Fixer: Are ‘prescriptive analytics’ worth looking into?

26 Mar 2020 By PM Editorial

My company has been tracking some key trends for our business, but I’m not sure whether to pursue this theory

I work for a fairly small company and our HR resource isn’t huge. But we have done some decent stuff on analytics, tracking some key trends for our business, and have even started to do some work around predicting when an employee might become a flight risk, and how long prospective candidates are likely to stay with us based on certain characteristics. But recently I’ve been hearing the term ‘prescriptive analytics’ a lot. I’ve done some research but can’t find a clear definition of this and how it can be helpful. Is it worth pursuing?

Regardless of whether you work for an SME or large corporation, private or public sector, at several points in your career you’re going to encounter theories of management and leadership, not just HR-specific, positioned to suggest they are a silver bullet solution. In the last few decades we’ve seen total quality management, kaizen, chaos theory, SMART management, crowd wisdom, supply chain obsession and so on. Then the tech revolution led to a fresh onslaught of data management theory.

It’s foolhardy to believe in every theory as many are actually contradictory. But we can take something from them all provided we apply our unique perspectives based on strong knowledge of our people and businesses.

The current trend towards data implies algorithms will bring alchemy beyond anything we’ve seen before. I don’t doubt evidence-based practice is compelling. And of course prescriptive analytics has much potential. But in HR we’re primarily responsible for people systems and people are deliciously eccentric and creative – but also unpredictable. Data is great, if used properly. Yet it’s no substitute for good people practices and wisdom. Used well, data supplements and informs emotionally intelligent leadership, but it will never replace this.  

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