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The hunger for HR data continues

A hunger for data, but what tech is on the menu?

Sales directors have had to embrace it. Marketing directors have had to nail it. And now HR directors are being propelled in the same direction. There really is no getting away from data. But is there such thing as a ‘fix all’ approach to capturing the necessary people metrics, or are different tools required to triangulate the information that HR and management teams truly require?

Our CEO Oliver Shaw recently spoke out on the subject:

“It wouldn’t be too extreme a statement to say that there is currently a fixation on data. This is far from a bad thing. CRM has revolutionised sales metrics in the last two decades and the rise of digital marketing has made analytics a pre-requisite for marketers too. On the whole, the HR profession might have been slightly later to the table, but an appetite for analytics is now clearly evident.

So what is feeding this hunger?

For some HRDs there is a genuine desire to ensure smarter human capital management as the drive for greater productivity, talent acquisition and IP retention continues apace. For others, there is an unshakeable awareness that data needs to play a bigger role in their world, even if the exact mechanics of the strategy remain unclear.

In either scenario, it is natural to question exactly what tech should lie at the heart of the process and which systems would help to capture those all-important metrics that give value-adding power in the boardroom. Coming from a technology company I naturally champion this search for insight.

But the focus should be less about the data repositories themselves and more about the output required. Because, if HRDs can’t articulate which questions they need to answer, they can’t work out what they must measure. And if the specifics of the measurement remain unknown, it is virtually impossible to decide what systems are needed.

Two key questions for many CEOs, for example, are ‘how many people have I got in work’ and ‘what are they doing’?

A savvy HRD would interpret this as ‘what is my headcount’, ‘is it where it needs to be’, ‘how do I fill any resource gaps’, ‘can productivity be nurtured’ and ‘are people going to stay’? An even savvier HRD would be readily-armed with the answers to these questions, before they’re even posed. Yet only when such a strategic narrative is apparent, will it become clear what must be measured and what tools are required to locate and manage that data.

The narrative may vary from company to company of course – no two businesses are the same after all. But identifying this is the crucial starting point.

I recently listened in on a conversation about a workforce management tool for example, that can compute the entire career lifecycle for the Australian army. As a result – with the help of machine learning – a HRD could understand what qualifications are required to get from cadet to colonel, how long this process typically takes and how many people will retire before they reach that rank. By analysing metrics such as this, the HRD could then calculate that 1,000 trainees will need to come through the academy, for just one to reach the position of colonel in 25 years.

Not only would this insight hugely influence the recruitment strategy for the coming years; it would also give the HRD significant ammunition if a decision was ever made to reduce the resourcing budget.

These conversations should be occurring in organisations throughout the UK, especially in the face of mounting cost pressures and staffing demands.

Imagine the boardroom scene if a CEO announces cuts to HR spend and the HRD can demonstrate instantly what that will mean to the company’s bottom line within the year. Or, if a sales director blames a lack of people for the reasons targets are not being met, but the HRD pushes back and says that’s why they asked to plan the hiring spree nine months ago!

Some people believe that it’s only when you start to measure things, that they go wrong. But, at least when these flaws or challenges are uncovered, steps can be taken to learn from and resolve them. Leaving the data buried doesn’t avoid the problem – it just instils dangerous ‘ignorance is bliss’ obliviousness.

Does this answer the original question? Well, this profession has continued to transform itself from a world of personnel coordination, to HR and, in more recent times, a field renowned for employee engagement. However a HRD’s true role is the management of an organisation’s most strategic and valuable asset – human capital. The tools required to truly fulfil this modern brief will therefore vary from salary modelling systems to predictive recruitment platforms. But understand the story that the tech needs to tell, and it will soon become clearer where tech investments need to be made.”

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