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5 Ways HR Can Harness Big Data

By March 14, 2018April 6th, 2021News

HR professionals have access to data across a slew of mediums, from a variety of sources, and in various levels of usability. And while it may be tempting to leave that mountain of information for another day, an organization’s people data is rife with information that can drive improvement for the business – so it can’t be ignored.

With these five approaches, you can summit the mountain of information and harness big data for a clearer picture of your workforce.

1. Capitalize on structured and unstructured data. HR possesses numerous sources of structured data, including employee profiles, compensation information, and engagement scores. As the name suggests, these data are structured, and with the right solution can be converted into insightful metrics and analytics.

Unstructured data on the other hand can be quite varied and is much more likely to be underutilized. Information captured in e-mails, texts, and social media posts can be rife with people insights if they could be analyzed for more nuanced information.

For example, Analytics in HR suggests an HR leader could conduct a sentiment analysis of e-mail message with Natural Language Processing (NLP) or analyze written performance reviews for performance scores or competency profiles. Other sources include:

  • Individual Development Plans
  • Written responses to free response questions in surveys
  • Employee reviews on unaffiliated websites (ie: Glassdoor)
  • Travel and location
  • Employee wellbeing (through apps or initiatives where employees share information)

2. Use visualization to spot patterns. Does a push toward HR analytics mean domain practitioners suddenly have to become data analysis experts? Thankfully, no. What previously had to be routed out from mind-numbing rows in Excel can now easily be pulled into a visual chart.

When trending your metrics, visualization can be an easy way to quickly isolate patterns and uncover areas that may require a deeper drilldown.

As an added bonus, leadership isn’t likely to be hoping for hours of dry numbers either. Presenting big HR data on a visual dashboard allows quick and clear communication as to the current state, the projected direction, and how to establish a strategy based on that information.

Visualization also changes the conversation an HR business partner or consultant has with a line manager. Where a general conversation about employee morale may be dismissed, a chart that visually demonstrates a skyrocketing turnover rate makes a clear, data-driven, case.

3. Get proactive with projections. A business can’t afford to be casual about its workforce planning. In fact, business should consider people planning as mission critical. Why? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) shows job openings overall on an upward trend – and in some cases over the last few years, there have been more openings than available employees, often billed as a “war for talent.”

Although the situation may not always be as extreme, using HR data to predict what the business needs will be help save costs on hiring, training and turnover when the organization has the luxury of time. These areas include:

  • High Performer Loss
  • Promotion
  • Business growth

4. Power your strategy with prediction. One key aspect of HR analytics is context. It’s one thing to identify that a specific department has had a sudden spike in turnover. It’s another to understand why.

Instead of seeing data in isolation, organizations need to understand what events could have impacted the current trends. Did a department hire a new manager just before the spike? Did a competitor open down the street?

Understand what triggered the trend, and then use analysis and modeling to understand what levers can be pulled to combat that trend the next time.

In the Harvard Business review, John Boudreau explains using HR data as both a push and pull. HR leaders must push relevant human capital metrics to stakeholders, and leaders must pull the information. However, Boudreau notes, getting decision makers and influencers to consider the analytics information requires several key factors, all contingent on establishing credibility and context:

  • Analytics must come at the right time and in context
  • Predictions must be valuable and usable
  • Results must be credible
  • Impacts must be compelling
  • Analytics must inspire improvement

Brett Comeaux of LG Fairmont shared his organization’s strategy with Forbes: to lower risk and increase successful hiring, the organization blends quantitative information from a cognitive ability test and a personality test with the interviewing process, as a way to measure candidates for traits successful employees possess. In this way, they can couple predictive measures with the personal element of the interview to make a more robust decision.

5. Unify Data Sources to improve visibility. Grappling with a multitude of data sources to establish a perspective is inefficient. Apply that across an entire HR department, with varied aptitudes for analyzing data and its risk as well.

Unifying data sources into a single platform establishes a single, credible source for information, provides teams with consistent information, and eliminates the wasted time (and emotion) of hunting down numerous datasets.

While this sounds like an easy sell, Forbes reported that the latest Sierra-Cedar survey on HR systems found that on average, an organization has more that 7 different systems for their people data, which means it takes a robust platform to integrate this data well.

With these five approaches, organizations can begin harnessing big data and summiting that mountain of insightful information. The (informed) view from the top is pretty spectacular.

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