The ability to analyze and extract valuable insights from workforce data is an increasingly sought-after skill in HR.
As more data is collected through new platforms and tools, HR professionals can identify where employee turnover is spiking and why, correlate hiring data with employee performance or demonstrate the influence of engagement on workforce productivity.
But adding data-analytics competency in the HR staff is a challenge. In a tight labor market, applicants with these skills are scarce—and expensive.
Many HR leaders in smaller companies are forced to build those capabilities by training existing staff or borrowing experts from other functional areas, rather than recruit externally to fill those roles.
A recent study report, The Age of Analytics, by McKinsey & Company details the nature of that recruiting challenge.
Approximately half of executives surveyed reported greater difficulty in recruiting analytical talent than filling any other kind of role in their organization, the study found.
Many HR functions face hurdles when seeking to add analytics competencies to their staffs, said Jeanne Achille, chair of the Women in HR Tech Summit at the annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition and CEO of the Devon Group.
“HR is swimming in data but often doesn’t have the staff to help interpret that data in a meaningful way for the business,” Achille said. “In terms of recruiting for those roles, I think we’re still several years out from having an established talent pool.”
Given that challenge, what are the best ways to build data-analytics skills for HR staff who may have limited quantitative, statistical or storytelling abilities?
Data Analytics Training Options
Some HR leaders don’t have the luxury of having dedicated data analysts on staff, so they turn instead to educating HR generalists in those skills or recruiting others with some social science or quantitative backgrounds, said Jake Ridgway, vice president of people with Health Union in Philadelphia.
Ridgway believes generalists can be taught skills such as learning to sift through data in an HR information system (HRIS) or applicant tracking system to identify trends and using visual representations to show the data. In larger organizations, dedicated HR data analysts often have responsibilities that include developing and maintaining HR analytical tools or dashboards, ensuring the accuracy and consistency of datasets, and partnering with workforce planning teams.
But Ridgway believes one of the most important skills for any data analyst to have is storytelling ability. “You don’t need to be a Python coding expert or to run SPSS regressions to add value in data analytics,” Ridgway said. “Having basic data literacy skills along with an ability to use Excel and PowerPoint to tell impactful stories about workforce data can go a long way.”
What do HR leaders and industry experts think would make a good analytics training curriculum for HR generalists?
Whether delivered internally or externally through university programs or massive, open, online learning courses, that content might cover quantitative and mathematical skills, data gathering, survey design, root cause analysis, hypothesis generation and storytelling with data.
Jeff Mike, vice president and head of the HR research practice for Bersin, Deloitte Consulting, said HR organizations successful in building data-analytics competencies often use multidisciplinary training approaches featuring action learning projects. “They might put a cross-functional team together with HR business partners or generalists along with data analysts borrowed from other parts of the organization who can translate their expertise to HR,” he said.
Mike said smaller HR functions may not need a dedicated data analyst if they have access to one elsewhere in the company. “But everyone in HR should be data-literate enough today to understand how people data influences business data,” he said.
Some experts believe a combination of buy and build approaches can work best. For example, an HR leader might hire a seasoned data analyst who can help train others in the function, as well as have those who complete external education programs return to train their peers.
“The more HR understands the business, the more we can use data in a way that speaks directly to the challenges line leaders have, rather than just trying to guess what those challenges are or trying to solve for problems HR thinks is interesting but others in the organization don’t see as a high priority,” Ridgway said.
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