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Solutions to Six Common People Analytics Pitfalls

Paul DellaGrotte & Dennis Hendricks

Trying to run a business without metrics and a People Analytics strategy will always feel like something is missing.

As more HR leaders discover what People Analytics can do, there is a growing desire to invest in this capability. The road to implementation can present challenges, and we find many firms falling into one or more of six common pitfalls along the way. The good news is you’re not alone, and there are proven ways to work through these roadblocks.

This article brings together the perspectives of two senior consultants: Paul DellaGrotte, who holds an MS in Predictive Analytics, and Dennis Hendricks, who holds an MS in HR Development. Both are experienced in helping firms tap into their People Analytics to align with strategy and improve operations. “I’ve seen clients create whole new business plans because of what People Analytics can tell senior management,” says Hendricks, who has worked with firms to develop new roles and career paths based on people data demonstrating such roles were important to employees.

“A common misconception is that successful analytics requires data scientists as well as Big Data,” adds DellaGrotte. “This is simply not accurate, and there are many ways for companies to take advantage of the software and resources they already have to tackle valuable business problems.”

“I’ve seen clients create whole new business plans because of what People Analytics can tell senior management.”

Our six common pitfalls that prevent firms from achieving great People Analytics:

  1. Lack of ownership
  2. HR doesn’t have a “seat at the table”
  3. Death by data
  4. Talent information is restricted
  5. Poor data governance
  6. People data doesn’t tell a story

Pitfall #1: Lack of Ownership

Many organizations struggle with lax feelings of People Analytics ownership among employees. Who owns People Analytics? Is it HR? People Analytics Teams? The business? HR teams sometimes leave issues of data and technology to HR Systems people. This “it’s not my problem” mentality isn’t confined to traditional HR teams; technical employees do not always understand the organizations and people they support. Most people can easily imagine mousy data scientists staring at their shoes rather than curiously engaging with fellow employees.

We find education to be the best remedy for employees who don’t feel involved in People Analytics. Engage both types of People Analytics problem children with programs like HR 101 that come from senior leadership as “must learn.“ In his book Work Rules, Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of Human Resources, gives many examples of HR reaching across the aisle into metrics and data. Setting the expectation for cross-functional learning, specifically in HR where few employees get exposure, lays a foundation for analytical involvement and partnership in the future. It’s also good to have People Analytics 101 classes to help people understand the basics of what data can do for the company.

Pitfall #2: HR doesn’t have a seat at the table

HR folks often lament they are not the ones setting the corporate agenda. The CFO and CEO—maybe even a technology leader—make up the real decision-makers at most firms. When it comes to picking a dashboard or People Analytics tool, it may not always be HR who gets to make the decision. Cost cutting can also shift the focus away from investment in areas such as HR Analysis.

So, what can HR do? Leaders in HR should generate interest in People Analytics and make the business case early on. Host programs like People Analytics 101 mentioned above. Make sure that employees understand that People Analytics is not a buzzword but part of the company strategy. Learn what other companies are doing and compare this to make the business case for People Analytics.

Pitfall #3: Death by data

Are there reports that get emailed to you that you never look at? Do you suspect the reports you send don’t get looked at either? Many readers are drowning in data in the form of static reporting. Static reports that come as Excel data dumps or uninspiring PDF documents have limited capabilities for showing trends, anomalies, and patterns. People Analytics should empower leaders to identify issues about their workforce.

The solution to this pitfall is fostering a culture of data exploration. Show your stakeholders there are ways to interact with data that grant the ability to ask, and answer, questions in real time. Analytical and Business Intelligence (BI) tools allow the user to absorb information while prompting curiosity and answer-seeking. Getting employees engaged and asking questions is your goal. People Analytics should be about asking questions like “Why are male and female employee satisfaction scores different?” or “Which employees are at the greatest risk of turnover?” Simply upgrading the presentation of your data can inspire such questions. A real-world example is here at Strong-Bridge Envision, where we used interactive reports to display our employee opinion survey results to keep the senior executive team engaged with the results.

“People Analytics should be about asking questions like Why are male and female employee satisfaction scores different?“

Pitfall #4: Talent information is restricted

In what may be a difficult notion for the HR professional to accept, data should become more open to those that seek answers and new insights. The premise is simple: more minds equals more discoveries. “A lot of our clients are big, publicly traded companies,” says Hendricks. “They’re afraid of SOX Compliance.” They need to overcome that fear, or they will be disrupted by nimble players in their respective markets.

HR can be the gatekeeper to the company’s most sensitive data, and nobody wants data like salaries, social security numbers, and performance reviews getting released into the open. If you have trepidations about opening your business’s people data, why not give selective or trial access to employees and departmental stakeholders who want to test a hypothesis? With modern data warehouse architecture, IT can also help partition your data and remove or restrict access from those who might abuse it.

Critical to successfully opening HR data to a wider audience is the use of self-service analytics tools such as Power BI and Tableau. Chances are your organization is already paying for these licenses, and they are just waiting to be utilized. Each HR team has at least one guy or girl that is good at slicing and dicing data. Encourage this person, have them teach others, and help them build relationships with IT.

“Chances are your organization is already paying for [Power BI or Tableau] licenses, and they are just waiting to be utilized.”

Pitfall #5: Poor data governance

Garbage in means garbage out. Most people are familiar with this saying, and under the umbrella of People Analytics, it rings truer than ever. Consider this: have you ever received a report with an incorrect number? Did you ever trust that report again? That’s all it takes for credibility to go flying out the window.

At a previous client, an HR department aspiring to become more analytical wanted to track the amount of time employee requisitions remained open before they were filled. A valuable measure to track! When it came down to extracting the data from their expensive applicant tracking system, it was discovered that recruiters were not closing the requisitions for commonly recruited positions. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to go back in time and supply the true close date, so the amount of time the requisition stayed open could not be calculated. To make matters worse, each of the site recruiters was using the system differently, making it impossible to benchmark and compare.

For these reasons, and many others, data governance is a worthy initiative for any data-rich company to undertake. Data governance is an organization’s set of guidelines and authority for data-related decisions. These decisions are aimed at improving data quality, data access, and compliance. With the correct data compliance measures in place, the above-mentioned client may not have run into this issue.

So how can you clean up the garbage? First, find out if your organization has a Data Governance Team and address the issues with them. If the function is missing, collaborate with key stakeholders to raise the issues to the executive level.

Pitfall #6: People data doesn’t tell a story

Data can and should tell an interesting story. Interesting stories are remembered and help generate excitement, which in turn creates buy-in for your idea or initiative. What good is a stellar analysis if it doesn’t generate change in the organization? Lots of clever work is accomplished without ever leaving the ivory tower – don’t let this happen to your team.

Think about the medium through which you tell your story, and why not get creative? PowerPoint can still be effective in certain situations, but why not try blog posts, short animated videos, and interactive dashboards to tell the story? A critical component of storytelling is visualization. The human brain is better at processing images like bar charts than reading textual information, so visuals will help your internal customers consume and recall the narrative. With the latest self-service BI tools like Tableau and Power BI, employees can develop their own interactive charts and dashboards without ever talking to someone in IT. Speaking of employees, develop them into story-tellers – or, partner them with others familiar with the people side of HR to cultivate the data story you need.

Your organization may have just one of these barriers or a combination of many. We have seen clients overcome these barriers and achieve best-in-class analytics capabilities, oftentimes using their existing people and technology in the solution. The case for better HR Analytics is made by operational cost savings, better employee retention, and higher productivity. The answers on how to address these big organizational challenges all lie in your data.