Saturday, April 4, 2015

BIg Data and HR

Technology such as Big Data analytics opens new ways to shape the work, the people doing the work.

The “VUCA” business environment today, is nonstop “volatility, unpredictability, complexity, and ambiguity.” They make the case for adaptive techniques to solve adaptive challenges. Adaptive techniques means working together in an organization, rather than alone, as no one person has all of the knowledge or ability to solve such problems. This is where HR can contribute if they have the data analytics to show people trends, productivity, engagement metrics, costs-savings, etc. That also can help make the human capital aspect less volatile, more predictable, and less ambiguous for the business. Bottom line: the technical aspect is easier to master in this VUCA world than human factors. And HR plays critical role in leveraging technologies to manage their invaluable asset - people more effectively.

HR is a key factor in an organization: Even looking at HR holistically and not as a set of independent actions is an improvement. However, people who still continue to see technology as just a tool, do not see the potential HR can take advantage of in better decision making and better service to the employees and their managers without having to spend too much time. The problem is that some HRs are living in the previous centuries and in their comfort zone, not even realizing that they are no match for their management colleagues who all come to meetings with state of the art systems supporting their decisions. Such HR departments are cumbersome and non-value added, perpetuating the reputation of HR being the least strategic department in the organization. There are no excuses to be stagnant. HR has to catch up to reshape its reputation.

There are great opportunities available to learn how analytics can transform the HR reputation. HR folks need to live in the real business world with serious analytical abilities that support decision making. Analytics and big data are the best opportunity for HR to speak the language of business and become a relevant strategic business partner. Or HR can focus on efficiencies in a shared services model and become more transaction-based. The best organizations will embrace technology and become a driver of business strategy rather than an afterthought. HR must be involved from the very beginning when analyzing the best HR technology software for the organization, assessing current needs and how best to satisfy those needs, and perhaps most importantly, take the time to conduct due diligence on the plethora of options out there. One size does not fit all!

Companies need to make HR and its related activities a strategic priority in the organization: Once that happens technology is a critical component to successfully implementing their business strategy. Many of the business decisions are based on employees' ability to execute; and without the data from HR, critical decisions about company growth areas, the need for organizational retooling and identification of high performance areas is just based on an opinion without the quantification of performance measures and employee trends and costs.

Successful HR analytics relies upon a partnership amongst HR, IT, finance, business unit leaders, and senior leadership. Often executives think that HR system is the solution and launch one with "top-down" approach. However, the key is to understand the needs at the frontline and identify the right measures that really affect the business. Big data could help do the influence on the decision making, but the bulk of the work is not at the deployment stage, but way before that. Automation of transactional HR is important, but you also need consistent data standards and definitions. Inconsistency forces HR analytics practitioners to do a great deal of data clean-up in order to produce useful results. Also, you must have an analyst or two who can do data clean-up, run regression models, support transactional process improvements, and speak the language of the internal customers.

Technology can be your friend, but you need to treat it well. Although technology only cannot completely transform an organization, but certain technologies can help you learn more about your employees and help you better understand your organization and what you can do to improve the company culture. HR, technology can be your friend, but you need to treat it well, understand what it wants from you (like data standardization/Governance), and how well it gets along with other pieces of technology. Big data is nothing new, but the technology to access it, manipulate it, and perhaps even analyze it visually has come through technology breakthroughs. It is not a Silver Bullet, the answer to what "ails you" is in the people not the technology.

Conducting an ROI on every initiative is game changing not just for HR, but across the enterprise. Technology is as only as good as the people using and interpreting the data to make and influence informed decisions. So more HR and organizational development professionals need to more boldly advocate for business decisions with the data to support. Everything in life and business is what you make of it. The core issue here is measurable accountability. Often times when companies launch new software or processes they forget to reinforce them with measurable accountability metrics. The scope of work for any new technology introduction should include a long term implementation and measurement of its success. Success in relation to the impact the software makes and success in relation to how well the "people" in the company integrate the tool into their work.

People are the only thing that differentiates any organization from another. If you take the premise that HR is the shepherd of culture (shared with leadership), then HR is in the greatest position to change culture. Creating the flexible, agile organizations that businesses need to be competitive starts with the people. People act within the framework of the culture of the business. But technology such as Big Data analytics opens new ways to shape the work, the people doing the work, support them through connection and collaboration, reward and recognize differently. It's the time for HR to leverage Big Data to play big.


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