HR Analytics Made Simple and Easy

Every HR leader, whether mathematically inclined or not, should be looking for some quick wins in analytics.

Part of this is political — you are expected to be doing analytics and if you’re not you damage the credibility of the HR department. Part of this is about effectiveness — analytics leads to better decisions about talent. Finally, part of this is about the future — your quick wins in analytics may not get you on the cover of the Harvard Business Review, but it will set the stage for more significant work in the future.

What’s the barrier?

Did you see that basketball play where a guy heaved the ball from the far end of the court to get a basket? Amazing! That’s the play that gets all the replays. Similarly, almost all the HR analytics stories you read about are these amazing, one-off projects. However, if you want some wins in basketball, please do not spend your time practicing heaving the ball towards the net from the far end of the court. If you want some wins in analytics don’t focus on the astounding headline stories.

These stories of heroic analytics usually involve big clean data sets, excellent technology and a team of data scientists working for months or even years on one problem. Chances are you don’t have that set of conditions.  That doesn’t mean you can’t get a quick win.

How to get the quick win

Dr. Alec Levenson, author of Strategic Analytics said it best: “Analytics is about analysis.” Analysis means carefully and logically thinking about a decision, systematically gathering and evaluating data/evidence, and then making an informed judgement. This is something your HR department can do right now.

Let me give you an example. Imagine if you are interested in attrition of high potential women in a professional services firm. If you have really good data sets, tools and skills you might conceivably use statistical techniques to do factor analysis and survival analysis to better understand how to improve retention.

However, if you don’t have those things you can still gather data. You can do pulse surveys. You can do structured interviews. You can review the research literature on retention. You can, with simple everyday tools and arithmetic, make better decisions around what action will improve retention.

Now all you need to do is package up that important work in a way that leadership will recognize as an example of making talent decisions based on data — which it is — and then they’ll stop asking why you’re not doing analytics.

It’s your mindset

In the long run you want excellent information governance, up-to-date integrated technology and access to PhD level skill sets in mathematics. In the short run you don’t need any of that to get quick wins in people analytics.

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What you do need is a mindset based on the phrases: “What’s the best available evidence?” and “Let’s find out!”  You also need to be able to step away from firefighting long enough to frame a decision that ought to be based on data, not opinion. Finally, you need some simple checklists and processes to help guide you to a nicely articulated end result that leadership will recognize as a solid example of applying HR analytics.

I really do advise you to give the HR team training on being “analytics savvy,” not training that tries to turn your HR team into statisticians.

You can win in analytics, you should win in analytics, and it’s not as hard as it looks.

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Special thanks to our community of practice for these insights. The community is a group of leading organizations that meets monthly to discuss analytics and evidence-based decision making in the real world.  If you’re interested in moving down the path towards a more effective approach to people analytics, then email me at

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