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It's time to start loving your people data

Grp SVP of Adecco Group APAC, Shubha Shridharan, talks passionately about how data-driven, human-centric practices drive enterprise success and are bringing about a new era of HR!

The criticality and significance of data is perhaps the most articulated subject in modern-day business. Data is today's most cashable currency, and no facet or function of any company can be ignorant or immune to this reality. The same is true also for the HR function.

For several decades the HR function in many companies has been labelled as subjective, administrative, support functions. We have heard several HR colleagues themselves confessing that they are not very number driven or metric minded. Well, while the core value of HR still revolves around understanding and enhancing the deep human connections creating the bedrock of a company's culture. HR specialists and leaders have categorically begun to believe that when augmented from a fact-based, data-driven standpoint, the very notion of human-centricity comes to life with much greater meaning. That, giving rise to a new era of HR!

"So-what, what-then, how-to"

The HR function of any company always has access to a copious amount of people data. But how can this data be synthesized and utilized in a meaningful and compliant manner?

Traditionally in all vital business strategy or review meetings, most deliberations have revolved around the financial drivers, customer practices, operational standards etc. Towards the very end, almost as a footnote, there would be those 1 or 2 minutes spent on people. And invariably, the people discussions dealt on something to do with absenteeism, hours spent on training or turnover. Data integrity was never challenged, and there would not be much of pondering on "so-what" and "what-then" and "how-to" kind of follow-ups with the required level of seriousness.

Rising to the challenge

But of late, you see a tremendous change in the HR function's ability to measure and deliver business-critical insights that directly impact organizational performance.

"A recent survey conducted revealed that 90% of Chief Human Resources Officer from several top companies has made it clear that data and analytics are an essential part of the HR strategy."

Based on a survey of 114 global companies conducted by Insight222 in July 2021

Now you may think, from where has this revolution evolved. The answer is in the fact that several CEOs of companies of all sizes and HR leaders have begun to understand and acknowledge that the HR function can be an indispensable asset if the function can adequately provide meaningful people-related insights to support business expansion, execution, or sustenance strategies.

"More than three out of four CEOs said they look to their HR chiefs for views on business strategy and operational issues planning (84% of 243 CEOs surveyed) in the post-pandemic world."

2021 survey report by Chief Executive and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

The function has risen remarkably well to this ask. It has begun to demonstrate progressive levels of comfort with numbers and the ability to aggregate and interpret data turning them into insights to support this decision making.

There's a place and space for everything – including data

Fanaticism for people data should not be because it is the new trend or the fad. There should be a real purpose, and HR experts should know how to gather, distil, analyze, and use the data meaningfully. It should be driven purposefully based on the context.

For instance, a company in a rapid growth trajectory can leverage certain types of talent data vs a company in a stable state. A company going through a business model innovation may require different people insights vis-à-vis a company undergoing a major acquisition. Fundamentals of the data usage will still be the same, but deeper one could get into aggregating and interpreting relevant data, richer would be the insights and its use.

Where do people data really become crucial

Drivers of business value have changed incredibly in the last two to three decades with the evolution of technology into unimaginable realms. Having a high-calibre workforce that can disrupt the marketplace has become extremely valuable. This is where a data-driven people analytics function can help to determine systematically and structurally:

- Is our Org Design set-up for current and future success based on workforce planning choices?

- When to hire and how many in correlation to the business plan?

- What is the lead time to hire?

- What is the current level of people productivity, and how can it be improved?

- What kind of new skills are to be hired, and which skills are to be developed?

- Which sub-set has the propensity to develop fast to deliver?

- If the resources are limited, where do you invest?

- What is competitive pay and the implications of below-the-median, median, and - above-the-median pay structures?

- What is the impact of competitive pay on business and its affordability?

- Which sub-set is high-risk on retention?

- How do talents experience work, and what could risk their retention?

- How can we augment personalization at scale linked to employee experience?

- What is the current state of employee well-being and its correlation with company performance?

It becomes evident that there are multiple areas where people analytics can serve as a critical differentiator to business success. So, no longer is it a question of paying attention to this, but more about rising to become the best in this game.

How can HR functions build on this momentum?

To build a meaningful People Analytics CoE, we should be mindful of a few elements to ensure we are moving in the path to success.

1. Understand the business case and the context: There's no prescription into how one can dive into the mass of data. Where do you start should be linked to the burning platform you have in the company or the department. Your people insight should be relevant, contextual, related to the inherent need of the business.

2. Choose which datasets and tools to use wisely: There could be multiple options but determine which dataset would give you the best output and be mindful of which tool is helping with this integration. You may need to consider making some enhancements to the data selection parameters or invest in new tools or aggregators altogether.

3. Put the right people at work: Interpreting and determining patterns and correlations requires specific skills sets. Bring together a few people with a strong affinity for statistics and computational mathematics as a start to build this team. It may not be required to bring HR data scientists from the very beginning.

4. Start small: you may have heard this several times already. Pick the right area of business interest, gather a small sample size, interpret, and derive the insights. Keep it small at the beginning, which you can scale when the proof of concept is understood and accepted.

5. Enhance endlessly: Data is dynamic and inferences obtained from people data is super dynamic. Be open to changing and learning along the way as you refine your approach to data gathering and creating insights. The mindset of continuous improvement and learning would be applicable in these areas as well.

Data-driven, human-centric practices

The last two years have thrown an inordinate challenge to the HR function but has created tremendous opportunities to add value. HR professionals should take on this opportunity with utmost sincerity. Leaders will continue to crave for help to attract and retain the right people.

The “Great Resignation” has touched every company and has challenged every HR professional. Sensible use of data again comes greatly to our rescue, and there is so much to learn, understand and leverage with what our metrics can tell us.

However, one should not forget, while it is unavoidable to get the numbers right, numbers alone cannot bring transformation. The use of data to drive human-centric decisions to anchor the organization’s purpose, culture, and values in every employee is the utmost responsibility of a good HR leader and its function. And for this, we need to get the mix in the right proportions, where HR functions will be known as the business engine that delivers data-driven, human-centric practices to drive enterprise success.


We work hard at keeping up to date and informed on the latest trends and news affecting the world of people analytics, diversity and inclusion & strategic workforce planning. If you would like to know more about the work we do, then please contact us.

Guest author- Shubha Shridharan

Grp SVP of Adecco Group APAC

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