Predictive analytics – how can this aid strategic workforce planning?

The start of any new year is the perfect time to refocus for the 12 months that lie ahead, but given the ever-present nature of change within the business environment, strategic workforce planning is perhaps more important now than ever.

However, as our CEO Oliver Shaw recently explained in a feature for HR Director magazine, HR must look beyond the overwhelming amount of ‘blue sky thinking’ and identify truly meaningful new approaches, if the profession is to prepare, respond and remain effective. If you missed the HR Director article, you can read Oliver’s thoughts, in full, here…

With technological innovations continuing apace it can be difficult in any strand of business – not just HR – to differentiate between a fundamental new-found formula and something that is simply a fad. Innovations such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence are still being widely talked about for instance, but with so much hype over the years, people would be forgiven for dismissing their genuine role in modern day commerce.

However, one such innovation that does deserve greater attention, certainly in 2017, is predictive analytics. Some call it machine learning, others argue it’s just an alternative application of big data. In truth, the name is irrelevant. It is the role that it can play in strategic workforce planning that really matters.

Essentially a branch of data mining used to project future probabilities and trends, predictive analytics is an incredibly important concept for senior HR professionals to understand, certainly as the war on talent looks set to continue. It will help to improve the effectiveness of recruitment and succession planning, and will mitigate an organisation’s exposure to risk in an era of significant change.

How? By identifying the types of employees in existing roles – as well as their traits and behaviours –HR professionals can then use intelligent algorithms to understand who they should be striving to recruit for upcoming vacancies. This is a simplistic explanation of course, which represents only one potential utilisation of predictive analytics. But it provides a practical example, which HR can begin to implement immediately, to heighten future organisational competitiveness.

The first step is to collect data about the existing workforce. Senior personnel are an obvious initial focal point, but more employees/roles should also be analysed following the success of initial pilot projects.

How do they perform? Do they apply discretionary effort? Is morale affected during turbulent times? What behaviour do they exhibit when encountering periods of change? How do their stats compare to the organisation’s average absence and attrition rate?

People who have exited the business should be evaluated too – why have they left? What was the trigger?

The points of measurement will understandably differ from business to business, but, once the data has been captured and analysed – inevitably with the help of an expert/specialist platform in this field – trends and commonalities will emerge.

This insight can then be used to influence candidate screenings, shape the questions asked in interviews and, ultimately, ensure the right people are on-boarded. An overnight fix is unlikely of course, but this strategic approach will help to gradually understand who is inherently adaptable to change and who is likely to be successful in their role.

An investment in predictive analytics won’t be feasible for all HR teams of course. That doesn’t mean workforce planning strategies will be comparatively ‘diluted’. It’s still possible to meaningfully triangulate data using information that already resides in a comprehensive HRIS.

For example, calculate how many people are in work today and the extent to which that differs from the budgeted headcount. Consider how attrition will affect that figure if nothing changes:

  • Would that redefine the company’s exposure to risk?
  • How will the gap be filled and what will the resources cost?
  • How long will it all take?
  • What is the bottom line impact of any lag?
  • Is a ‘grow your own’ strategy possible, for roles that are harder to fill?

It is crucial too, to think beyond the obvious challenges that the employment landscape will encounter in 2017. Yes, Brexit will continue to be a ‘hot’ – and incredibly influential – topic. But varied political, economic, social and technological forces are affecting the volume and velocity of change, at a rate never experienced before. This is the new norm. The actual catalyst for change is less important – it is the extent to which organisations and their people are equipped to manage it that will shape future success.

HR professionals need to therefore ask some very important questions:

  • Do I know the rate and nature of change in my organisation?
  • Does our culture connect with this change scenario?
  • Which types of employees thrive in it?
  • And, can we hire more of these people?

It sounds straightforward – it’s actually far from it. But it’s certainly possible.

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