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Strategic HR: Combining BigData and Human Intuition

BigData: [noun] a buzzword, or catch-phrase, used to describe a massive volume of both structured and unstructured data that is so large that it's difficult to process using traditional database and software techniques.

Every year a plethora of articles surface predicting expected trends for HR (from recruitment and retention predictions to HR tech trends and performance and goal management best practices to the evolution of the workplace). To me, it seems the countless predictive articles and forward-thinking opinions all point to one solid idea: data is the way of the future in human resources.



According to a Forbes article written by Josh Bersin, “more than 60 percent of companies are now investing in BigData and analytics tools to help make their HR departments more data-driven…” This is only common sense. Especially since every department in an organization (minus HR) is swimming in data. If you ask any finance professional, they would not even consider asking for funding for large capital expenditure until they can show the exact return on investment. Or, if you randomly find yourself at a marketing roundtable discussing a new ad campaign, you're likely to hear about increased sales projections and endless amounts of consumer research.


Unfortunately in HR, we often blog-2015-4-19-strategic-hrstruggle with our human capital data. Forecasting turnover, generating true hiring costs, and determining the ROI of an initiative are not easy tasks. We have endless amounts of employee information and demographics but little data on how our people and our initiatives impact the bottom line. Although all good HR professionals know that human capital may be the only real sustainable competitive advantage companies have, we (from c-suite to HR leaders) still struggle when it comes to truly understanding the analytics around people, productivity, and culture (hence the trend towards investment in analytics and outsourcing).


As a self-proclaimed analytics geek (and HR guru), I am all for our profession becoming more statistical in nature. HR leaders will be ever more impactful with their leadership teams by showing true ROI in our HR initiatives, instead of relying on a “should be good for our company” or an “I have a gut feeling about this.” However, as HR continues to better understand the analytics around human capital (arguably the best intangible assets and competitive advantage), leaders must avoid turning people into a number and visiting the far opposite end of the spectrum. There is still a lot of value in one's historical knowledge, prior experiences, and social cognition.


An HR leaders' experience, knowledge, and intuition cannot be replaced by a single point of data. The value an HR team brings is often times thinking broader than just the bottom line. However, the data starts to tell the story in the analytical terms that our business partners can relate to. This gives HR leaders the ability to overlay their experiences and understanding of an organization's cultures with hard data, allowing them to strategically and positively influence decisions. Ready to combine your intuition and data to make an impact?Keep these quick best practices in mind:

  • Listen to Culture Drivers: Truly understand your culture and engagement through your employees' perspective. This will start the speed train of analytics. Collect honest employee feedback via employee engagement surveys and take an in-depth look at the results. Do your employees and leaders share the same views? Where's the disconnect?
  • Determine What's Important: Identify the outcomes your organization values and analyze those metrics. Then, use your collected employee data to further understand how your people are impacting those metrics, so you can determine where and how to focus improvements. Not sure where to start? Page seven of this ebook will help.
  • Outsource to Simplify: Partner with an organization that is strategic in its approach to analytics so they can simplify the complex data for you. Already have a partner? Are they making the process easy for you? Put them to the test with this scorecard that includes 13 ways your partner should help you.

As a key advisor to the CEO, HR must make progress in analytics in order to sit at the table. But, in doing so, HR leaders must also must find the organization's balance of capital analytics and human intuition. Use your intuitive and analytical conclusions to influence decisions that can help increase employee engagement, boost productivity and morale, and ultimately decrease turnover.


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