The Chapman Consulting Group’s Global HR Leaders networking series moved to New York recently where the topic of ‘Managing Global HR in the Age of Big Data’ was discussed by three groups of global HR Heads. Session hosts were Tyler Benjamin, Global HR Leader at CNBC; Gary Kildare, Vice President, Human Resources – Global Technology Services Solutions at IBM Corporation; and Cora Koppe-Stahrenberg, Managing Director, HR Leader International Division at Marsh. Matt Chapman and Stefanie Cross-Wilson attended from The Chapman Consulting Group and valued participating in these three engaging and lively meetings.
The direction of the discussions varied, but all included three broad and consistent themes as follows:
1. Big Data will have a Big Impact on HR
The HR Leaders expressed a clear belief that data and analytics will have a big impact on the HR function, and that this impact is already being felt. Varun Bhatia, CHRO at Levi Strauss & Co. stated that “now is HR’s moment,” due to the HR function being far more technology enabled than ever before. Varun expressed the view that the volume, variety and velocity of data today will cause a ‘leapfrog effect’ in dramatically accelerating the use of data analytics. He believes that the world’s smartest companies will harness this capability within their Human Resources functions, so that they can better understand their workforces. This will allow the CHRO to comfortably stand alongside the CFO as the most trusted adviser to the CEO, given the importance of People to the CEO agenda today. Others agreed that a great opportunity exists today for HR Leaders to use data and analytics to:
- Segment employee populations;
- Get to know their own internal talent better;
- Drive Strategic Workforce Planning as a discipline, to enable companies to shape their workforces for the future.
Gary Kildare from IBM led a bold and challenging discussion on how the Human Resources function has traditionally been the keeper and protector of people data — and how this must and will change quickly. It was noted that the newest generation of workers — the ‘net natives’ are very proactive and open in sharing data about themselves. The HR Leaders observed that as a result, we have reached a ‘tipping point’ where people outside of a company will often know more about the people inside it, through information widely available on the internet and via social media such as LinkedIn. Interestingly, some HR Leaders around the table noted that they had used LinkedIn to supplement data in their own personnel records.
It was also observed that there is a growing gamification of data both outside and inside of organizations (for example in Learning). This was attributed to generational change, and it was agreed that this will only increase over time, and is likely to expand into other more ‘sensitive’ areas of HR. As a result, some of the discussion in this group revolved around the possibility of privacy issues needing to be handled very differently in future. Gary Kildare added that at IBM, there is an increasing trend towards breaking down the barriers to collaboration and allowing the ‘voice of the customer’ into the boardroom via the use of analytics. This is also being applied to HR and many leaders in the room agreed that “all the old rules on data and information are now up for change.”
2. HR is Embracing Analytics – But it’s Very Much ‘Work in Progress’
Across all discussion groups, there was a consensus that HR Analytics is a very new area — and that nobody has all the answers. It is certainly ‘work in progress’ for all companies represented at the meetings. The common view was that most companies have more HR/employee data than they can use — or know what to do with. A few companies are making great strides in using this data scientifically to make better people decisions. For example, Tony Sozanski from Philip Morris presented the group with a dashboard which was viewed as ‘state of the art’ by those in the room. However, it was also noted that this dashboard had no predictive functionality as yet, and that the predictive use of HR analytics — for example to pinpoint pockets of retention risk within an employee population — is an exciting new frontier.
It was agreed that if we can regularly apply scientific data to the HR processes which enable the selection and management of people — including motivating them and rewarding them — then the entire HR function will be quickly transformed. There was also excitement around specialized areas, such as bringing together finance and HR data; and the use of data to revolutionize the Diversity & Inclusion function to make it more about thoughts, style and approach, as opposed to basic race/sex/age demographics.
Lori Pospisil from KPMG offered three practical tips on the way forward for companies wanting to build an analytics function, namely: 1. Knowing what you want to know; 2. Keeping data fresh; and 3. Understanding that you probably have all the data you need. The group embraced this summary, and the consensus was that this kind of practical approach, where the data challenge is broken down into bite-sized pieces, is best. A number of companies present had made good initial progress by working with small and narrow segments of data, to figure out what works best in building their own HR analytics capability.
3. The Right Data Matters
In each of the groups, a common view was that, “knowing the right questions to ask to get to the right answers,” is critical. Susan Steele, CHRO at Millward Brown summarized some important areas for HR Leaders to understand, based on her research including: the characteristics of high performers; risk reduction in hiring; predicting turnover; where to invest pay increases to maximize performance, and; factors which create high levels of engagement and retention within an organization. It was agreed that an HR Leader’s ability to understand current and expected leadership and talent gaps is critical — where the current gaps are, and what gaps can be predicted for coming years.
The HR Leaders were aligned in the view that the ability to make better business decisions through knowing one’s own talent capabilities is key, while being able to assess what is potentially outside is also very powerful. However, the group was less clear on how to get to this point, since data analytics is a new discipline that does not currently exist in the vast majority of HR departments. As a result, some lively conversation also took place around how to find, capture and use this expertise so that it can be practically introduced and applied within today’s HR environments.
In conclusion, this series of global HR Leader networking meetings was one of our best yet, due to the robust subject matter and the high degree of interest in it. A clear outcome of the discussions was that with rapidly advancing technology, it is now possible for HR leadership to capture and manipulate vast amounts of information, as opposed to dealing with isolated segments of data. Now that technological barriers are being removed, the opportunity for the best HR organizations is vast.
Duncan Thomas at American Express summed up the series well when he said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting. It was a great discussion about how data can be more effectively used in HR, as well as how generational change is changing the way that we need to communicate and engage with our people.”
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