DRIVING WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT DECISIONS WITH PEOPLE INSIGHTS & ANALYTICS – HRDEBATE REPORT

LISA PORTER SENIOR DIRECTOR OF HR OPERATIONS – AML
SARAH ARMSTRONG GLOBAL SPECIALIST, HR DIGITAL & INNOVATION – BURO HAPPOLD
MELANIE LEPINE GLOBAL ONBOARDING LEAD – CBRE
MATTHEW COLLINGTON HR DIRECTOR – PILGRIM’S FOOD
HARVEY FRANCIS CHIEF HUMAN RESOURCES OFFICER – SKANSKA UK
KERRY YOUNG CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER – VITRIFI
EGÉ SIVA HCM CLOUD SOLUTIONS STRATEGY DIRECTOR – ORACLE
CLARE DANIELS HR STRATEGY & PLANNING MANAGER UK&I – JLL
MICHAEL FOOTE DIRECTOR & HCM EXPERT – BIRLASOFT

We are currently transitioning into a new era of work that greatly differs from the rigid framework previously dictated by convention. As exciting as these changes may be, it means we have been bombarded with influxes of data from multiple sources. Now, workforce management decisions must cut through the noise, optimise the insight from analytics and adapt to ever-changing resourcing needs.

HOW HAVE YOU USED DATA & ANALYTICS IN IDENTIFYING STAFF SHORTAGES AND ABSENCES DURING TO COVID?

Harvey Francis: We have automated sickness absence reporting and our HRS has full self[1]service capability. What we couldn’t do is configure it in time to do COVID reporting, so we asked people to report into hrDirect, our employee administration team, as soon as they were diagnosed. We reported out every day to the exec team and, as things progressed, we added more dimensions, such as tracking hospitalisations and location-wise, we were able to spot where any potential outbreaks were at the various sites and settings. Because we are a risk-based business, we carried out risk assessments and all of the sites were reconfigured, which worked and we had very low levels of infection. The risk-based approach, I believe, kept people safe.

Melanie Lepine: The challenges came when things started to open up again and it was less clear about what people should do. Employees were coming back into offices and there was some confusion about reporting positive cases and what to do if you had been in the vicinity. But as people became used to the situation, we were able to set up open and honest communication lines. We provided Exec level communication, which needed to be really clear and the messages that were cascaded through the organisation to share with teams, had to be consistent, open and honest and we were definitely cautious.

Matthew Collington: I joined the company at the start of COVID, as HR Director over 14 sites in the UK and Ireland. Being in the food preparation sector, we had to set up a very open culture, because media headlines were full of food companies being a focus of COVID infection and some were closing down entirely. So, it was important to maintain vigilance, be analytical and record the changing situation on infections within the company – as well as the local communities – in order to keep people well informed and the business operational, under the safest possible circumstances.

Clare Daniels: We really tried to take a very agile approach to managing through the crisis. When I joined JLL, we were through the worst of COVID, but employees had an app on their phones, via which they could keep us posted about infection and we kept operating safely by a red light/green light system. It’s surprising how quickly crisis management can turn into a normal way of operating and HR has played a huge part in keeping people safe and the business operating.

Lisa Porter: The data management element of it was probably the easiest part. At first, it was fairly black and white and people knew the rules about what to do, but through the various stages, it was more ambiguous. Also, as a global business, the biggest ongoing challenge for managing COVID has been the variation of situations in each country and how the local governments are dealing with it, in terms of lockdowns and restrictions.

Sarah Armstrong: It’s about managing and empowering regional teams on how to make those decisions. Data is important, but you still have to talk to people to understand how it is impacting them. Data tells you the top level, but you have to drill down and talk to people to understand and support effectively.

Kerry Young: We had founded ViTRiFi as a remote-first workforce. While we didn’t experience the challenge of staff attending a physical office, we did need to manage significant absences, as many of our staff live in communities that were experiencing significant COVID infections. Our ongoing challenge is understanding and managing long COVID, as we have employees across all levels who are suffering from this.

