The Never-Ending Journey of People Analytics

people analytics journey

Key take-aways from People Analytics World 2018 London (PAW 2018).

Last week we had the pleasure to attended and present at People Analytics World conference in London – which was now organized for the 5th consequent year in a row.

Not surprisingly, the discussions varied between those who were bravely pushing the limits of what is possible and those, who are just starting to figure our what People Analytics means for them and what are their options to get started with it. Here are the take-aways from the conference.

People Analytics – It’s About Business, Not HR

People analytics should not be about creating some nice dashboards for the HR people to stare at. Many presenters spoke about the importance of asking better questions and focusing on use cases where they could help solve business related problems and thus – being able to justify the efforts made in people analytics with their consequent value for decision makers.

Alec Levenson spoke about the importance of “systems diagnosis”. In his speech, he highlighted that typically people are not asked to analyze the big picture, but instead asked to look into some siloed issues within the organization leading into sub-optimization. However, as soon as we start looking at the bigger picture from different dimensions and analyzing end-to-end processes beyond the functional boundaries – we can identify lots of opportunities that when brought together can deliver insights that help us solve the problems in a meaningful way. Of course, things can likely get quite complex – but as Peter Cheese from CIPD noted, we should keep in mind that it is more valuable to be approximately right on the right issues rather than absolutely right with the wrong issues.

Sometimes Simple is Beautiful

Although many leading companies were presenting quite sophisticated approaches with massive resources towards people analytics – others talked about taking very practical steps towards using data to inform people related decision making.

One of these simple yet valuable cases was presented by Michael Tocci from P&G, who had analyzed the costs of their expatriate program. At the time, there was a clear business need to improve productivity by reducing personnel costs. Business executives had to find ways to execute that goal without causing harm to their business.

The intent of the analysis was to raise awareness of the costs related to expat program and the approach taken by Michael and his team was very practical. They estimated the costs of expatriates and compared the costs to local options. This information was then put together for executives with clear recommendations to evaluate, whether all expat assignments were necessary / well justified. After bringing these costs to the attention of decision makers, consequently the number of expatriates and their related costs started dropping significantly. No advanced analytics were needed and instead of looking into perfect data, the estimations suited the purpose well enough.

Being Smart About Resourcing People Analytics

With a few exceptions, most companies out there don’t have the luxury of having vast resources and teams of experts dedicated full time purely into the broad topic of people analytics.

Even those big organizations who can afford investing in full time people analytics expertise still need to effectively collaborate with their HR community and the broader organization to act on basis of the insights derived from the analytics efforts. Therefore, several presenters highlighted how they’ve sought ways to operate people analytics as lean as possible, extend their capabilities across broader HR and borrow resources from other functions when needed – rather than trying to do everything by themselves.

Unilever’s Nicky Clement highlighted that although they and many other pioneering organizations have been doing this already for years, no-one of us has yet fully cracked People Analytics yet and there’s no one-size-fits all approach to it. As an example, Unilever has built a network of over 50 extended members around their core people analytics team – including HRBP’s as well as more junior people who all share a passion for data. They also collaborate with other leaders in the people analytics space, they seek for expert inspiration and co-create and experiment more innovative approaches together with startups.

Having The Right Sponsorship And Collaboration Is Crucial

Although evidence-based approach into people decisions tends to be generally accepted – the reality for most practitioners is that they spend most of their time selling people analytics for the key stakeholders.

For instance, it is still rare to find the head of people analytics reporting directly to the CHRO. Therefore, most people analytics practitioners still have a long way to go to get their respective people and business leaders to buy in to the idea of more advanced analytics beyond simple reporting. This set up requires significant efforts on selling the potential use cases for those sitting on the top of money.

Cases like Swarovski by Oliver and Roberto proved, that even a very traditional company can advance relatively quickly from not really understanding what analytics is into putting it into the center with everything it does. This is possible as long as you have the right sponsorship and support from other business functions in place.

The two-day event was full of great content, presented by inspiring people from pioneering companies and research institutes around the world. What I especially like about this conference are the genuine people who openly and passionately share their examples and learnings towards creating better people and business outcomes by the design and application of evidence-based practices.


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