HR needs to focus on people intelligence – here's why

In a world order that seems to resist simplification with a myriad of huge, complex and interconnected challenges, declaring one most important issue to focus on may seem like something more elusive than a Downing Street fact-checked truth.

But as the newly ranked number-one HR Most Influential thinker, I feel compelled to share what I think that it is: people intelligence.

Improving people intelligence:

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How to build a people analytics team

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We have wars, social injustice, political mayhem, a cost-of-living crisis, a pandemic resurgence, a challenging jobs market and widespread unrest in the UK around industrial action.

So why would people intelligence be the one thing to focus on the most, when faced with these outrageously volatile challenges?

We are having to make decisions in our enterprises with ever more uncertainty that they are the most effective and impactful ways to proceed – unless, as I suggest, we have a richer form of wisdom that comes from intelligence about people.

With hiring propositions, this is: what intelligence we have about what people are really looking for if we’re trying to persuade the most talented people out there to join us. And how does that stack up against our value proposition?

In knowledge work, deciding what model of operation (remote first, partially remote or entirely in-office) is the winning formula for not only more effective performance, but also meeting the needs of, and attracting, new talent.

In mixed knowledge and production or services enterprises, how we create cohesion between those who can choose and those who have no choice on the location of work.

In deciphering how to position sustainable pay and reward packages against the rising cost of essential goods and living: how do we position sustainable, equitable offers?

In looking at optimal performance, the application of management, learning, adaptive practices, and stabilising our use of proven and emerging digital tools and how we should choose to introduce these productivity-enhancing technologies.

All of these incredibly important domains and areas need better people intelligence.

We need intelligence about what people want and need so we can calibrate our offers to that.

We also need intelligence on how we can make the most of the choices we take; in how we deploy tools, policies, guidance, processes, technology and operational systems to create the most value in those domains.

Product intelligence, consumer or market intelligence, and financial or economic intelligence all seem better supported, but our people domains are behind the curve. Organisations and HR have too many surface-level people data and insights. So, what can we do about that?

1. Put people intelligence on the map/strategy. You won’t have to work too hard to explain it’s a barren area.

2. Put into practice (by learning with the market, product and finance intelligence analysts you have access to) an approach to build your strategic workforce capability and performance insight. Identify what you need, how you capture it, how you analyse it, how you report on it and how it contributes toward more acutely effective value creation.

3. Start to use that intelligence in the context of your hiring, retaining, deploying, developing, rewarding and enhancing your people proposition. Mapped to performance results (performance metrics of now) and post the introduction of your people intelligence-led ways of operating (performance metrics of next).

4. Adjust, adapt and enhance what you have, how you get and use it, how you operationalise and then how you measure that.

So that’s my one thing. More of, and better use of, the infinite value that is people intelligence.


Perry Timms is the founder of PTHR and ranked number one on the HR Most Influential Practitioners list in 2022


The full article of the above first appeared in the July/August 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.