Michael Foote: When it was being suggested that businesses would have to install equipment to pick up heat traces, suddenly the reality of the outlay hit home – something like £30,000, £40,000 per unit – and if we’re talking about a factory plant with say, 15 different entry points, the costs are astronomical. It was clear that the most important and practical solution was to record the data, track the changing situation, be agile and adapt. I think doing the “big bang” approach to automate is impractical from a cost point of view, but most businesses have data capacity that can be adapted and utilised.

HOW HAS DATA & ANALYTICS ASSISTED DURING THIS HIGHLY DYNAMIC AND FAST-MOVING, REAL-TIME SITUATION?

Egé Siva: Companies that embedded data and analytics into their business processes adapted better to uncertain conditions much more quickly. They were able protect their employees while keeping the business operations going. Automation helped a lot too; those that were data savvy or quick to adapt, responded to the crisis in a more agile way. It is easier to gather the information you need and analyse it, without duplicated systems or data models, if you already have a connected applications for your HR, finance and supply chain for example. Result, less time spent on bringing data together, and analysing it. More time spent on making decisions, and supporting the business itself. It really stretched our data capabilities and adoption in a relatively short time, as we needed maximum agility, quick decision-making and real-time planning capabilities.

WHAT ARE THE KEY INDICATORS FROM A DATA AND TREND PERSPECTIVE, TO MITIGATE AGAINST INCREASED ATTRITION?

Matthew Collington: When Heathrow turned its lights back on and was offering £13-to-£14 an hour for a very basic baggage handler role, we suddenly saw a mass exodus at that level. We’ve not been impacted in our professional ranks at this point, but I think that’s because we were in an industry that kept going throughout the pandemic. We need to also be mindful that traditional careers are changing.

Melanie Lepine: Absence is one indicator that we look at regularly in conjunction with attrition. COVID masked some of that, because we didn’t see the same levels of absence, as people were already at home meaning they didn’t always feel the need to ‘go off sick’. Now we’re able to start using that indicator again. Career perception has changed, but people still want a future vision. Predictive analytics has worked for us on multiple levels, enabling us to build and create and address potential risks that are flagged up.

Lisa Porter: We have so many different data sets and we manually try to take data from them all – people surveys and EAP usage – and then build that picture manually. It’s a challenge to have so many datasets, but the information is vital.

Matthew Collington: I’m rebuilding my HR team – and introducing new shared services – and data analytics people are going to be key. We already have data analytics teams within the commercial parts of the business and they bring so much to the party, so there is a real appetite for more data analytics capability.

Harvey Francis: My worry is the disconnect between engagement and attrition. During the pandemic, we saw a significant increase on both engagement and enablement. Yet intention to stay is down and attrition is still up. Are we starting to see conventional wisdom start to fall away?

Lisa Porter: Businesses have to accept that they’re not going to keep everyone. It’s about accepting a certain amount of attrition, so perhaps it has to be reframed. We use a lot of eNPS scores and I’m beginning to wonder about the value, because by the time you have the data, everything has changed.

Clare Daniels: As we go through different phases, we will inevitably require different skillsets and those that you require at the beginning aren’t necessarily the same a quarter later. We will have to be increasingly agile to make sure we have the right skills at the right time.

Sarah Armstrong: When “the Great Resignation” phrase was first coined, we carried out an internal review to actually query this and our data showed that attrition rates were normal in 2021 and 2020 was an anomaly, because what seemed like raised attrition was actually impacted down into around three months of operating.

Michael Foote: There’s a lot of noise out there and there is a tendency to kneejerk react and offer inflated salaries and that’s not sustainable. Also, employers may need to recalibrate their models, because if the attrition rate is set at 20-to-30 percent and recruiters are scrambling to replace like-for-like, the outcome is inevitable. We all need to think like a startup, not try to compete on salary and build values that attract talent that are not just related to monetary value.

Harvey Francis: With “the Great Resignation”, we’ve talked ourselves into a problem again and all of the attention is diverted to the new problem and while you’re embroiled in that, another problem comes into view.

