Eliminating Frustrations in the Analytics World

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Tracey_SmithBy Tracey Smith – President, Numerical Insights

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In the August edition of NI Magazine, I asked Esther Zdolec, EVP of Human Resources for Infrastructure, Ontario (Canada) to write a letter to an HR Analytics team. This letter provided an executive’s perspective and the views of internal customers served by analytics teams.

In Esther’s letter, she pointed out that she and other internal customers of HR analytics teams “are typically big believers in gut feelings, intuition, and tapping into the zeitgeist.” She admitted that occasionally she asks for the impossible but that, without an analytics background, she doesn’t always know it’s the impossible. In her own words, “I don’t know what I don’t know.”

Esther offered several tips for HR analytics teams which I will summarize below.

  1. Become a detective and help her figure things out without “making her feel stupid.”
  2. Help her understand what’s possible.
  3. Be flexible and understand the process is iterative. Sometimes it takes seeing “version 1” of something to clarify what’s really needed.
  4. Get curious. Don’t just provide numbers. Help her understand what it means.

In the upcoming February 1st edition of NI magazine, Michael Walsh presents his view as a Workforce Analytics and Labor Economics Manager. Not to spoil the article release but in essence, Michael is asking for the same things.

  1. “Experiment with me.” Like Esther, he seeks a partnership in figuring things out for his company.
  2. “Be honest with yourself and me.” He seeks honesty in determining what “you don’t know” so he can help you understand.

From both perspectives, the desires are the same. Each wants to figure out how to successfully work with the other. It comes down to teamwork, communication skills and the patience to learn about how each member thinks. We have no doubt that our analytics people know their math; we have no doubt that our executives know their business; but to get business value out of analytics, we need open communication between them.

Why is it then that we have these frustrations? Aren’t these the same challenges that HR faces when it tries to work and communicate with other teams? In a way, yes, but HR has not previously tried to work with such a mathematical team. The gap between the natural language of HR executives (business and people language) is quite a distance away from the natural language of analysts (please pass me an R2 and my top 10 favourite statistical fit tests).

So for those with frustrations, I offer this advice: Take a deep breath, understand that each of you is not out to make the other fail, and keep trying to move forward together. In most companies, this evolution takes 1-2 years to “get into harmony.”

Until next time,


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