Workforce analytics is in danger of over-selling itself

promises ave and realiry way

Tom Peters gave an excellent advise when he in 1982 said ‘Formula for success: under promise and over deliver’. This goes very much hand-in-hand with the truism in service management (and is HR not one big service organization?) that excellent service = customer perception – customer expectations. The more you raise the expectations the harder it is to deliver excellent service.

My point is; deliver the best product and service possible but just don’t over promise.

The field of Workforce Analytics is in danger of over selling itself. I think stating something like “HR has good data but needs to use them better in order to make better decisions” is a sensible statement and does not over-promise. It is a sort of statement which can lead to a discussion about which decisions we make from pure guess-work (most) and which decisions are so important that we need good data and clever analysis to improve those decisions.

What I do think HR, consultants and vendors should stop saying are things such as:

  • “I believe that well thought out predictive HR analytics could become as important to the CEO as the balance sheet and P&L statement,”
  • “Workforce Analytics can measure these things  [engagement, profit, turnover and customer service] and show a direct, causal relationship to prove the bottom line impact”
  • “Workforce analytics will enable us to reach our goal which is to reinvent work”
  • “Workforce analytics will provide the language for HR executives to speak the language of business: numbers. This will give HR a seat at the table”

Many of these statements come from people who have a vested interest in the hype surrounding workforce analytics. People such as myself – consultants and vendors. But they are actually doing a disservice to the whole field.

Workforce analytics will contribute a lot over the coming years; it will make use of big data, provide new insights about the workforce and make HR more efficient and effective. But it is not a game-changer. It is not something radically new. And its limitations lies not with the software and the tools themselves – they lie with the mindset of the HR executive, the biases of the people using it and with the level of trust HR has within the organization.

But to get to the place where we can add the value from Workforce Analytics we need to stop over-selling it.

11 thoughts on “Workforce analytics is in danger of over-selling itself

  1. Many thanks for your note of reason, I guess I do identify with most of the points made particularly ensuring that the advocates for hr analytics do not over-sell but rather place it within context. where i disagree though is your comment that this is not a game changer. in my mind it is, that is if harnessed effectively, this moves hr interventions from gut based to fact based and this thereby lies its game changing impact.

    1. Hi
      Fair point. I am still debating with myself if Analytics is ‘just’ doing something we are already doing just much much better or if this is something truly new. I am also still debating with myself if this is just another – yet powerful – new enabler which will make us (HR) more efficient or if it is a game changer.
      Your comment has made me think about it again. So thanks for that.

  2. I, for one, don’t think we’re doing anything new. Well, it might be new for HR but done will it tends to utilise the same techniques that other parts of the business have been using for ages.

    We probably can separate HR Analytics into two parts: analysis that improves operational effectiveness, where Operations Research can provide most of the answers; and workforce changes where there is a lot from the area of consumer analysis which can provide the answer.

    What could be seen as new is the availability of data – from the old scarce & expensive world to our current abundant & cheap / free. All this does is shifts what becomes economical to do. It simply is shifting the supply curve.

  3. I agree that we in the vendor/consultant space are in danger of over-hyping WFA. I believe HR has the ability to lead the organization and to define competitive success, and that WFA is foundational in that process, but Analytics is no short-cut or silver bullet for transforming organizational behavior. Good analysis gets us to base-camp, but there’s still an intervention mountain to climb. Honesty, while it may cause pause in potential clients will, in the long run, lead to more client success.

  4. I wholeheartedly disagree with your point of view. HR analytics is still in the dark ages compared with most of the other functional areas in our organizations. I believe it is where marketing or supply chain was at least 10 years ago, and look at the advances they have made using analytics. With 70+% of todays value of an organization in it’s people, how can you downplay it’s importance? If done correctly, advanced analytics in HR can be game changers and we must continue to evangelize (rather than downplay) the value to drag our industry into the 21st century.

    1. Hi Gene

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate.

      I do not disagree with your viewpoint that Workforce Analytics will improve HR dramatically. That not really my point in my blog. What I am arguing is that if you promise more than you can deliver – even if what you do deliver is fantastic – then people will be disappointed.
      So let not hype it up or over promise. Lets instead quietly deliver the fantastic things WFA can do and excite a lot of people along the way.

      I don’t think our viewpoints are that far from each other.
      Best/ Morten

  5. All,
    To my mind, if you subscribe to the theory that an organisation’s single biggest asset is it’s people, then we must also consider workforce analytics to be a game-changer.
    I agree with the comment that this is not new: business intelligence, business analytics, predictive analytics and data science have all been applied with success in other spheres of the enterprise; however, that does not detract from the potential impact WFA might have on the bottom line.
    HR organisations have been collecting vast arrays of data for many years, but have lacked the investment in skills and infrastructure to make use of it – in a scalable and repeatable way. Pervasive analytic technology has become more accessible to HR organisations, which are often cash-poor (because so much of an organisation’s money is spent on staffing and development), so this really does represent a new opportunity.
    Focusing on Workforce Analytics not necessarily catapult HR into a league of it’s own, but it will certainly help the C-Suite to better model and understand their Human Capital imperatives; and to act strategically rather than operationally.

  6. I work in HR Executive Search and for one am incredibly pleased at the spotlight on HR data and analytics. I have interviewed one too many candidate that cannot demonstrate the success of their work with tangible metrics and measures. When I read an HR CV, any number will jump out from the page and I know that the candidate has thought carefully about the outcomes of their work and the result they are hoping to achieve.

    People data has been there since SAP first launched and Peoplesoft then revolutionised things but for me, it is the interpretation and analysis of this data that often goes missing. To do this successfully the HR function must be numerate and understand what it wants to measure and why. If it gets this right, it will stand up against the highly numerate business case made by the finance function.

    The way the data is presented is also key and new software such as Workday and Oracle Fusion appear to do this for the user very nicely.

    Of course the big Human Capital Consultancies will hype some of this up, but they are not making as much money from Talent Management implementation now since the in-house capability has improved so this is where investement is going. I am not cynical though and believe this area will drive HR in the right direction and I will have far better interviews!

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