In this short interview, Erik discusses the most important HR and HR analytics topics with the one and only “HR Curator”.
Find out about the digital future of HR from the expert, Dave Millner!
Erik van Vulpen: Hello, and welcome to AIHR Live. I’m Erik van Vulpen, and with me is Dave Millner. Hi Dave. How are you doing?
Dave Millner: Hi. I’m fine, Erik. Thanks.
Erik: Fantastic. Today we’re going to talk a bit about HR analytics. Dave, what I want to ask you first is… What are some of the areas of HR analytics that you’re most excited about, that trigger you the most?
Dave Millner: I think the things that are most exciting is the opportunity predictive analytics gives. I think particularly when you’re able to draw on past information and data, that then starts to shape the opportunities in terms of, “What if we did this, that could happen,” and for me, I think that’s the most exciting because I think to then put that into a business context and to bring that to life, starting to say, “If we recruit in this way, or we develop in this way, it will bring us this from what we’re projecting,” that for me, I think, is a really exciting opportunity to will take time for HR to get its head around, but I think that’s really exciting.
Erik: I agree, and I think it will take quite some time for HR to wrap its head around it because there’s still a lot of talk about predictive analytics and everything it can do. What you see in practice is a lot of organizations are still at a basic or an advanced reporting level, not even thinking about making predictions, even though all the value in the end is in making predictions and knowing what’s going to happen in the future.
Dave: And I think it comes down to data quality, which we’ve always talked about as being an issue. It takes time for that to happen, and people data is not as good as it should be, but you know what? I think over a time we will get to that point, but that is the area of analytics that excites me the most because I think it makes sense when you project it back to a business leader. They get it. They understand it, and it’s not too hypothetical if you’ve grounded it in research that you’ve done previously.
Erik: Now, it’s interesting that you also mentioned data quality because something I’ve been very excited about in the last few months is how you can adjust your HR systems in a way that you can ensure that the data will come out having a higher quality, like very simple things like certain mandatory field stats. Some business partners or some administrative people in HR just don’t put any data in because they don’t have the data, but it’s a mandatory field, so they have to put in a zero or one, and you get a big row of messy data. I think that’s also something that excites me very much … The data integrity and how you can maintain a quality of data through just smarter system design.
Dave: I think you’re right, and I think also that getting the HR practitioners to be a little bit more numerically orientated and understanding the implications of what their decisions are having on that data set I think is important, but it takes time. And you probably didn’t join HR because you like data and technology and analytics, so it will take a little bit of time for people to understand that we’re not trying to transform you into another finance person, for want of a better word.
Erik: So one of the areas that a lot of people are very excited about lately has been ONA, organizational network analysis. What are you thinking about it? Is it a bit over-hyped? Is it something that has tangible benefits for the business? What is your view of it?
Dave: Yeah, there’s been a lot of noise about it, and I think it’s got definite benefits, particularly when we’re looking at things such as mergers, such as collaboration, and trying to break down why is this not happening, and why should we be doing things differently. So I do think that ONA can help in that respect. I’m just wondering whether it’s a little “big brother is looking at you.” I’m just a little concerned about that perhaps, and I’m just worried that people might get seduced by the sexy new stuff, when I think there’s a lot of work that HR has to do to get the basics right, whether it’s reporting, metrics, advanced reporting, predictive. I think all of those sorts of things we really need to focus on.
I don’t want them to get distracted by ONA, but I also don’t want them to forget that that is an opportunity to give you a different lens through which to look at the way that people do things. I guess my word of caution is that complex analysis doesn’t always give you complex and sophisticated outcomes. So we just need to be, I think, mindful of what it can do and also, “Is it really the right thing for you to be focusing on?”
Erik: No, I think that that’s an excellent point and something that… You have the analytic maturity model, and as they say, you have your descriptive analytics and then your advanced analytics, and then you got predictive analytics. That’s at the high level of maturity. Well, some business questions you can just simply answer without needing that higher maturity level, which implicitly says, “Hey. It’s more mature. It’s a better version,” even though you might not even need it.
Dave: And who’s to say in three or four years’ time with this sort of cognitive, smart technology … Who’s to say that maybe a lot of that routine-ness will be done for us, which that would be amazing, but I think we’re a long way away from it, but never the less, we got to be mindful that hopefully one day we will be in that position.
Erik: Yeah, that would be very interesting. So analytics is evolving, and in the last few years, we’ve seen analytics get a foot in the door in the HR departments, and now for most larger companies, analytics is, I see, getting taken more and more seriously. Do you see analytics going to the heart of the organization? Is analytics going to be a core part of HR?
