9 Actions to Build Stronger Data Skills within HR

May 14, 2019 Richard Justenhoven

First published on LinkedIn

The digital world requires organizations to hire and develop a workforce with digital competencies. But how competent are we as HR decision makers in these same digital competencies? Is there a need for us to take a long hard look at ourselves and update and upskill?

An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that HR may have struggled to advance their own digital competencies and that this, in turn, has limited their ability to build talent data into talent strategies.

The HBR’s global leadership survey asked around 28,000 business leaders about the state and trajectory of leadership. It found that, on average, HR leaders fall far behind other professionals in their ability to work in a highly digital environment and use data to guide business decisions. In fact, only 11% of business leaders said that they trust HR to use data to anticipate and help meet the talent needs of the business.

What can we do to develop our digital and data skills?

The article suggests building bench strength and tying HR metrics to financial success. It suggests four ideas to do this.

  1. Forge internal partnerships. HR can learn from the marketing team. From better understanding search engine optimization (SEO) for its recruitment efforts and understanding the importance of tailored messaging to different target employee audiences. HR can learn from those proficient in finance technology for guidance about blockchain.
  2. Map talent analytics to business outcomes. Often talked about, but rarely put into practice. HR needs to understand how to tie its talent data to performance and business outcomes. This process must begin with gathering data about the skills, capabilities, and behaviors of the existing leaders and workforce, often done through assessments. By collecting data on employee skills and experience and tying it to business outcomes, HR can highlight key areas of risk and opportunity for the company.
  3. Help employees be more data-savvy. Being able to interpret, visualize and present the meaning of the data will help HR to influence others. Simply collecting and analysing data will not work.
  4. Implement leadership planning models. Go beyond analysis to highlight current gaps and start to predict future talent and leadership needs.

The HBR article comments that these four first steps can bring significant results. Its research shows that those organizations that excel in using data and analytics to drive their talent strategy are more than six times more likely to have a strong leadership bench.

But, in our experience there are five other essential steps to take to without which talent analytics will fail to get off the ground.

  1. Focus on the right type of data. Collecting and analzying data for data’s sake, or because it is the only data you have, may be of little use. Know what data is relevant to your specific target group and agree the metric with your Business Partner.
  2. Build a people analytics team and connect to other business units. Develop the team within HR but do not limit yourself to only having HR professionals involved. Draw together a mix of pure HR to pure data scientist – and everything in between! Make sure other units can access the team so the value can be seen and felt across the business.
  3. Design a data warehouse structure. Store historical data already proven to be right. It will mean that you can reference this in the future when making further cases.
  4. Change the focus. Make the shift from ‘HR measuring HR topics’ to ‘HR enabling their partners to get insights into questions they have’. It means that there needs to be a more involvement from Business Partners to form the research questions, but stronger buy-in and greater perceived business relevance.
  5. Develop a culture that supports fact finding. Encourage people to ask for data that backs up an opinion or argument and define the difference between fact and bold statement.

Read the full HBR article here.

Take a look at how work with clients to build their own strength in talent analytics here.

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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