Stuck On An Analytics Problem? Search the Research

One of the challenges of people analytics is that we usually don’t have the time, sample size, or expertise to do high-quality studies. For example, we might want to see if goal setting leads to higher performance but we would be reluctant to have a control group of employees with no goals. Fortunately, we don’t need to do our own research on goal setting because there is a rich academic literature on it. The lesson for people analytics departments is that they should be consulting the academic research, not just looking at internal data.

There is, however, a problem. Some of the time, such as with goal setting, you do find good evidence that will help you guide the business. More often there is nothing that specifically answers the question you are trying to tackle. Where does that leave us?

It turns out that when you take the time to look for academic evidence, you usually find ideas that are of some relevance. Typically, the research broadens your understanding of the issue and sparks new ideas on possible solutions. It is helpful, you will learn something, but keep your expectations in check.

Researching the academic literature is far, far easier than it was in the past. You can easily get a quick overview of the literature with Google Scholar or access full text articles via a subscription to services such as JSTOR, EBSCO or ABI/Inform. Some service have an open access component. Academic articles are not easy to read, so whoever is doing the research needs to have a background in science and a taste for such things.

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If you don’t have time or inclination to do this kind of research, then find a gig worker with a post-graduate degree in psychology or in library science and see what they can dig up for you. Just be sure that they have a good understanding of what you are trying to accomplish; and do some back and forth as they do their literature review so you can fine tune as you go.

If you are ignoring academic research, then you’re undercutting the power of HR analytics. Start experimenting with brief forays into the research and you’ll come to understand how it can help.

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