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Rupert Morrison


Managing Director

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HR – stop saying you don’t understand data


Technology is challenging and driving the HR community to identify the potential gains of data. However, HR teams are still a long way from getting the most out of it. Despite all the hype surrounding data, it is not uncommon to hear HR professionals say, “I don’t do numbers” or “I don’t understand data”.

At a recent HR analytics conference, around 150 delegates were asked to rate themselves out of 10 on how far they perceived themselves to be along the analytics journey. Out of all of them, the highest score was five, and that was from one person. The rest rated themselves two or three!

For years, HR has had to look up to finance and marketing. They have held the balance of power in the boardroom, in part, because they have had all the numbers. However, hard and soft skills do not need to be mutually exclusive. The question is how to get the best of both of worlds.

HR data is not big data

People datasets are often misunderstood. There has been so much hype about big data, the two terms have been confused. Big data involves looking at millions of information points. In contrast, people datasets are relatively small, but often incomplete and subject to constant change. As such they represent a different challenge in terms of tracking people, processes, and roles.

This challenge can often appear impossible. Organisational data is often untidy or incomplete. For example, organisational roles can have numerous titles, making standard analysis near impossible. To make things harder, datasets are often isolated in individual excel spreadsheets, with each department, system, or project creating new pockets of data. The end result is extremely poor data quality with large numbers of inaccuracies and duplicates. It’s hard to know where to begin!

Visualise your data

Data does not need to be that difficult. The key is to make it visual. Tables of data make it hard to gain insight, see patterns, or identify outliers. A picture tells a thousand words. Turning data into something visually engaging not only makes it more fun to work with, but highlights problem areas and inaccuracies in seconds. It allows you to clean the data by isolating and moving large pieces of information, rather than changing one cell at a time.

Visual data makes crowdsourcing easy. You no longer need to rely on database administrators or IT to solve data issues. Technology now allows for fast feedback, such as surveying capability which automatically update a person’s records once completed. For example, a problem in many organisations is a simple question of organisational hierarchy. Who reports into who? One particularly useful exercise may be to send a two-question survey to all employees asking ‘who they report to’ and ‘who reports to them’. Collate the data, draw an org chart and very quickly you will expose any confusion or inaccuracies. Big data is all very glamorous, but the most value is often in getting the basics right.

Quality data means quality insight

Once your data is clean, start having fun. Merging your HR data with non-HR data is where the real gold lies. For example, merge sales or ops data to see if people recruited from certain channels are higher sales performers, or if those with more strategic accounts have a higher tenure. Answering these types of questions is where HR’s business value really shines through.

Data is not as difficult as it appears. With the growing power of technology in the workplace, the opportunity is here now for HR to have a significant impact on business decision-making. Like jumping into an icy pool, the hardest bit is taking the plunge. HR professionals need to embrace the challenge, get excited by the possibilities and learn to love data. It is not the solution to all HR’s problems, but it may just allow you to understand your organisation like never before.  

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Rupert Morrison

Managing Director

Read more from Rupert Morrison

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