Data: the key to unlocking HR in business

Giles Slinger (Concentra, London, UK)

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 13 April 2015



Slinger, G. (2015), "Data: the key to unlocking HR in business", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 14 No. 1/2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Data: the key to unlocking HR in business

The latest ideas on how to approach measurement and evaluation of HR activities

Article Type: Metrics From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 14, Issue 1/2

Giles Slinger

Giles Slinger is a Director at Concentra, London, UK.

Human resource (HR) is on a journey of discovery on how to combine traditional activities like talent management with data and analytics. There is a desire and a need for the HR profession to improve its understanding and analytical capability to connect people performance to business performance.

This drive is represented by the CIPD’s latest “Valuing your talent” report: “Human capital reporting: investing for sustainable growth”. This report explores the benefits of consistent reporting and agreeing core people data to improve the understanding of workforce potential and challenges. But in practical terms, how do you go about creating a data-led HR function? How do you go from a data self-starter to a function expert in leading the business through people data and analytics?

We see five key stages to the data and analytics journey for HR:

1. get the questions clear;

2. get your data clean;

3. understand the as-is;

4. design the to-be; and

5. understand the organisation as a system.

Get the questions clear

For many years, strategy consultants have used a hypothesis-led approach to focus investigations – and it works. Data and analytics are not all about facts and figures. Often, the best insights come initially from intuition, investigation and creative thinking.

For example, if you have a gut feeling that you are losing your top talent, that is valuable. Recognise the gut feeling, then test it with a focused question to direct investigation: Are top-performing graduates leaving? Think through the information you need to answer this; how has the headcount changed? Who has left and are they from particular departments or regions? What were their performance scores? Use these questions to frame future work and discussions, including what data you need to collect to understand and address the issue.

Get your data clean: data wrangling

Although HR likes to talk about “big data”, the reality is that people data are not big data. People data sets are relatively small, but often incomplete, located in numerous systems and out of date due to constant organisational changes. No set of organisational data will ever be absolutely perfect, all you need is for it to be good enough to work with. The key is to “data wrangle” effectively; the process of merging, cleansing, visualising and manipulating the data you need into a usable and convenient format. Make this process simple for users and you are halfway to business-changing insights already.

Understand the as-is

Understanding the as-is is not simply a case of HR knowing the organisational headcount, locations, demographics, etc […]. This information on its own, while useful, is not going to put HR at the top of the business agenda. Organisational analytics has to go beyond measures of absence rates, time to hire and engagement to show patterns and correlations. Understanding the as-is means connecting your people data to business outcomes – productivity, sales, timelines, performance, safety records customer satisfaction and so on.

Design the to-be

If you know your business, you can design it for the future. You can do this role-by-role: what we will need to have in one, two or three years’ time? Or you can do it using driver analysis: if demand goes up by 20 per cent, how many of each role will we need? How does that change if we can change how we do things to achieve productivity improvements of 7 per cent per year? In either case, having a clear visual model of the future improves communication and adoption, helping people to understand how their roles will evolve and what new training they should seek.

Understand the organisation as a system

Finally, organisational analytics has an opportunity to deal with the world as it really is: a complex, interconnected system. Consistent and focused data collection must be backed by HR’s deep understanding of the multiple connections between people, roles, skills and activities. Too many change programmes have been overwhelmed in the past by the sheer complexity of dealing with the real world.

The HR function of the future has to be able to resolve business issues before they happen by connecting the organisational system. They need to drive leaders from across the whole business to think through what their people do now, what they will do in the future and what the cost impact will be if activities change.

Less talk and more action

2015-2020 will be an exciting time for the HR function; HR teams are adding recruits with analytical skills and line experience. There are opportunities for HR to be involved in organisation thinking and design. There is most certainly a place at the heart of strategic discussions for professionals with people expertise and organisational analytics skills. Now there just needs to be less talk and more action, when it comes to embracing data and analytics and using HR’s unique business position to lead the organisation of the future.

About the author

Giles Slinger is a Director at Concentra, which produces the HR tool OrgVue, a leading SaaS platform for HR analytics, organisation design and workforce planning. Formerly a Junior Research Fellow in economics at Cambridge University and a Management Consultant with ATKearney, Giles’ focus areas are on effective management process and intelligent use of business information through intuitive data management and visualisation. He is a firm believer in connecting organisations, employees and customers through promoting organisational transparency and clarity of information. Giles Slinger can be contacted at:

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