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Big Data Analytics, HR and Managing Talent

Posted by Mathew French

5 August 2014

Big data analytics is a BIG topic. It also has the potential to be quite a daunting area for HR Professionals to dive into. This series of blogs is dedicated to an investigation of current research related to how the HR function can harness the power of insight available through big data analytics to enhance their talent strategies.

Never before has there been such a sheer volume of available information, and so much capability to assess that information, available in the marketplace. However, just because vast volumes of data exist, does not mean that HR Professionals, for example, have developed the skill sets necessary to really access and use the available data to create better work, a more enjoyable workplace, and a happier, more productive workforce.

The CIPD’s 2013 report on ‘Talent Analytics and Big Data’ makes it very clear that ‘talent analytics and big data are now must-have capabilities in HR.’

If these capabilities are non-negotiable factors in business success, then exactly what tools are needed, and what skills are required, for HR Professionals to venture bravely into big data analytics territory? Not only that, what are the roadblocks which currently stand in the way of progress?

It's fair to say that the marketplace has been completely transformed by the sheer volume, speed and availability of data. What this ultimately means, is that as the search for a competitive advantage intensifies, data about people and performance becomes increasingly critical.

Three Key Dimensions for Harnessing Big Data Analytics

According to the report, the HR debate around harnessing big data analytics to inform and strengthen talent strategies, has thus far revolved around three key dimensions.

  • What systems, processes and infrastructure drive big data and subsequent talent analytics capabilities?
  • What platforms are available to capture and analyse data and how can this information best be put to use to inform and develop coherent data and HR strategies?
  • How should HR Professionals develop an approach to the big data analytics of talent?
  • How should data be stored and shared within and across the organisation?
  • What are the best practices for actual analysis and how can this be standardised?
  • Which metrics are important – standard statistical reporting like defining and measuring employee turnover, or the more complex problem of predicting patterns of employee behaviour.
  • Who is responsible for the delivery of big data analysis?
  • Is the development of talent pools beneficial and, if so, what types are needed?
  • How do organisations target and recruit the scarce talent to resource this growing capability requirement?



Three Key Dimensions That Affect Capacity and Engagement

According to CIPD’s research, the capacity for and engagement around analytics and big data is affected by three key dimensions.

  • Silos are the inherent organisational system and structural obstacles that inhibit timely and efficient access to data, as well as the agility use and share it effectively.
  • This is caused by a combination of structural barriers present in both HR and the organisation as a whole, which impede the efficient sharing of data.
  • Systemic silos are those pertaining to infrastructure related to data analysis.
  • These include issues such as systems incompatibility, security and hosting concerns, as well as IT and analytics skills issues.
Skills and Aptitude
  • This relates to whether individuals, departments and organisations have the essential capability to define, analyse and model people analytics essential to a data-driven approach.
  • This involves deciding whether to make or buy analytics capabilities, what kinds of capabilities are required and how effective 'analysis capabilities' are developed.
Suspicion and Scepticism
  • These relate to the typical cultural and professional barriers to integrating and embedding an analytical approach within HR.
  • This also includes the biases and beliefs around intuition and expertise within HR, and a feeling that data might reduce human beings to units of measurement.
  • It is also a factor that is intimately bound up with the skills and capability issue.

The Pathway to Big Data Analytics Success

The pathway for HR to develop a coherent approach to big data analytics and subsequent talent strategies, revolves around balancing the strategic and tactical requirements of developing data-driven strategies going forward. It also requires that HR Professionals own the gap in their own ability to be data driven. CIPD's findings make is crystal clear that:

‘...there is still a significant gap in our ability as HR professionals to be data-driven and evidence-based in our decisions.’

Survey research indicates that there are considerable challenges ahead, however, there is also significant potential to transform challenges into opportunities. An evolution is required in order to develop a strategic and tactical mindset within the HR landscape. HR Professionals have the opportunity to embed the following practices as industry benchmarks.

  • Develop analytics as a continuous improvement strategy.
  • Place people analytics at the centre of business priorities.
  • Accelerate the requirement for analytic bandwidth to the front of the HR agenda.
  • Identify and promote relevant and necessary analytics skills as part of the overall HR talent and capability agenda.
  • Consider sourcing more key talent from areas such as occupational psychology, economics and other social sciences to supplement the normal reliance on natural scientists and engineers.
  • Develop aligned analysts who understand and connect with the HR agenda and are capable of translating data into actionable insight.

Let's not forget that in order to obtain value from analytics, it is imperative to have data with a high level of integrity that has been well curated, well captured and well considered. Rubbish in, will inevitably mean, rubbish out, and this is a pitfall that must be avoided in the data analysis driven future.

In order for HR professionals to fully embrace the challenge of talent analytics and meet the impending big data boom, it is clear that deeper consideration of the analytics landscape is necessary. In our next blog, we will continue the conversation about how to approach the life-cycle of data analytics, and look at a roadmap for implementing the change required to be successful in the HR data analytics arena. To find out more about how Subscribe-HR's solutions can enable you to analyse your organisation's data, sign up for a free trial below.


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Credit: The image used in this blog is taken from the Doug Laney's Big Data blog on the Gartner Website.



Topics: Talent Management, HR Strategy, Big data, Big Data Analytics

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