WHEN DO WE KNOW IF ARE WE JUST LOOKING AT NORMAL CHURN OR SOMETHING MORE CONCERNING?

Egé Siva: When you look at the data, you clearly see higher levels of churn, but is it really as big as the headline suggests? I am not convinced that it’s a universal phenomenon, perhaps more a reshuffle as some say. Look around the world, you see 20-to-30 percent in the U.S. whereas in the UK, it is half of that size and in continental Europe about half of the voluntary attrition in the UK. The question is, isn’t it normal to expect higher levels of voluntary turnover after two years of very low mobility in labour markets? People either postponed their decisions or changed their priorities and some saw that their employer no longer supported their priorities or preferences.

Melanie Lepine: Indeed, companies that are adjusting to meet what’s important to their teams are more likely to retain their talent, because they’re considering the things that are important within their industry and across their workforce; mental health, work/life balance and workplace flexibility.

HOW EFFECTIVELY CAN YOU PREDICT AN INCREASE IN HR BUDGETS AND SALARIES, BASED ON INFLATION, REVENUE AND GROWTH FORECASTS?

Lisa Porter: If we’ve learned anything from the last two years, it’s that planning sometimes has to be dynamic and you need to be able to adapt to change, no point setting budget allocation in stone with no flexibility and agility.

Matthew Collington: Our generation has never had to budget in a high inflationary environment and that is predicted to be a new pressure going forward. Realistically, we need to figure out what ten percent looks like and consider what the wider economic implications are when inflation spirals upwards.

Melanie Lepine: We are a high-growth business and there is a need to recognise how we address our budgets and how we grow our talent pools. We have a very defined way of growing the business, whereby we meet a certain threshold and then the lead steps up to the next level and we, ideally, backfill from within the business. We’re actually going through a process at the moment – to be clear about how we work together – across talent acquisition, L&D and talent management.

Harvey Francis: We can only realistically plan three years ahead. We have different parts of the business, some of which have a very quick turnaround in terms of, you win the project today, spades are in the ground in three months’ time and you’re out. But the majority of projects are much longer duration – some we’ve worked on for many years before the contract has been awarded.

Clare Daniels: The key issue is, do you react and start to drive certain inconsistencies based on your fear, or do you take a more consistent approach? The pressure is, how do you drive consistency across your teams and the business lines when you have all of those different elements of change? Business as usual… has it ever been business as usual?

Egé Siva: High inflation is now the reality and likely to stick for some time. This is a new phenomenon for most of the HR leaders and professionals looking after mature and relatively more stable markets. It has its own challenges and I expect to see allocation decisions whether salary increase budgets and distribution of available bonus pools will be a challenge in a recession environment, which seems to be around the corner.

Lisa Porter: With organisations in growth, the investment will be wherever they have to place it and, if it’s a choice between consistency or growth target, they will almost always lean towards the latter.

Michael Foote: What is required is a sustainable approach – it’s nice to have a suite of benefits – but realistically, it comes down to the bottom line and what is practical.

HOW IS THE PERFORMANCE OF EMPLOYEES MANAGED AND SUPPORTED?

Kerry Young: Our CTO has commented that it takes several development cycles for our new starters to understand and be able to fully contribute to our development activities. We are tracking new starter development and performance as part of our software development lifecycle activities, to help determine our continued investment in staff capability or if we need to exit staff from our organisation. Our performance management approach relies heavily upon conversations with our staff and leaders and we use technology to increase our ability to have real-time conversations with staff, to give more insight more regularly.

Sarah Armstrong: We don’t track or trace, but there are ways to measure, by looking at utilisation and project delivery, for example and that is dependent on good line management. We don’t generally have under performers due to the size of our business, it is harder for people to go under the radar. So it’s not something that we actively have to manage every single day and we do have robust performance management tools.

