January 10th 2018

What challenges is HR facing with people analytics?

Listen to our short interview with Alec Levenson, Economist and Senior Research Scientist at USC Marshall School of Business, discussing the challenges HR faces when implementing people analytics initiatives.

Understand why starting with the data at hand is not the way forward and the importance of asking the right business questions first to draw the most benefit from your HR analytics efforts.

Transcript

[00:00:00] What challenges is HR facing when it comes to workforce analytics and how can the function overcome these?

Alec Levenson [00:00:11] One of the biggest problems that HR has when it comes to work for us, analytics is starting in the wrong place. Almost everybody who works in this area is typically going to the data that you have at hand and asking what are the things that we see there? It's very tempting because you can see that there are interesting patterns. You might have turnover data, you could have headcount data, you've got interest, you get information on performance ratings, whatever it is. And it's a very natural tendency to say, what is it that we can find in that data? Because first of all, it's available, it's free. And if you use the data set in your systems, then you're helping to justify why it's there and showing that you can provide value. But the problem is that this is the kind of mistake that people make all the time when it comes to thinking about what drives motivation, behaviour and performance. People who do research in these areas learned years and years ago that starting with the data at hand is not useful in terms of timing where to go, because at best it might tell you something marginally interesting, but won't necessarily tell you the bigger picture around was actually driving behaviour, motivation, performance. The key things we want to know for the business.

Alec Levenson [00:01:27] So the answer is to start not with the data itself, but to start with the key questions. So what is it that we want to know about that motivation? What is it we want to know about performance? Where is it that we need to see things improve? And that's where you want to focus your attention with analytics. And that starts with defining the right questions. Making sure you're actually focused on business issues that matter. And then only after that, taking a look at the data you have in hand. And sometimes that data will help to answer the question, but it never has a full answer in and of itself. And you've got to cast your net more broadly. You have to look for what other kinds of information is available, not just in the data systems in front of you, but by going out, talking to people in the organisation, understanding where it is, where people are aligned and working on together where they are not, because that kind of qualitative interview based information is usually as useful, if not many, many, many more times useful than the hard data set in your systems. And you need to do both. But it starts with the qualitative data and the questions like.

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