Book review: The Power of People, by Jonathan Ferrar, Nigel Guenole & Sheri Feinzig

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Title: The Power of People: Learn How Successful Organizations Use Workforce Analytics To Improve Business Performance
Authors: Jonathan Ferrar, Nigel Guenole & Sheri Feinzig
ISBN: 978-0134546001
Reviewer: Kate Wadia, Phase 3 Consulting
Reviewer’s Rating: 4 out of 5

For the HR professional this is a study book; for up-and-coming workforce data scientists it is a joy. Assuming you’re closer to the first category, then the cost of a paperback of this ilk compared to other purchases we make at work make this book, in terms of HR leadership ROI, a steal.

“The Power of People” shows the convincing case for any less-than-complete convert to analytics that this function is now a key part of strategy. That case is clearly and succinctly put.

Note however that it is made explicit that the relevance right now really only starts within organisations of 10,000 or more employees or so, and certainly not below about 5,000.

Many of the chosen case studies (presented in a dedicated chapter, that is unusually readable for such histories) do contextualise analytics within rather sophisticated environments, but the study of the Met Office is an exception. This one alone may prove extremely helpful to many readers starting at a basic approach.

HR readers may just want to stop at part 1, which is all about achieving a fundamental understanding of what workforce analytics is and why it’s proving so vital in our digitised world of “big data”.

Later sections move on to help the target reader, who is a new starter in a lead, organisational role heading up the HR analytics team, establish themselves in role, set meaningful analytics directions and see their recommendations adopted.

The book is exceptionally well-written. Language is enthusing and engaging and yet simple, practical, clear. Some examples of the help you’ll get include:

  • Examples of business benefits you might look to achieve and to promote in your business case for analytics
  • How to decide on a first analytics project and what makes for a suitable “quick win”
  • What to do when your data is less than perfect at the outset
  • How to secure the right business sponsor within the organisation as the HR workforce analytics lead

I find the authors’ points and presentation particularly strong in two less obvious areas:

Firstly, whether you’re a generalist HR practitioner or a workforce analytics team head, the section breaking down the required overall team skill-set for optimal analytics success and therefore to go about resourcing your team or accessing expertise is brilliant. There is a particularly well-defined logic to support deciding the extent to which to recruit in-house or to outsource.

Secondly, the reader sees clearly a rationale for the (manageable) transitional reach of HR out into the business.

This plots a trend you can read much about but rarely made real enough to enable practical actions for HR leadership.

For example, you’ll pick up points about the pro’s and con’s of differing reporting lines and why data warehousing could future-proof people insights to be optimally used with other big data coming in to the organisation. “The Power of People” pulls this stuff all together.

I like that the authors focus on the here and now.

It’s not as futuristic as much writing on this kind of topic currently. The downside is that I suspect the book will date, which is a danger of putting pen to paper on a space that’s accelerating right now.

This could well be a read for 2017-2019 then consigned to the mustier shelves on the old-school library.

I describe here a trusted read for the HR professional book-shelf (and I do think the book deserves it’s place there) and yet don’t think the authors avoid presenting opinion.

One differentiating twist is a late chapter about the value of story-telling as an effective way to translate into emotional and meaningful impact the outcomes of data science work. Many will find this compelling.

I think this book is great. Don’t put it by the bedside for entertainment unless this really is your thing, but do buy it and to keep. Set aside an hour at the desk for a skim-read, flag your key pages and store it by you as a key reference source.

Workforce analytics is a must for the HR department aspiring to stay with it and I’ve not yet found a better guide.

About Kate Wadia

Kate Wadia - Phase 3 Consulting

Kate’s passion at work is for bridging the gap between technology and people at work, translating for HR professionals the language of HR systems and making meaningful their potential.

She believes that success with people technology is through people and that people are the differentiator. Using simple techniques drawn from HR experience, project management, business psychology and analogy with everyday life, Kate presents and explains how to work well with technology and technology projects in an HR leadership role.

With a background in contrasting private and public sector HR management, Kate developed her thinking in seeking for herself to understand her first HR systems project-work.

Currently she leads the Service Delivery for Phase 3 Consulting, offering an independent take on the HR systems market in the UK, through a network of experts. Kate’s guiding principle is that openness offers knowledge-sharing, credibility and trust.

Incorrigibly enthusiastic and up absurdly early for a working morning, she swears that she only drinks three good coffees a day, but nobody believes her!

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