Make Sure There’s a Business Purpose Before You Jump

It may be true that the average line manager is more data-savvy than the average HR manager, but that doesn’t mean they have a clue about how to approach people analytics. The fact that they may think they do only makes things worse.

Managers who request HR data without knowing what to do with it are a plague for many HR analytics teams. Managers may have some vague anxieties about compensation and ask for a massive dump of pay information without any clear idea of how that data will help solve their problem. Other times managers suddenly become curious about something (“I wonder how many people in this company have a degree in the fine arts?”) and ask HR to report on that without any sense of how much work is involved nor any recognition that the information won’t serve any business purpose.

Here is the real acid test for whether a line manager understands people analytics: Can they point to the decision they are trying to make with the HR data they requested? Sometimes they can. Maybe they wanted to know who got raises in their department last year to ensure no one goes two years straight with no raise. When they can’t point to the decision they are trying to make then HR needs to push back. The typical HR service mindset (“a manager asked, so we answered”) is not effective in an HR analytics team because resources are limited and too often the request is a waste of time.

HR needs to implement approaches that ensure that time is only spent on legitimate business issues. A big part of this is a subtle means of educating managers so they come to appreciate how to use people analytics. Managers need to learn to become good consumers of people analytics; they are not there yet, so HR needs a plan for getting them there.

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HR needs to start treating requests for data not as a command but as an invitation to a conversation. When a manager asks for data, HR needs to respond, “That’s an interesting topic, let’s sit down and figure out the best approach.” The manager won’t want to hear this, so the friendly sense of inquiry needs to be backed with a more formal protocol that insists requests for data go through this kind of vetting process before the organization is willing to commit resources to responding to the request. A manager cannot spend money without going through a process that ensures the investment makes sense, they shouldn’t be able to spend the time of the HR analytics or reporting team without some kind of process. While at first managers will resist the surprisingly difficult work of answering “What decision are you trying to make?” in time they will appreciate the value this brings.

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