‘Create a crisis’ with analytics to engage senior leadership, HR is told

Narratives will help turn statistics into insights that drive action, CIPD HR Analytics conference hears

The key to motivating senior leaders into acting on data is to turn those numbers into a narrative, HR professionals were told at the CIPD’s HR Analytics conference.

Kim Saunders, senior people analyst at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), urged HR departments to “create a crisis” by turning people data into a compelling story that grabs leaders’ attention and drives effective change.

Speaking at the event in London this week, Saunders said presenting information alone was not enough to catalyse positive action, and she urged fellow HR professionals to contextualise survey data and other information by using it to show what was failing, who was being impacted and what the root causes were.

“Statistics create information [while] analytics provide insights you can act on. Statistics become analytics when we give them a narrative, so motivate senior leaders by creating a crisis,” she said. “You create crisis and you create change. Show, for example, how engagement is being affected.”  

She added people professionals needed to make the narratives personal. “Don’t take a softly-softly approach and be ready to back up your recommendations.” 

The event marked the launch of CIPD’s latest practitioner guide, Getting started with people analytics, which outlines four key pillars to effective people analytics for HR professionals.

The guide recommends focusing on solving a business issue, not just an HR issue, setting clear boundaries and researching questions that need to be answered, as well as starting small and growing through testing and iterating, and ensuring key stakeholders are engaged throughout.

“Given that HR is often criticised for making gut decisions, there needs to be a more concerted effort on the part of HR to invest the time and resources into building people analytics capability,” wrote the report’s co-authors, Ed Houghton and Sam Hill.

CIPD research published earlier this year revealed that just half (52 per cent) of organisations were actively using people data to tackle business issues, and only a third (35 per cent) of non-HR professionals felt their company’s HR team were ‘experts’ in people analytics.

Speaking at the same event, Greig Aitken, group head of people strategy and insight at the Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS), said most companies already had a wealth of data available but relying on this information alone limited their impact. “An evidence base can be qualitative, not only quantitative. It’s most powerful when they work together,” he said. 

“We don’t need more data. It’s how we use what we’ve got,” he said. “My worst nightmare is when people say ‘we’ll do another survey’.”

Aitken urged a measured approach to what often seemed like a sticky and confusing topic, recommending external benchmarks and CIPD guidance to assist the HR team. “Try not to introduce new things. Use what you’ve already got. Moving from data to insight is important. Having data isn’t useful, but what you do with it is,” he said.

He also suggested organisations “steal with pride” ideas from other companies doing good work.

Experts at the event also expressed optimism about the rollout of GDPR. Mark Corbett, group head of HR operations at De Beers, said that by aggregating data and looking for trends, it was still possible to protect people’s information while still extracting useful insights from trends.

“It’s about being open and ensuring people know how their data is being used. The HR function is in a better place following GDPR. We’re more disciplined,” he said.

Aitken agreed, adding: “Now we’re required to really think about our actions. It’s about adding value to staff rather than seeing it as a cumbersome process.”