Blog Article

Harness the potential of your people: Why ‘Big Data’ needs to be the next big project for HR.

Posted by David Smith

David Smith

Does the HR department need to catch up with other parts of the business when it comes to collecting and making sense of ‘big data’?  I’m guessing most companies can probably analyse every chunk of sales revenue by product.  Some of them can profile the buying habits of customers and know when they’ll buy certain products.  Stock control is probably aligned to this data and it’s clear, almost to the penny, how much each product costs to produce, package, ship and sell.  They collect and analyse data about almost anything of importance.  It’s timely, focused and critical to the success of the business. It informs management decisions, drives operational efficiencies and ultimately makes the organisation streamlined and efficient.  So why do we not have the same level of detail about our people?

If I asked you to say what percentage of your workforce have a strength in teamwork could you answer with any certainty?  If we’re building a new project team, surely we want the right mix of those that are happiest organising with those that are happiest delivering and completing?  If we’re looking for our next generation of leaders surely we want to find out where those with the greatest potential are?  There may be some awareness that for instance adaptability is an issue across the workforce.  However, given a lack of robust data huge chunks of the workforce are provided training in the hope that somebody somewhere benefits.  Wouldn’t it be easier to assess needs and strengths in this area and then use the existing pool of talent to share and develop these skills in others?  You could even overlay learning preferences to ensure that the interventions chosen align to the ways in which people prefer to absorb new skills.  It would certainly save the company money, ensure development is more targeted and empower those selected as coaches.

One of the problems with making decisions without a robust and timely evidence base is that we jump to the wrong conclusions and don’t explore beneath the surface.  Take succession planning for instance, do you know who your next generation of leaders are?  If you do, how have you uncovered this?  Many organisations use current performance data as a measure of future success, others might say that the technical specialist with 20 years experience is the natural successor to the team manager role.  Although this may not be a bad starting point, we know from research with thousands of organisations that there’s much more that helps uncover those with the potential to be a great success.  This could be factors like their eagerness to learn, their level of emotional intelligence, the styles of leadership they demonstrate or their ability to manage their own personal derailers.  Having access to data about these things provides a view of the full picture, not just the bits that people want you to see!

I was talking to organisations about online appraisal and skills management systems 5 years ago but there were a select few that were willing or able to make the leap back then despite nearly everyone acknowledging the need.  It feels like we’re on the cusp of a HR data revolution.  Generation Y have never known a world without computers, will nearly all have access to a smartphone and will expect to interact with company systems in this way too.   The tools are already there.  Great affordable technology that will help you to harness the talents of your people and make those HR processes work harder for you.


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  1. Pingback: Big Data in HR More Potential Than Reality | Public Relations Rogue

  2. Kamesh Chivukula

    Kamesh Chivukula

    May 7, 2014 at 7:30 am

    I could not agree more with David. HR must be nimble footed in this age to provide answers with pinpoint accuracy to the questions concerning optimal utilization of human resources for the organization to grow healthily. Developing a robust system to identify leaders in each segment with sub categories like team work specialists, visionaries, cutting edge developers & engineers, etc., must be embedded into the HR plate of offerings . Typically the gut instinct plays a big role in selecting candidates for particular assignments. With respect to one and all this dependence has become a relic and must be abandoned in favour of big data.

  3. David smith

    David smith

    May 9, 2014 at 7:59 am

    Many thanks for the comment Kamesh. I like the line about decisions being made on gut instinct. I think you’re right and it’s odd given the amount of data we collect / have access to.

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