Matthew Collington: Performance management tools were mostly driven through a subjective starting point. The shift that we’ve seen our world moving towards is people performance management – starting from a more objective and measured starting point. The nine-box grid now has KPIs on one side – which is still a little theoretical – but ratings are driven by metrics and KPIs. We’re already seeing some good changes in behaviour such as, safety as a condition of work.

Clare Daniels: We have OKRs and also normal objectives. Moving forward, our focus will be to move to a more objective way of assessing performance and potential.

Melanie Lepine: We definitely do have robust, fairly traditional processes in place, with goal setting at the start of the year, along with mid-year and year-end check ins. Where we want to move to is continuous conversations and there are some great tools to enable that in a more objective and purposeful way.

Harvey Francis: I still think there’s a lot of benefit in the discipline of having a goal-setting conversation at the beginning of the year, checking in regularly, with a formal check in mid-year. We’re up at 90 percent plus, in goal plan completion and reviews, because we drive it hard and have done for years, have become part of our culture.

Egé Siva: By design, you embed many rules and processes into performance management systems in order to maintain consistency in their delivery. Calibration sessions is a good example of that – they are not new – but essentially, you want two things; alignment so that there is no disconnect in terms of performance measurement between the overall business and its functions and business units and to achieve fair recognition of performance and distribution of rewards. Can data support this better than today’s delivery methods and help us achieve alignment and fairness? I believe so, but it is unlikely that data & analytics will replace the human touch.

DO YOU USE DATA & ANALYTICS TO MANAGE INTERNAL CAREER PROSPECTS AND EXTERNAL HIRES?

Kerry Young: We use this approach for hiring and there are several key activities in our recruitment approach, where we track speed of candidate response and engagement with our talent team, to help inform our recruitment decisions. We track both anecdotal and quantitative data, from sourcing to conversion to hire.

Melanie Lepine: We are managing our internal talent in an automated way, using a six-box process, so that we are clear about who is ready now and who will be ready in the short, mid or long term, so that we can be clear about that pipeline. That is matched with workforce planning, to help inform us about what resourcing we need, in terms of recruitment versus internal pipeline.

Matthew Collington: One of the challenges associated with the progression of the three-box model is to ensure that each part of the model continues to connect to the business. It is all about people, it’s not about super sophistication and I think this has actually been a good time to stand back and plan, to rebuild a more technically sophisticated approach.

Clare Daniels: We implemented pymetrics recently – a tool that predicts behaviour traits for future skills – which is quite exciting from a DE&I perspective. In terms of employee base, it is very much based on an I profile and we want to move it to a T and eventually to an M, as we look to future proof our skills moving forward. We need to move people in a more agile way, as opposed to a defined career plan.

Sarah Armstrong: We are a business that’s going through a lot of change. We’ve primarily been an engineering business, but we’re much more delving into the consultancy space and growing our offering further. Engineering and consulting attract very different people and now we are in an arena in which we aren’t used to competing. That is the big challenge when diversifying a business.

Kerry Young: Speed of change is accelerating and as a startup, we are focusing our performance cycle on quarters. We start a quarter and, by the end of that quarter, it can feel intense, but you learned and evolved so much. Our data challenge is that often, the data we’re focused on at the start of the quarter is no longer appropriate moving into the next. Gathering appropriate data quickly to deliver insight, is one of our key objectives.

Michael Foote: With data analytics and data science, what you’re setting out to do is identify trends and move ahead of the cycle. But you need to make sure that you are sure about what you’re looking for.

Egé Siva: Many of us struggle with disparate HR databases, systems and applications. Without bringing them together, you cannot really run or benefit from predictive analytics. It is, however, useful to the degree that you can connect your data variables together and develop analytical models to perform more sophisticated, predictive and even prescriptive analytics. Many HR leaders know how to make use of the connection, but perhaps only a few make a real impact on business strategy and results.

Kerry Young: For HR, maintaining that hard-won voice at the top table is about having ownership of key data points. If we lose that critical data ownership, we’re back to square one again.

HOW MUCH OF A HELP AND HINDRANCE HAS GDPR BEEN TO DATA MANAGEMENT?

