HRM Scholars, Where are you in the HR Analytics Debate?

sjoerd van den heuvel university applied sciences utrecht people analytics

By Sjoerd van den Heuvel

People Analytics Researcher, Lecturer and Speaker

University of Applied Sciences Utrecht

hu university of applied sciences utrecht people analytics

Let me first say, I am an HR scholar… And although I am trying to make an effort to contribute to the HR Analytics debate in both my research and education, this post is thus also addressed to myself.

When we listen to HR practitioners, and read professional HR magazines, we learn that HR Analytics is hip, hot and happening. Many HR strategists predict a promising future for HR analytics. Inspired by success stories of organizations generating up to $100 million in savings, while at the same time improving the engagement and productivity of employees, advanced HR analytics is fast becoming mainstream (Fecheyr-Lippens, Schaninger, & Tanner, 2015) and is increasingly considered as an indispensable HR tool (Boston Consulting Group, 2014).

Companies are forming HR Analytics teams, consultancy firms develop service lines focusing exclusively on HR Analytics, and the number of HR Analytics conferences is growing.

At the same time, I learn that organizations are struggling to actually implement HR Analytics, and that ‘HR and People Analytics’ represents one of the major capability gaps in today’s HR practice (Deloitte, 2015).

Given the popularity of HR analytics, and the challenges that apparently exist, I wondered: where are we as HRM scholars to provide empirical evidence, insights, and recommendations for practice?

Where are we as HRM scholars to provide empirical evidence, insights, and recommendations for practice?

Scientific articles

The unfortunate answer is that we as HRM scholars are basically absent in the HR Analytics debate… This can be illustrated by the amount of scientific research that has been published on HR Analytics. When entering “HR Analytics” in Web of Science (one of the main databases of scientific articles) the results are depressing: only 5 articles are found. Entering “Workforce Analytics” results in only 3 hits and “People Analytics” produces just 2 results (see the overview below).

Yes, I realize that this ‘quick search’ is not a systematic literature review and that the use of these specific search terms may exclude interesting articles, such as Wolfe, Wright, and Smart’s (2006) article ‘Radical HRM innovation and competitive advantage: the moneyball story’.

Nevertheless, we have to conclude that only a few of the scholarly writings provides an in-depth perspective on HR Analytics (see e.g. Angrave et al., 2016; Rasmussen & Ulrich, 2015), that they are mainly conceptual in nature, that they primarily present ‘point of views’, and that the empirical evidence provided is mainly anecdotal (see, e.g., the nice cases presented in Rasmussen & Ulrich, 2015).

We as HRM scholars are basically absent in the HR Analytics debate



Besides publishing articles, scientific conferences provide a great opportunity for scholars to share thoughts, experiences, and findings from research.

Moreover, keynote speakers have the ‘power’ to influence the debate in the particular field of research, and thus influence the future research agenda.

Last week, I attended the HR International Conference in Sydney. This conference is organized by the HR Division of Academy of Management (AOM), which is the main association for management and organization scholars.

It was good to notice that from the 11 workshops that were organized during the conference, at least 1 workshop (organized by Janet Marler and Sharna Wiblen) was about ‘HR Analytics and Data-Driven HR Decision Making’.

Janet Marler, Kristine Dery, John Boudreau, and I presented on subjects varying from ‘creating a fact-based organizational culture’, to ‘a consultancy perspective on HR Analytics’, and ‘teaching HR Analytics’.

However, from the 92 papers that were presented during the conference, there was only one article on HR Analytics (Van den Heuvel & Bondarouk, 2016). And although the keynotes, provided by Fang Lee Cooke, Cheri Ostroff, and David Guest, were highly interesting, and bringing the HRM debate a step further, there were basically no notions on HR Analytics, the HR Analytics research agenda, or the role that we as HR scholars should play in the HR Analytics debate. A missed opportunity?

From the 92 papers that were presented during the conference, there was only one article on HR Analytics

Are you in?

I believe that we, as HR scholars, should play a much more active role in the HR Analytics debate. We should start providing solid empirical evidence that helps business and HR leaders to take informed decisions on HR Analytics.

We should provide answers to business questions such as ‘where to effectively position HR Analytics capabilities in organizations?’, ‘which HR analytics competencies are needed to effectively execute HR Analytics?” and ‘how to generate positive employee responses towards HR Analytics?”.

We should open our eyes for what is happening in practice. Moreover, I believe we even have a responsibility to answer the questions that practice has about HR Analytics. And let’s not forget: contributing to this exciting development in HRM is simply lots of fun:). So, are you in?


Angrave, D., Charlwood, A., Kirkpatrick, I., Lawrence, M., & Stuart, M. (2016). HR and analytics: why HR is set to fail the big data challenge. Human Resource Management Journal, 26: 1–11.

Boston Consulting Group. (2014). Creating people advantage 2014-2015. Boston, MA: The Boston Consulting Group, Inc.

Deloitte (2015). Global Human Capital Trends 2015, leading in the new world of work. Deloitte University Press.

Fecheyr-Lippens, B., Schaninger, B. & Tanner, K. (2015). Power to the new people analytics. McKinsey Quarterly, 51(1): 61–63.

Rasmussen, T. & Ulrich, D. (2015). How HR analytics avoids being a management fad. Organizational Dynamics, 44(3): 236–242

Van den Heuvel, S., & Bondarouk, T. (2016). The rise (and fall) of HR Analytics: A study into the future application, value, structure, and system support. Paper presented at the 2nd HR Division International Conference (HRIC), Sydney (AU).

Wolfe, R., Wright, P., & Smart, D. (2006). Radical HRM innovation and competitive advantage: The Moneyball story. Human Resource Management, 45(1), 111–126.

This article originally appears on LinkedIn Pulse.