HR has recently come to embrace people analytics. More than 85% of the companies surveyed for Bersin’s High-Impact People Analytics study have developed their PA capabilities beyond the most rudimentary level. But nearly 70% of companies have not yet scaled those capabilities across the HR organization. If companies stop now, they won’t earn the highest potential return on their investments in data and analytics.

In most companies where a core people analytics (PA) team exists, it’s a centralized silo — a center of excellence, comprised of professionals from HR, data science, and social and behavioral science backgrounds. The problem? Isolation. When the PA capability is separated from the rest of the business, its applications are severely limited. The rich promise of people analytics lies in its ability to bolster employee engagement and productivity at a day-to-day level — and in doing so, to deliver business results. Making good on that promise is the challenge facing HR leaders.

PA plays an integral role in talent and business decision-making for too few companies. To bridge this gap, organizations need to build an extended people analytics ecosystem — one that enables data and analytics to be broadly embedded in everyday work streams and decision-making processes. Such an ecosystem features data infrastructure, strategic partnerships with business leaders, analytics capabilities throughout the HR function, mechanisms to share data and insights with a wider audience, and a companywide data culture. These will be critical themes for HR leaders throughout 2018, and the following considerations offer a good place to get started:

Equip all HR staff with basic data literacy skills. All HR practitioners should know basic statistical concepts, where to find data, how to slice and dice it, how to read a dashboard, and how to bring data and analytics to bear on business issues. Our research reveals that such basic skills are among the most important predictors of high-performing people analytics. Thinking analytically is a crucial skill for HR practitioners — to better understand actual business issues. Also, HR practitioners with a solid grasp of analytics basics are better equipped to share insights generated by the PA team with the rest of the business.

Chevron, for example, developed an in-house analytics curriculum to upskill its entire HR function. The tiered development program teaches an increasingly involved body of analytics skills and knowledge. The company has successfully built a basic standard of analytics knowledge and capabilities throughout the HR organization — thereby creating a wider pool of internal candidates for analytics positions. Over time, it has also helped remove pockets of below-average analytics capabilities in which “gut-based” decisions were still the norm.

Create a data-driven, decision-making culture from the top down. Does your company use data to truly drive decisions rather than using it merely as an afterthought to justify them? Here’s where a company’s culture comes into play. One of the best ways to promote desired behaviors in the workplace is having high-visibility executives champion the cause. HR leaders need to enlist the support of C-suite executives in communicating and demonstrating the use and importance of data-driven decision-making. Another piece of a data-driven culture is in creating an environment that supports continuous experimentation (with tools, models, and approaches) and in embracing newer concepts such as A/B testing and rapid cycle prototyping, ushering in a new era of evidence-based HR.

Distribute data and insights across the business. If access to PA is available only through centers of excellence, then the quantity and quality of the insights provided will be limited. To reach scale, data and insights must be shared throughout the organization. HR leaders need to develop “sharing” mechanisms, such as a self-service model, shared services, or automated dashboards. In high-performing analytics functions, these delivery mechanisms are robust and frequently used — and form a critical part of the analytics ecosystem. But without a good delivery method, people analytics won’t scale.

At Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited, for example, the company wanted to make all of its hiring, onboarding, and training interactions available to users through a smooth dashboard experience. It developed an automated, app-enabled HR platform that supports and records all interactions between employees, managers, candidates, and the company itself with minimal HR involvement. The dashboard has reduced the time on many decisions from weeks or months to only a day or two at most, and has created a seamless, compelling onboarding experience for all new employees since its implementation.

Create strategic partnerships with leaders throughout the organization. To identify and pursue critical business projects, PA leaders and practitioners should reach out to their counterparts in business units, operations, and corporate functions, such as IT and finance, to create strong working partnerships. The core PA team will also need to diversify by including professionals from varied backgrounds — for instance, consulting or marketing analytics. Strategic partnerships and a more diverse core team will create the connections needed to identify the most pressing and relevant problems in the business, such as improving sales performance or assessing the quality of internal versus external hires.

Merck’s workforce analytics (WFA) team members, for example, believe their work encompasses much more than performing advanced analytics. Instead, their work is about influencing with analytics. For instance, seven consultants, part of the WFA team, work in (internal) client-facing roles, taking questions from the business units and helping to frame them and begin identifying approaches to find answers. The special operations team consisting of data scientists, within the WFA team, collaborates on conducting rigorous analyses, along with providing necessary data models and solutions. The consultants then work with their business clients to ensure that the findings and recommendations from the special operations team align with the needs of the business. This team structure has immensely helped WFA at Merck stay agile and nimble while being relevant to business needs.

The challenge of scaling is the critical next step in capturing the full potential of people analytics, but it isn’t the endgame. Using people analytics to enhance the employee experience and spur employees’ productivity on a daily basis, as part of their regular workflow, are certainly business imperatives. Organizations that can do so consistently and rigorously can not only take proactive actions to correct and resolve issues but also make work more enjoyable and meaningful to their employees.

This column is part of a Bersin series on 10 predictions for 2018. The other articles can be found on Bersin’s blog.

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Madhura Chakrabarti

Madhura Chakrabarti

Madhura Chakrabarti leads the People Analytics and Employee Engagement research practices at Bersin by Deloitte.
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