Focusing on the Actionable with HR Analytics

You just spent an hour in a meeting looking through a deck of figures about your company’s talent.  Somehow, though, you feel like you have less understanding now than you did before the meeting started. Why does this keep happening and how can you change it?

Like many problems, everything began with the best of intentions, in this case a desire to attach some real numbers to your workforce and their day-to-day activity. That’s not bad in and of itself of course, but those of us concerned with human capital can dramatically improve our effectiveness if we first remember the words of the late Stephen Covey: “Begin with the end in mind”.

In the case of HR analytics, the best end is typically an actionable insight, that bit of information that clearly and directly informs a leader decision critically tied to actual work that impacts the business.

This might sound simple (or even simplistic) in the age of machine learning and predictive analytics. But focusing first on an actionable insight drives attention to those critical questions you need to ask before you start swimming in data, scheduling additional meetings, or testing more predictive models. If you get the foundation right from the beginning, the rest will likely fall into place. Answering the following the questions will help you get to the heart of the matter:

#1: What is the critical business question we are trying to answer?

If there is no direct link between your question and the business, ask a different question. There is no bigger waste of time than digging into data and making pretty figures only to realize later that the answer didn’t matter because the question was not relevant. Yes, you must absolutely spend some time simply exploring your data, but remember what the end goal is.

#2: Do we have the specific data and analytics capabilities we need to answer that question?

In rare instances the critical question is already in front of you….but be sure you take a breath, think about the data you readily have available, and then think through to the end point of the analysis before plowing ahead.  Ask yourself “Does the outcome of this measure truly answer the question or is another approach better?” and you will save you and your team substantial time. If the data is simply not available, think carefully about the steps needed to gather it and whether it is worth the collection time; perhaps another, similarly important question could be answered in less time.

#3: Who are the people that can actually take meaningful action when we get an answer?

Even if you have a great question and an impactful answer, it won’t matter if nothing gets done. Get in front of the people who will see the value of the insight and also be in a position to take decisive action. Better yet, speak with them directly while you are clarifying the question and shaping your analysis to make sure you can leverage their knowledge and perspective. As they say in product development, what the customer wants is not necessarily what you think they want. Talking with leaders and decision makers first whenever possible will help you stay on track and increase the potential for impact.

The volume, variety, and velocity of data is dramatically reshaping the world of HR analytics and cutting-edge data science techniques are necessarily a critical part of the future. But regardless of the analytic complexity, the smartest first step is focusing on an actionable end. If you take the time answer the three questions here, you’ll maximize your opportunity for impact, minimize wasted time, and earn the gratitude of those spared from another slide-filled meeting with no actionable outcome.

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