HR has come a long way of late. During Covid, not to mention the Great Resignation that followed, leaders everywhere came to depend on people insights – mission-critical data gathered and surfaced by increasingly sophisticated HR analytics platforms.
But here’s the reality: much of the HR data is still stuck in HR, severely limiting HR’s ability to impact talent and business outcomes. At a time when the bar has been raised for business insights, HR is still behind other functions. This puts the HR function at risk.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
There will be winners and losers in the new economy. Winners will use data to understand their talent pools and productivity drivers, while gaining deep insights into workforce patterns. Losers will rely on tradition and instinct for talent decisions, missing out on the rich potential of data-driven decision-making.
As chief people officer for a company that helps businesses collect and analyse data from over 2,500 organisations representing 37 million employees and contingent workers, I’ve seen firsthand how good people data can guide leaders through tough strategic decisions.
Here are four concrete strategies HR leads and c-suite executives can use to reframe and prioritise people data during these tough economic times. By following these Four Cs of HR data, we can ensure that people insights continue to drive real business results.
Cadence: Keeping data top of mind
When data is accessible, we use it. Just look at how Apple Watches and other fitness trackers have transformed how we think of and manage our health.
Most HR departments now have access to similarly comprehensive data that can track the collective 'health' of a company’s workforce, from company-level skills matrices and demographic overviews to employee-specific engagement and productivity. But companies must integrate these data points into decision-making processes if they are to be used.
So it’s important to communicate HR data to decision-makers regularly. Companies wouldn’t dream of looking at financial results only once a year. Such infrequency should be equally unthinkable for insights into the people resources that are the lynchpin of company goals.
Consistently putting HR data in front of decision-makers reinforces the impact of HR-related choices on the company. For example, at Visier, we share weekly insights into hiring and turnover and bring forward trends like office use and career mobility.
These aren’t just 'dashboards' – this is an approach that reinforces our talent objectives and holds a mirror up to progress. This helps align the many distributed decisions about talent with a collective outcome. Think of it as a drumbeat.
Curation: Separating signal from noise
Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always paint a usable picture, especially in data-saturated work environments where figures fly and inboxes are flooded with hundreds of emails daily.
So it’s important to choose which data to share. People managers only have limited time and attention, so pick what is most relevant, important and actionable. Carefully curating and tailoring the data by job function or department ensures the most useful figures are shared where needed and makes a clear case for their utility.
For example, if sales are a priority, it makes sense to highlight the pipeline of top-level sales talent in regular HR reports. Curating and highlighting this data point can enable a company to funnel recruitment and retention dollars into efforts to improve the bottom line.
Context: Revealing the story behind the numbers
Ever play a game of telephone? Without context, isolated data points become garbled and sometimes completely misunderstood. However artfully curated, key statistics must be part of a story. That’s why it is important to include analysis and informed recommendations in every report.
Considering that nearly half the respondents in an HR magazine survey reported they regularly receive vague or confusing directions – most of them multiple times daily – it’s impossible to overstate the importance of clarity. Instead of presuming people will intuitively grasp top-line takeaways, wrap the data in context, highlighting its organisational significance and utility in reaching targets and goals.
For example, if turnover is up by 5% across your company, it would be helpful for leaders to know what that means relative to your competitors. When external turnover is up 20% throughout your industry or geography, it warrants a different action than when the external figure is closer to 2%,
Conversation: Making data-based decision-making the norm
Of course, none of the other four Cs means anything if data are not lived and breathed in a day-to-day operational way. Data must transcend email and make its way into real interactions with people.
These conversations are how culture gets carried, and you should seize opportunities to shift that culture to one of integrated people data whenever they arise.
Demonstrate the use of data in one-on-one conversations, group meetings and presentations. For a model, we can again look to the CFO. Usually, when giving status updates, they will start with the numbers: cash and cashflow forecasts, sales pipelines, risks, balance sheet specifics – all the vital and agreed-upon measures of the company's health and progress.
That consistency creates a touchstone that centres the group’s attention on what is important and balances it with the 'topic of the day'. HR leaders can use similar tactics to inject people data into regular discussions, helping stakeholders view people data as a north star and normalise its use.
When it comes to talent, companies increasingly face a winners-and-losers scenario. Given the economic uncertainty, a growing workforce skills gap and other factors, only companies with the ability to recognise patterns and coordinate actions across organisations will survive this critical stage.
Companies that become nimble at routinely using people to align and elevate the quality of small distributed decisions throughout the organisation will find success in this rapidly evolving landscape.
The time to invest in workforce data is now, as those who do will be well-positioned to emerge as winners in this new era of work.
Paul Rubenstein, chief people officer is Visier