Clare Daniels: It has been a focal point for ownership and good practice, because we have to handle data management carefully. For example, we have to erase data after 12 months and so it’s only good for a short period of time, so how much richness there is from a trend perspective, is open to question.

Melanie Lepine: We have introduced a Talent Acquisition System, which makes for a much more robust process and you have to be clear where the data is stored and that it doesn’t end up anywhere else. This is the system that holds that data and it’s an indicator that the organisation is taking security seriously.

Michael Foote: When we implement any HR system, most customers have some form of conferring or insight that they’re putting in, it’s pretty much standard now. If it wasn’t, then we would be asking, why not? The ones that don’t, tend to have their own bespoke system that they’ve created and that we would have to interface into – or a legacy system that, again, we would have to interface into. Also, as part of our criteria of assessment, we talk to organisations about elements such as; the standard templates and the type of reporting we could build in.

DOES YOUR HR TEAM HAVE AN ORGANISED INSIGHT PROFILE TO FACILITATE SKILLS-BASED HIRING?

Melanie Lepine: We’re focusing on critical roles we need right now, but more importantly, what we are going to need for the future. We’re using that in all aspects of the employee lifecycle, then using it to build our development programmes. We’ve trialed this on a few critical roles, with a view that the trial will become a fundamental talent plan for the future.

Kerry Young: While we don’t have an organised insight profile, we’re very clear on the types of skills we require, along with the temperament, personality and adaptability necessary to be successful in our start-up environment.

Sarah Armstrong: We do a lot of occupation personality questionnaires – 360s for development purposes – that can then lead into our leadership development programmes and also for our pathway to partnership. I can even look at an OPQ and tell if somebody is a typical profile for our company, or an unusual profile and I think this provides many opportunities and leads to better outcomes.

Egé Siva: Over the past two years, particularly in the technical engineering space, traditional job structures became obsolete, to support business needs. Let me add, this remains specific to a limited number of hot skills in the market, mostly around technical domain. So not a universal phenomenon, but there are now some companies hiring and paying people, not by job, but for the specific ‘hot’ technical skills they have. This requires HR to be prepared to define the skills profile a business needs, map the existing workforce, assess the gap and then articulate and mitigate a plan.

Matthew Collington: You can multiscale people, but they don’t necessarily add more value. Ultimately, it’s about finding out what people really want to do, what they are passionate about and reward the productivity that results from the “love”.

HOW DO YOU SEE HR ANALYTICS PROGRESSING IN WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT?

Lisa Porter: Well, if you have a global company and you’re hiring all over the world, it has to be automated. Most countries have adapted to it, it speeds up compliance and it’s really cost effective for onboarding.

Matthew Collington: I think for me it’s about how we use data to be more clinical about being better at those moments of truth which might be your first laptop, it might be what we do after an accident happens or it might be that set of dynamics that tells this person is vulnerable as a potential leaver. Then the human intervention is what results from that analysis.

Sarah Armstrong: There’s a lot of AI and learning, it’s about putting those insights together. I’ve seen it in recruitment software and I’d like to see that across other HR software packages, it can free us up to do more exciting work.

Kerry Young: Agreed, it’s a bonus to be able to trade off the time saved for meaningful interaction and meantime, the insight is valuable.

Melanie Lepine: For us, it’s a case of never taking things for granted, so we are always thinking about, how do we effectively use data? Are predictive analytics the right way to go when data is out of date so quickly?

Clare Daniels: I think the data is only as good as the individual that’s then going to tell the story and influence internally. That’s an important piece that needs to happen. I think we need to improve in HR, because we have to drive change through our leadership. Unquestionably, data is important, but fundamentally, it’s about how can we make sure the data is relevant and not outdated.

Michael Foote: It’s quite clear that HR needs to be fully integrated into the business, because change management incorporates HR into the process. I think also HR needs to lend a hand in helping line management, in order to be in step with the massive and rapid change that businesses are having to deal with. Crucially, HR has to be at the heart of the business and combine people management with data management excellence, in order to inform on business decision making.

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