Strategic people analytics in action

Michael Carty reports from the People Analytics and Future of Work (PAFOW) conference in London, which explored how people analytics can benefit organisations and the wider community.

“We are in an innovative time and space for people analytics.” This is according to Al Adamsen of people analytics specialists Insight222, introducing the April 2019 PAFOW conference. He explains the conference’s “People data for good” tagline: “Through people analytics we can understand what’s happening with not only the workplace experience but the human experience. Through this, we can positively impact people’s lives.”

The insights generated by people analytics can benefit the organisation and society, he says. But for this to happen, organisations must be willing and able to act on what the data tells them. “We generate insight through analytics,” says Adamsen. “That’s our product. The insight. Many organisations fall down in bridging the gap from knowledge and insight to action.”

Three key themes emerged from the conference sessions on how to go about linking knowledge, insight and action in people analytics work:

1: People analytics is most effective when it is truly strategic.

“Start with the strategy,” advises Sarah Johnson, VP enterprise surveys and analytics at Perceptyx. “When it comes to people analytics, too many organisations jump immediately to the methodology, rather than thinking through what they are trying to achieve,” she says. “When you start with the strategy, you will immediately create data and reports that will grab the attention of senior leaders, as you are helping them solve their key problems.”

People analytics activities should be designed to produce “objective data that puts employees at the centre of the business strategy,” says Gregg Carman, EVP global commercial operations at Humanyze. He recommends identifying and analysing the data that is most relevant to the organisation’s strategic challenges – even if this involves looking beyond ‘traditional’ people data sources. Carman describes how he helped one organisation achieve its strategic objective of combatting overwork by using workplace facilities data. They consulted data on the use of meeting rooms, heating and ventilation outside of regular office hours. Through these data sources, they were able to identify teams within the organisation with problematic levels of out-of-hours working, and to take steps to resolve the situation. Carman says: “They were able to investigate, diagnose and solve this strategic problem by being a high-fidelity listener.”

2: People analytics is not owned by HR.

“At this event, we’re talking more about how HR can be an enabler or a facilitator of people analytics work, rather than an owner,” says Adamsen. The most effective people analytics teams draw on a mix of data and analytics skills and the more traditional people skills that are traditionally seen as the province of HR, he says.

For many organisations, bringing together this mix of skills means that HR must collaborate with data specialists from other teams or departments. This is not always straightforward. “A major challenge in building a data-driven HR culture is the different types of people,” says Hazel Challenger, people analytics lead at the Ministry of Justice. “HR are ‘people people’, while analysts want to work on their data models in silence. Are the two groups ever going to understand one another?” Both sides bring specialist skills that are of equal importance to effective people analytics, she says. “We must be careful not to lose extreme expertise on either side.” Challenger assumed a “translator role” to bridge this gap between HR and her people analytics team, encouraging HR business partners (HRBPs) to bring problems to her. She was then able to show them how people analytics could be used to investigate and analyse people issues, and how the resulting data insights could be translated into action.

“Educate, inform and enthuse.” These are the three essential steps for encouraging HR business partners to get to grips with data, according to Steve Scott, group head of strategic workforce planning and people insight at Lloyds Banking Group. Like Challenger, Scott created “translator roles” to connect the analytics and HR teams. He also sought out “data champions” within HR. Scott says: “I’m not trying to convert HRBPs into data scientists. I want them to be excited about what workforce analytics can do for them.” This approach is bearing fruit. Scott points to a recent success story. The analytics team provided extensive data to HR on a contact centre with high absence levels. An HRBP detected a pattern in the data and recommended the provision of flu jabs to workers in this contact centre. This resulted in a “huge” reduction in absence levels within the contact centre workforce. Scott’s team highlighted this example in an internal communications campaign to promote people analytics to HR, entitled “Look at the impact of what Gemma did.”

For HR departments looking to find an internal partner for people analytics work, Brad Hubbard, global head of people analytics at Bristol-Meyers Squibb, has a recommendation: “Partner with sales. They will always have extensive, clear, well-structured data, for example on the behaviours and skillsets needed to drive individual and team performance.”

3: People analytics can be a force for the greater good.

“What’s our bigger purpose?” All people analytics practitioners should ask themselves this question, argues Matthew Mee, director of workforce and talent analytics at Emsi. “Is it just about solving business problems and creating competitive advantage? Or do we as a profession have an aspiration to do something better?”

People analytics can have a positive impact on the organisation and on society when applied to diversity and inclusion projects, says Nicky Clement, VP of HR, organisation and people analytics at Unilever. “This is the right time to think about the opportunity diversity brings,” she says. Clement notes the prominence of issues such as equal pay, the #MeToo movement and LGBT+ rights, and their importance to millennials when choosing where to work. These factors have helped make diversity and inclusion a strategic imperative for many organisations.

Unilever is currently engaged in a long-term project to achieve a gender-balanced workforce by 2020. People analytics has played a key role in this project. Clement started by gathering and analysing a wide range of people data, to identify the factors with the greatest impact on women working at Unilever. Her aim was “to distil themes from around the world to identify actions we can take across the organisation.” She recommends a rigorous approach at this stage: “Invest the time upfront to get datasets right. It’s painful and annoying. But it creates the foundation you need.”

Clement identified a number of specific issues on which to focus: attrition among women; the gender balance of internal promotions; and how many mothers returned from maternity leave. She then worked with business leaders to identify actions on these issues. These actions initially focused on the managerial band, with an emphasis on mentoring and coaching. Unilever also took action to improve its parental and paternity leave offerings, even in territories where there is no legal obligation to provide such leave.

“To really bring actionable insights, you need to bring it to a local level,” says Clement. She took steps to partner with HR. She appointed “ambassadors” for the gender-balanced workforce project in local HR departments. Her team rolled out a Tableau dashboard to make real-time diversity and inclusion data globally available across HR, and trained HR on how to interpret and act on this data.

For diversity and inclusion initiatives to succeed, employers’ commitment to diversity and inclusion must be more than skin deep, Clement stresses. Diversity and inclusion must be embedded into the corporate culture. “If you create an environment in which women are just promoted to meet a quota, it won’t last. Women will move on. We want to raise the floor and raise the ceiling.”

Unilever is making good progress towards achieving its objective. The proportion of women in its global workforce has risen from 38% in 2010 to 49% in 2018. “Analytics has truly made the difference,” says Clement. The ability to communicate data findings in a way that inspires the audience to act is critical: “Tell a story with the data so people feel ownership and interest and a real human need to take action.”

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