Top 5 Best Practices for Successful Workforce Analytics

By Dave Weisbeck

February 10 2012 - Complexity in todayís workforce, new technology investments, economic pressures, talent as a competitive edge, aligning the people strategy with the business strategy and many other reasons are driving a change in HR to be more information-savvy. This has turned workforce analytics into the hottest topic in the HR technology arena, but this change has also created confusion as to how to best implement programs to make workforce analytics successful. In this article I will describe 5 best practices that have made organizations successful with workforce analytics. Those of us in the HR world, however, know that people are always the critical element to any initiative being successful so I wonít touch on change management, executive sponsorship and the cultural elements but instead focus on 5 best practices specific to workforce analytics.

  • Begin with the end in mind. It was fabulous advice when Stephan R. Covey detailed this in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It remains great advice today and is especially relevant for workforce analytics projects. The challenge HR professionals implementing, or upgrading analytics have to face is that analytics provides for many possible applications: delivering dashboards to executives, measuring the most important HR metrics, creating predictive models of future trends, improving turnover, and many more. Without a clear understanding of what you would like to measure, who will use the information, and what decisions will be made with the new analytics, the risk becomes you fail to satisfy any one stakeholderís expectations in a complete way. Set clear goals for what the project will achieve and what it will not, and ensure these goals are clearly communicated.

  • Deliver value each step of the journey. Ultimately, all analytics projects, including workforce analytics projects, will be journeys rather than destinations. Organizations cannot expect to go from no implementation and experience to advanced usage of predictive analytics and planning in a single leap. Those that have tried to overreach often find themselves either with solutions they canít use to full effect, or are burdened with changing project plans that lead to delay. Conversely, those who have taken a stepwise approach can more clearly articulate, and demonstrate tangible value the project has delivered. This creates many benefits, including support for further projects, more successful training, and onboarding of users.

  • Create transparency. As the old adage goes, information wants to be free. Too often we question the sharing of information and seek the means to lock it down or hoard it for ourselves. Certainly, organizations have sensitive data, especially employee data, and must responsibly limit access. The challenge is this is used to justify putting information only in executiveís hands, or HR holding too tight to the keys to the workforce data. The value of analytics is to make better, confident, fact-based decisions. The opportunity is to create a multiplier effect that sees better people decisions made throughout the organization by every people leader. The risk to limiting information sharing is the use of workforce analytics stagnates from limited usage and a lack of alignment or trust that comes from only sharing partial views of information. Challenge what can be shared, and work to create a culture that makes information based decisions.

  • Simple is better. One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain, "I didnít have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." It very elegantly captures the notion that simple is harder, and in analytics this is especially true. There is always more information, or different ways to show information. The danger with not simplifying is that information overload can be just as dangerous as information under-load as users struggle to understand what is meaningful. Always challenge what information is valuable, versus what information is interesting. What decisions will you make, or what actions will be taken with the information? If you canít clearly state how the information will be used, then challenge the need to include it in your workforce analytics.

  • Donít ignore the technology. As a technologist, I know this is easy for me to say and I know many of my colleagues in HR struggle with this one. The key here is not that you have to be an expert, but that you donít remove yourself from the technology discussion and decisions. There is nothing wrong with relying on experts to provide you with advice, but ultimately you have to ensure the technology will support the goals you are trying to achieve. Ask the curious questions and understand tradeoffs that the different solutions may incur.

Take these best practices to heart and you, too can become a leader in this new era of information-savvy human resources.

Dave Weisbeck is CSO of Visier, Inc., a software-as-a-service (SaaS) analytic application provider headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia.