A number of years ago, in partnership with two fellow strategic consultants, I had the pleasure of analysing the returns from an all-embracing People Analytics survey conducted by the InfoHRM Group.
As I recall we had over 100 good quality responses from an impressive selection of medium to large sized organisations across a full range of industry sectors.
Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of the individual questions and responses, or indeed the aggregated results, but from memory there were a number of key findings that probably won’t surprise you - they remain broadly true today.
- HR lacks the capability to execute People Analytics
- Business managers at all levels do not derive value from the People Analytics proposition
- Organisations can’t demonstrate the impact of workforce actions on business performance
However, the critical conclusion, my supposition at the time, and consequently an informed view that I continue to promote actively today, was this:
There is a clear benefit in having a Centre of Expertise to build a credible, agile and maintainable People Analytics proposition
This statement was essentially our hypothesis, and by segmenting returns between organisations who did and who did not have a dedicated practice for People Analytics, we confirmed that despite the overall negativity around capability, business buy-in and demonstrating the value of the workforce, those organisations that did engage dedicated analytical resource, responded positively.
The difference was startling.
Then and now I partner with clients on a regular basis to help them conceive and build centres of expertise for People Analytics, so I’d like to share a range of considerations for those thinking of taking the step.
Benefits of a Centre of Expertise
A Centre for Expertise for People Analytics is a formal or virtual team of dedicated specialist resource that will offer the following benefits:
- Centralises analytic experience and capabilities within a team of dynamic professionals
- Pin-points accountability for incorporating people insights into corporate decision making
- Creates a credible career path for professionals considering specialisation in the discipline
- Creates an environment where opportunities for workforce improvement can be regularly examined by utilising knowledge gained across the organisation
- Provides a single external interface thus creating the opportunity to incorporate industry best and common practice
Above all it will provide investigative frameworks, a coherent people analytics strategy and foster a relationship with its audience based on proactive partnership rather than reactive service provision.
However, these benefits can only begin to be realised if certain critical elements are in place:
Appoint the right People Analytics Leader
I have written in detail about this most vital of appointments elsewhere, but in summary:
- Don’t dilute the role; this must be a senior and pivotal position and should therefore be a direct report to the CHRO, possibly the CEO
- Don’t appoint an individual on their ‘MI’ skills alone; the mindset and experience to isolate what matters to the business, to execute value-add investigations and to communicate decision driving insight is more important
- Recruit and assess candidates based on their track record of success rather than a formal qualification in an unrelated discipline
- Consider how your appointment may develop and embed the function - we have to assume that the individual will move on at some point; frameworks and channels for exceptional people analytics delivery must remain
Determine an Agenda
I’d suggest that one of the first objectives of your people analytics leader is to determine an agenda for the Centre of Expertise. In broad terms, what is the preferred customer base, what type of product do we envisage providing for them (it should differ depending on the audience group) and what manner of support will we require to achieve this aim?
We have to be proactive in this respect; to determine a focus, and consequently form a strategy for people analytics is vital if the function is to deliver value in terms of providing decision-making insight to the business. This is the raison d'être for our Centre of Expertise.
A people analytics strategy should reflect organisational context and consequently can’t be prescriptive, however it must be aligned with business context, and should reflect current and emerging workforce issues and regularly measure the effectiveness of people processes.
Of course we involve our audience and stakeholders in determining focus; but the proposition can’t be purely reactive to potentially unstructured, misaligned requests from our customers. Nor should we be satisfied with the production of passive periodic summaries. This is reporting, an important but separate offering.
Build a Team of Professional People Analysts
Once we have an agenda for our Centre of Expertise it’s time to build the team that will be capable of executing our strategy. The size and configuration of the team will vary according to the resources available and the structure and complexity of the organisation, but for the Centre to be functional is should possess or have access to the following broad skill-sets:
Providing Data Foundations
- The skill to stage data and design systems with workforce reporting and analytics in mind - and a passion for data quality
- An ability to act as the interface between HR and IT on major projects and implementations
- The discipline and knowledge that enables focus on relevant investigations – the ability to craft simple, concise, but actionable conclusions
- A curiosity and a passion for problem solving
- An adeptness at articulating the significance of insight and the ability to craft – and make a case for – a workable intervention strategy
- The gravitas to build relationships and to communicate findings and recommendations to clients
Typically the generation and communication of insight should be within the direct control of the Centre of Expertise; the data foundation element, whilst strongly influenced by the Centre, could well sit outside of this structure.
Agree Success Criteria
What constitutes success for a new Centre of Expertise for People Analytics will vary significantly depending on context, however in my experience it is vital that a baseline is established before launch, with goals clearly established, shared and measured against this baseline and ambitious but achievable milestones.
These goals could be based on customer perception; for example we could monitor the change in ratio between customers who consider the ‘analytics’ function to be a pure service provider and those seeing the function as a business driver. This subjective view can be cross-checked against the volume of purely ad-hoc (potentially frivolous) requests for information, and those that are linked to the People Analytics strategy and therefore business imperatives.
We may also set a goal to empower HR Business Partners to deliver straightforward interpretation of people metrics to their customers, thus creating headroom for the dedicated professionals within the Centre to engage in deeper analysis.
In this case we may measure success against a goal to develop and roll out well-received and actionable education in this space – likewise for any enablement technology we may wish to encourage our HRBP colleagues to utilise.
Perhaps at the foundational level we may task ourselves to introduce measurement standards across the entity to support internal benchmarking; or at a more aspirational level to deliver a number of in-depth analytical investigations from which conclusions can be drawn that will demonstrate a return on investment to the business.
Whatever our success criteria is, we must continue to set, refresh and achieve goals; thus forming a roadmap that will result in the Centre of Expertise for People Analytics to be embedded as a strategic value-add function.
The narrative above is not intended to be exhaustive, nor should it suggest a definitive step-by-step guide to building a Centre of Expertise for People Analytics.
However, if you recognise the benefit and are willing to invest resources, it may be worth examining some, if not all, of these considerations.
Sam Hill is an independent People Analytics consultant, and Founder of Workforce Dimensions who partner with organisations seeking to understand and maximise the contribution their people make to business performance.
Workforce Dimensions provides advisory, recruitment and educational services exclusively in the field of Strategic Workforce Planning and People Analytics.