Dave: I think it’s going to be a fundamentally important part. I don’t think it is the center of everything for HR. I personally think there are three elements that derive and shape the future of HR. I think one is certainly the data and analytics. It’s an important part of the jigsaw. I think technology is a critical part because that’s the thing that will feed us with data, with insights, with information, and provide an experience that employees will say, “Wow. This is almost like being at home,” type of thing. And I think the third and probably the most important is the capability of the HR practitioner themselves.
It’s pointless having great analytics, great technology, if the HR practitioners are still operating in a rather more old fashioned, second class citizen partner orientated way. I think they’ve got to be regarding themselves as thought leaders. They’ve got to be challenging the business and driving the inner direction that will add value, and I think those three elements complement each other, but I don’t think you can do one without the other. That’s my take on it.
Erik: That’s interesting because those three, I think, are the key enablers to everything you do in HR because technology is maybe the most massive enabler. So is the data that feeds into … The output of the technology should be the data that feeds into the algorithms and the process of making smarter decisions, and the capabilities are really, “What do you do with the technology? What do you do with data? And how do you implement the policies in HR? And how do you bring them to fruition and get the most out of them?”
Dave: And I think the digital transformation and the digital agenda is definitely raising its head and giving CHROs who’ve been talking to me … Been saying, “Do you know what? I think we may need to do something to help our HR practitioners on that journey,” because it’s not gonna be simple. It’s about change. It’s about technology, challenging, really promoting, looking at the outside and bringing some new ideas. So it’s a really complicated role that HR has both today and tomorrow, but we really need to give them some support and help. And I think that’s why I’m starting to see quite a lot of help being asked for in the HR world, which is only good news for analytics in HR obviously.
Erik: No, that’s true. What I want to focus on is two of those enablers that you mentioned. You mentioned technology, and you mentioned analytics. How do those two integrate with each other? Because I think there’s potentially a huge synergy between the two.
Dave: Yeah. I’m absolutely with you. I think part of this data quality, that we talked about a little earlier, is because the technology is not aligned. It’s not simple. It’s not providing us with the information we want when we need it. It’s hardly surprising that people don’t want to do analytics when they’ve got 20 different spreadsheets to pull together. And I think we’ve gotta try and find and work on systems that are built for the future and just not today. And I think the technology vendors have got a big role to play in not just alluding to what the future looks like, but actually providing them with concrete evidence that, “This is where we are today. This is the roadmap for tomorrow. This is how we’re gonna get there. This is what it will then do, and these are the features, and this what it’s got to provide.”
And I think that’s where there’s an interesting dilemma between HR startups and the more traditional vendors, and I can see a lot of the startups are making a lot of traction because they’re able to be incredibly responsive, in a very quick way to the needs of what some of the large organization and more medium size are looking for. So I think there is definitely a connection between the two, but we’ve gotta get the technology right because otherwise, we’re continually questioning the data and having to go look for it, and that’s not good for anybody.
Erik: Yeah. I agree, but on the other hand, what you also see is that those smaller HR technology firms are creating very tailor-made solutions, very specific solutions, so they do them really well compared to the big vendors who offer one size fits all, and that just doesn’t work some areas of learning and development or other HR disciplines.
So what’s, on the other hand, also worries me about technology is that you see… I know a company here in the Netherlands that I used to have, I think, 80 different HR apps that they were using for the employees so they could do everything in a self-servicing matter. All the data coming out of those tools wasn’t thought about, “Hey. What are we going to do with the data and how can we integrate the data in a way that we can do, in a couple years, analytics and all the more advanced predictive analytics that you mentioned before.
So I think there should be, in a way, a shift in the thinking about, “Hey. How are we going to leverage those technologies, and how are we going to align those technologies, in the end, to map the employee journey?” to now, “Hey. These employees coming in, so we have the Applicat Tracking System. We have all those fancy new selection tools that we are using now. How can we get all the data aggregated and use it in our analytics department to make better decisions about recruitment, about hiring, about sourcing, all the way to the exit interviews? And how can you map that employee journey and do that as well as possible using those technologies?”
Dave: I think you’re right. I think the aggregator, or the platform integrator, or whatever word you want to use, is definitely the key to all of these apps, and I think the other thing we need to be mindful of is that we’ve also got to be able to bring in non-people data, such as business outcomes, KPIs, whatever it may be because that will then ultimately make the analytical process easier for the team or the HR practitioner who has to do it. So it’s not an easy journey, and there is a “no one size fits all,” but I just think that the ultimate solution of having access to the data when you need it, in the type of ways that you can use it just sounds really exciting.
