasons. One reason is that in a surprisingly large number of organizations, the HRIS or the quality of data in the HRIS is not good enough to do reliable analytics. The other reason is that the kind of data captured by the HRIS may not be particularly relevant to the business question.

HR professionals need to be willing to put the limited HRIS data aside and go on a data safari to seek out new herds of data, wherever they may be hiding.

The most widely useful tool on your data safari is the survey. If you have no good data on how many people are likely to retire in the next two years, you could, instead of building a predictive model based on machine learning, simply ask a random sample of people in a survey when they plan to retire.

Interviews and focus groups generally provide more qualitative data, and some feel qualitative information doesn’t count as serious analytics. That’s the wrong attitude. The business wants to make a decision based on the best available evidence; if you can gather relevant evidence from interviews, then that is valuable. If the interviews or focus groups are well-structured, then you can get semi-quantitative data by, for example, counting how often various themes are raised.

If the management question is how to improve meetings, then you won’t find the answer in even the best HRIS data set. However, you might find good data by observing a number of meetings. There is an opportunity to count or time various aspects of the meetings you are observing to add some quantitative data to your analysis.

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Along with your own data, it’s a good idea to consult the academic literature. It’s also a good idea to get insights from experts. Once again, the business wants all available data, and if the different sources point in the same direction, then that gives them the confidence to make a decision. I like Peter Navin’s phrase “a mosaic of measures,” you gather a number of measures to paint a picture (Navin is the CHRO of Grand Rounds).

Don’t let analytics be limited by the data you can get from your HRIS. Go on a data safari to create a mosaic of measures that will lead to a well-informed decision.

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