What Will It Take to Grow HR Into Something Big?

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I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of HR throughout my career.

Gone are the days when HR’s primary role was to handle the administration and compliance requirements of the employee population. It wasn’t that long ago that being responsible for the talent management for those employees was HR’s primary mission.

Now, the push is to become a Strategic Business Partner, not just supporting, but being part of the leadership team that drives the business.

The challenge for the profession is that the competencies previously honed are not what will fuel HR’s next evolutionary growth. It takes a whole new set of skills to grow beyond HR’s traditional functional role.

Why HR needs to develop more analytic skills

If HR is to embrace the Strategic Business Partner role, then the profession must also pursue the development of their analytic skills and abilities. Getting and keeping the seat at the proverbial “table” means HR must be evidenced-based when making decisions and recommendations. However, leaping from one end of the spectrum to the other can be a daunting endeavor.

Business today needs their HR organizations to be strong in their ability to examine and analyze the data collected in all of those HR systems implemented. Analysis, though, is nothing without context. Only an HR organization that truly understands the business they operate within can ask the right questions of the data they’ve collected.

More importantly, the analytic Human Resources professional will know how to interpret what they learn from their number crunching work and then use that understanding as the basis of their business recommendations.

Adopting this analytic approach represents HR’s opportunity to become more strategic. One does not become expert at this overnight, though. Building this competency within HR will take time. Those HR organizations that are willing to plant the seed and nurture it’s growth over time, will definitely reap the rewards.

Today, HR has the advantage of being able to leverage new technologies to support this analytic pursuit. This thing called Big Data better enables HR to make evidence-based decisions, versus “gut” decisions or “hunches.”

How does HR get started?

Big Data analytics provides HR the ability to reliably predict outcomes. In doing so, they can make evidence-based decisions faster and take quicker action. Big Data enables a shift from hindsight review to foresight planning and real-time analysis.

Still, many HR organizations are grappling with “How do we get started?” especially if they have not yet developed the analytic mindset or skills. Big Data capabilities could seem to be light years away. No matter, your company needs you to start thinking and being analytic. Competitive advantage is based on this. Time is of the essence.

The first and perhaps most important step is to simply know how HR can have an important impact on running the business. For example, for most companies, acquiring the right talent is just as business critical as the retention and growth of the existing employees.

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Start with using data to create your talent acquisition and sourcing strategy. Similar, data can be used to map out the execution plan. Defining how success will be measured is the next step.

Assuming a faster recruitment cycle creates competitive advantage, HR should analyze both the pace of candidate acquisition and the total volume of candidates moving into their talent pipeline. The interpretation of that analysis will guide HR to determine if a change in the strategy or execution plan is required.

“Data is nothing without people”

As I mentioned in a previous post, data is nothing without people — they are the ones who apply human intelligence to extract insight and value from data. The challenge for HR though is that analytic talent is scarce. According to a recent McKinsey report, by 2018, the U.S. alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills, as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of data to make effective decisions.

The talent shortage is further validated by a panel discussion hosted by Georgetown University’s Human Resource Management program. The panel members acknowledged the gap between what is needed and the skills that currently exist in a typical HR organization.

Senior Associate Dean of the program, Christopher Meltzer, Ph.D. talked about how HR needs to be “as competent in discussing data as they are in addressing typical HR topics like recruitment and retention.” Fellow panel member Lee Webster from SHRM stated, “The HR professionals of the future have to recognize that the only way we can make compelling, lasting change in organizations is not only that we’re very good with the qualitative part of our roles, [but] we have to be able to speak in terms that are compelling on the quantitative part of our roles.”

Just as a seed does not grow into a tree overnight, HR professionals cannot expect to become instant experts at analytics. Remember, though, you have to start somewhere.

This was originally published on eQuests’ Floating Point blog

David Bernstein is the head of eQuest’s new Big Data for HR/Predictive Analytics Division, which enables organizations to make evidence-based decisions about their recruiting and hiring strategy. He writes and speaks regularly on how data analytics can predict future behavioral patterns of candidates and create a competitive advantage in candidate sourcing.

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