But I think part of the challenge here is, “Does HR want to get to that point?” Because it means, therefore, that the administration will have disappeared. It therefore means we’ve got to focus on these critical processes, talent, and all of that, workforce planning, et cetera. We’re gonna need to focus on those things really properly, and we’ve just got to make sure that we’re not relying upon HR people who are in the comfort zone of liking to do things the old way. And that’s no disrespect, but life is moving on, and maybe the profession is also moving on hopefully.
Erik: Yeah, let’s hope so. There’s always a funny story that I like to tell that when I was still studying, and I was doing some, and the father of one of the university students came in, and usually, you never talk to parents of university students, so it was always a bit funny for the one specific course. And he asked me, “Hey. What do you do?” And I said, “I study I&O psychology.” And he said, “Oh, there’s something funny because recently I had to apply for a job again because I quit my company,” and he had stayed there for 20, 25 years, and he had made a number of internal promotions, and he said, “I applied to a different company for the first time in his life because he had been working so long at the original company.
And he said, “You know what’s so funny? That the process I went through, the recruitment process, it hasn’t changed a bit since I first did it 25 years ago,” and actually he said, “That’s so mind-boggling that nothing changed in 25 years. I’m still doing the same conversations. I’m still doing the same assessments. It’s still the exact same process, and nothing really has changed.” And I think that for me has always been a motivator of, “Hey. How can we, in the end now, change the HR department for real?” Because if you haven’t been changed for 25 years, in today’s world that’s kind of unheard of.
Dave: Yes, and it’s funny because I was working in a bank in an internal HR function, our big thing was about having interviews that were evidence-based, and we’re talking today about evidence-based HR, and I’m like, “That’s just the same thing we were talking about years ago,” but we will get there. But I think there is a big education piece we’ve got in terms of how do we get line managers to understand that this is a better way of doing things, and I think I’m not sure we’ve really actively focused on how we can educate leaders and managers about why we believe this is the best way to do it, but anyway, that’s another day’s conversation probably.
Erik: That’s true, and I think you hit the nail right on the head. One final question I had, and I think you already partially answered it, is about the future of HR. Where do you see analytics develop in the near future?
Dave: I think it’s interesting. You’ve got a lot of, what I would call, leaders in the field, so a lot of the larger corporates have got analytical teams, and they’re very much pushing the analytical agenda, and that’s amazing. They’re the ones that present at all of the conferences. They’re the ones that are telling their story, and that’s great.
I think the thing that is still a bit frustrating is that we have a lot of smaller organizations, which are probably 500 to 2000 employees… Those for me are the ones where if you introduce analytics, they could really make a huge impact, and I’m not quite sure that we’ve really captured hearts and minds for that group yet. I know the datasets will be smaller. I know it’ll be more difficult to get correlations because we haven’t got the number or volume of data available, but I just feel that when we start to get analytics into organizations of that size, then we’re starting to really build momentum for this as being a core part of the HR function, but we will get there, but I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We shouldn’t just be promoting the fact that the large corporates are doing it and doing it amazingly well. How can we integrate this down into the smaller organizations? Because I think they can make radical changes very quickly, and I’d just love to see analytics driving that within their organizations.
Erik: Yeah, it’s interesting. We see a similar thing on the website, where we get a lot of traffic on the pure HR analytics stuff. People want to know about predictive analytics and how to do it, and for us, that’s a mainly a population that’s working at the larger companies. We also get a lot of traffic simply on there. How do we measure performance with our performance metrics? What are the most common metrics you can use in your recruitment process? And I have a feeling that a lot of the interests that driving those metrics questions are coming from slightly smaller organizations that also what to get going and go to Google and type, “Hey. What are the recruitment metrics I can use?” So yeah, I definitely think that that’s a next step of the analytics evolution in a sense of, “Hey. How can we bring” … Maybe not necessarily analytics, but at least a data-driven approach with smaller companies as well.
Dave: Definitely. It’s all about the evidence, and the data that you’ve got to back it up. So it is important. Please don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s more than just the analytics and data. I think if we get that technology right and get the HR people thinking and behaving in a different way, that for me are the three elements that will really drive the future of HR.
Erik: Perfect. So it’s data and analytics if I summarize this correctly. It’s the capability, in the end, that’s most important. Then it’s the technology. Those are the three main enablers or drivers of everything we do in analytics, and let’s nail them.
Dave: And that will give us a commercial HR function. What more do you want?
Erik: Dave, thank you very much for participating, and thank you very much for watching AIHR Live. And I think Coco, our office dog, also made an appearance. She’s a beautiful dog. I hope you like this episode, and see you in the next one!