What there is to fear with HR Data Analytics

Data and analytics
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James Rule
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Making the case for HR data analytics needs to go beyond just providing insight into the key business challenges an organisation has.

The case needs to also help people navigate the change that the insights could lead to as well as manage one of the strongest emotions we all experience: fear.

Fear: analysing a trait relevant to the success of HR analytics

One of the most emotive words in the English language is fear. Each of you reading this will have made your own internal representation of what fear means. Any feelings, images, smells, tastes and sounds could feel very real. That is how powerful our emotions are, particularly fear.

If you stop to think about our evolution it is not much of a surprise. But for our ability to form complex social groups and build complex things we would not have the elevated position we have.

We are not apex predators. As infants we spend a significant amount of time, relative to other animals, effectively helpless. We are dependent on each other and we are evolutionary conditioned to over emphasize the negative. Whilst that rustle of the leaves nine times out of ten is just the wind the one time it is not can be fatal.

Mental time travel: the second trait relevant to HR analytics success

Another interesting trait we have is that we are really good at mental time travel. This acts as an emotional amplifier.

The title of this article infers that there is something to fear. It is our choice as to if we fear it or not. Organisationally it is about hearts and minds.

If we are looking forward to our holiday typically the positive emotions are amplified. If we are worried about our jobs due to a proposed re-organisation typically the negative emotions are amplified. In this case it could be perceived as a threat to our livelihood and purpose.

So it is unsurprising that new things that we do not really understand that could have an impact on our future can generate such a fear response.

The natural and normal psychological response to the outcomes of HR analytics

There are many articles talking about HR data analytics. There are many interesting and exciting case studies around HR data analytics.

What I have not seen, and granted I may have missed it, is much on how organisations are helping people manage their natural psychological response to the outcomes of HR data analytics.

Is an uptake of HR data analytics to inform decision making going to be used in a way that benefits those that are working in the organisation? Sure, it could do.

Is it going to be used to work on organisational design and productivity and therefore potentially change people’s job or indeed cost them their jobs? What do you think the most likely? What do you think most of your colleagues think most likely?  Most of the stories out there in my opinion are more the latter than the former.

The key is making a sensitive case for change. Promoting the benefits of HR data analytics is not enough regardless of how the cost-benefit stacks up.

I am going to use football/soccer as an example...

This environment is most definitely a performance culture from a management perspective. It also uses vast amounts of data to assess performance of players. If the team does not perform the manager usually loses their job.

In this situation the manager is very dependent on the players that are already there. The board may approve new acquisitions but are unlikely to approve a new team. It is more about using what is already in the club more effectively.  Organisational Effectiveness.

The key is making a sensitive case for change. Promoting the benefits of HR data analytics is not enough regardless of how the cost-benefit stacks up.

When cases for change are being made the importance of trust is often overlooked. Two successful managers in the English Premier League at the moment are Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte. Both spend more of their time focusing on improving trust and team building over tactics. They also take a longer-term view and accept that change done right is better than change rushed to hit an arbitrary deadline.

Trust, long-term focus and the change story are all crucial for successful change within any context, especially business. The bigger the perceived change and threat the bigger the effort required to build and maintain trust, develop long-term focus and create the change story.

If I had one tip for success in this area it would be that most people underestimate the effort required. You could and perhaps should be using at least half of your energy on trust, perspective and managing change. 

Trust + performance = good data

Culture has a huge impact on trust. HR data analytics are dependent on the quality of data being used to inform decisions (and this is not just the data on your HR platforms).

I believe that for HR analytics to be successful organisations need to have a strong high-performance culture, which by default is a high trust culture. They also need modern and mature means to obtain the data to drive insights from. The latter means the technology platforms as well as having systems and processes with the employees at heart so that they engage with them.

Trust, long-term focus and the change story are all crucial for successful change within any context, especially business.

For example, if you want to gain insights on attrition you need enough channels that are compelling and easy to use to gain the data points as well as a culture where people notice that the right progression and development is more likely at that company than in another company.

The importance of mindset in HR data analytics

An interesting view on HR data analytics will be the mindset of those it is designed to assist.

If we return to sport for a moment – I will share a trait I have noticed with the top performers in sport who I coach.

They are relentless in their pursuit of potential. They do not think they have achieved it.  They are constantly looking for whatever can give them the edge. They actively seek out insights from data that could improve their performance.  At their level the difference within the top ten is so small that these marginal gains that big data can highlight can make all the difference.

They see data analytics as a tool to make them even more effective and competitive. They like improving. There is a strong ‘towards’ motivation. This is important as the opposite, ‘away’ motivation (typically what you “don’t want”) is fear-driven.

Who would not like to work at an organisation where you can see how engaging with the systems and processes has helped you and others improve and become even more effective?

Who would not like to work at an organisation where you feel the organisation takes just the right interest in you and proactively helps you drive your career or development?

Who would not like to work at an organisation where the finger is really on the pulse regarding sentiment and engagement and interventions are made before it becomes a less compelling place to work?

These stories are compelling, aren’t they?

We need to tell these stories more often to succeed in HR analytics

We could use them to help people navigate the change HR data analytics will bring. It is not just about solving key business challenges articulated often in ambiguous terms. 

The title of this article infers that there is something to fear. It is our choice as to if we fear it or not. Organisationally it is about hearts and minds.

It is about managing change and helping people understand their natural response to new things and uncertainty. It is about helping people manage their responses even more effectively. 

Imagine, if we did all that, what we could do with the insights that HR data analytics undoubtedly gives us.  

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