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An alliance with science
Print – Issue 163 | Article of the Week

Sarah Andresen

 

Each month we will be sharing four, carefully-chosen articles from the Latest Issue of our flagship publication ‘theHRDIRECTOR’ which exemplify the high standards we strive to archive. We hope you find this in-depth article of interest and decide to become one of our valued Subscribers.


One of HR’s most pressing challenges in the war for talent, is to meet the needs and expectations of people demanding better experiences in the workplace, with all the agility and flexibility that is expected. Progressive companies that take this seriously are the ones attracting and keeping the best as they shift from HR to ‘people’ science. Arguably, data is the winning weapon and an essential discipline for HR to really own.

Article by Sarah Andresen, Head of People Science – Sage People

For me, nothing beats that resounding feeling of finding proof, that ‘a-ha’ moment of discovering evidence, and using it to make my case. Or, unearthing the root cause behind something and understanding the ‘why’ behind it. A project from conception right through to delivery – and that feeling when it crosses the line. Or, it could be solving a very specific problem, and seeing the tangible impact of that at work. I work with HR and People data, and I’m often looking at why there may be, for example, high attrition levels in certain teams, lower engagement at different times of the year, or a problem keeping high-performers. When I’m presenting a solution to something and I can say: ‘this data demonstrates why – and what we can do about it’ I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something. Without question, we need more people in HR and people teams who are hungry to solve data problems – and we need them now. It’s why we’re seeing the emergence of roles such as Chief People Officers, People or Experience Directors, or even Chief Heart Officers. Progressive companies are realising that if they want to be the best, they must have the best and, if they want to attract and keep the best, they must change how they think about HR and their people.

“We need to go much deeper, we need to know why a certain team is struggling with retention or why women aren’t being promoted to senior levels. Where companies are fighting a war for top talent, this is how data and People Science can make the difference between winning and losing”

Organisations can no longer just post available positions on a job board and wait for the applications to roll in. Low unemployment and a culture of mobility, particularly amongst millennials, have given people choice and it’s harder than ever to attract top talent. As a result, we’re seeing HR – or ‘People’ – teams shifting away from being largely an admin function in a business, towards concentrating on building great experiences for their workforce. This is something that’s important to a staggering 92 percent of employees. In fact, recent research found workers don’t want ping pong tables, free food or funky offices. They want to feel valued at work, and that their company puts their people at the heart of what they do. The only problem is: how do companies know how to build great experiences at work? Where on earth do they begin in uncovering their high-potential employees they need to retain in the business? This is where new roles in people analytics come in, as data is so crucial in designing great experiences for your employees at work. Companies don’t make decisions on supply chains, their finances or distribution based on intuition. So why should they do the same when it comes to their workforce?

When you think about it, it’s ludicrous that companies invest so heavily in knowing so much about their customers – from their buying habits, to their style preferences and lifestyle choices – yet have virtually no visibility of their workforce, their biggest asset for growth.

Whilst 88 percent of companies surveyed agree that people decisions should be based on data, only 34 percent of companies are currently using data and analytics for making people decisions; and, apart from a simple headcount report, currently fewer than 50 percent of businesses today can deliver same-day metrics such as top and bottom performers, skills gaps, and attrition levels. With data, we can develop stronger and predictive insights about our people and these insights can then be used to make more informed evidence-based decisions. Enter People Scientists! People Science is more than just people analytics, in practice, it means not just mining data and reporting it, but analysing it and gaining actionable insights to test hypotheses and identify solutions. It’s about understanding employees and their behaviour in your company and generating more actionable insights to help you make better business decisions about them as a result. For example, VP of People at SoundCloud, Caoimhe Keogan, uses data to find the right people to hire. ‘We spend a lot of the time analysing the data we have available in a hunt for nuggets of insight that could ultimately prove to be valuable in our hiring processes,’ she explains. Soo J. Hong, Chief Human Resources Officer at WeWork, also says it isn’t just about accessing data and then reporting it. It’s a matter of being analytical and deriving useful insight. ‘For every interview we do, we have a very simple scorecard, thumbs up or thumbs down,’ she says. She adds: ‘We look at this data retrospectively against the hires we make, comparing it with the interviewing panel that were involved with hiring that person. We then look at how the hire is doing after 90 days or even six months. This way we can start to see who the best culture testers are in our company from an interview panel standpoint. It is amazing to see in the data who is most effective at candidate assessment. I’m a People Scientist. My role as Head of People Science involves taking approaches in data science and applying them to the workforce, finding solutions to problems through data. HR leaders desperate to create and have access to daily dashboards and people reporting. To add real business value, we need to go much deeper – we need to know why a certain team is struggling with retention, or why women aren’t being promoted to senior levels. Where companies are fighting a war for top talent and need to attract and keep the best, this is how data and People Science can make the difference between winning and losing your best people.

Currently, new roles like People Scientists in HR and People teams are uncommon; but that must change, as HR continues to change and evolve to keep pace with changing workforces. The sector needs to do a lot more to attract people with these skills – and fast. My background is in economics. I studied for a masters in the subject and started my career as a financial analyst. I didn’t initially occur to me to work in HR, but I’m glad I did. Economics, behaviour insights and labour economics are interesting subjects, but, by their nature, they’re all grounded in statistics and theories. Even their application in areas like finance and engineering can mean you’re still working in numbers. In the HR and People sector, these numbers come alive. Each one is a person, and you can see the fascinating real-world application of theories and data in practice. I loved the ability to dig into data and gain actionable insights. I could find stuff out. I could provide hard evidence and proof points, and I could work on real problems, not theories. People Science is the ‘real world’ application of data science. This should be HR’s message to economics and finance graduates and professionals across the country: see the fascinating application of data in the workplace, and the difference it can make to workforces, companies and people. If we don’t reach out to people with these skills and interests, then the sector is going to have a huge problem. We need People Scientists to put data at the heart of building better workforce experiences for people. Without them, organisations won’t have the weapons they need to fight for the best people in the war for talent. HR and People leaders of tomorrow, ultimately will need the ability to dig into data and get better workforce visibility. Such teams can revolutionise the way that they work and engage their people, designing great workforce experiences, ultimately improving performance and productivity across the business. It doesn’t just mean doing the right thing but has a huge impact on the performance of the business too. It makes good business sense. For the People Scientists of tomorrow that we need to recruit, I say this; nothing beats having the proof for something. I loved studying economic theories and models on gender parity. But, being able to take those models and apply them to people data means I can see the impact of gender diversity in businesses myself. I have statistical proof that putting in place certain measures and support is going to have a positive impact on women in the workplace. Nothing beats that!

www.sagepeople.com


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