Significant Influence: The Making of HR Data-Driven Opportunists

By: Simon Callow and Juleen Veneziano

“Insofar as hard figures are still unavailable, our CFO has written a poem that explores the essence of the firm’s situation.”

Humorous and unimaginable, this line from a comic strip highlights the absurdity of making organizational decisions without data. Human resources—a critical function in every organization—has come a long way from presenting “poems,” as it has evolved from a professional practice to a decision-making science with logical frameworks and data. However, if it is to be equal to its sister functions of finance or marketing, HR must be more influential in its approach to data-driven business decisions and investment. It needs to be much more opportunistic and recognize the power of analytics at its fingertips.

The interest in big data and analytics is clearly growing. More recently, this has been matched by the emergence of innovative HR technologies powered by data integration, analytics, and algorithmic capabilities. Yet we are struck by how much good data sits with HR and talent professionals—underleveraged, unused, and at worst ignored.

In our experience, the key for HR lies in the ability to become data-driven opportunists—influential HR leaders (on top of the pressing business issues that matter most to stakeholders) actively seeking and seizing opportunities to harness currently available data to drive decision making and action.  

We recently helped a client make talent decisions during a multibillion-dollar merger between two organizations with markedly different cultures. A multimethod individual assessment process was used to surface data on 200 people and drive talent decisions. However, with a little restructuring, select individual assessment data were compiled to provide snapshots of group, level, function, line of business, and organization-wide capability. This process revealed a number of potential scenarios for how the merger could play out, and it provided an opportunity to answer questions critical to integration success such as:

  • What could slow down the integration? What are the gaps in leadership capability, and how could these play out both during and after integration? Which gaps pose the greatest risk and need to be addressed now?
  • What leadership capabilities will drive performance leading up to, during, and after integration? Which executives have the DNA to lead the charge, by both inspiring others and providing a stabilizing force during the merger? Where are they clustered across levels and businesses?

The above example highlights what is possible and can be achieved by leveraging data captured for one specific purpose—e.g., as part of a leadership assessment process—to help solve for other business problems through a targeted analysis and identification of individual, team, and organization levers.

So what are the lessons to be learned for HR executives? HR leaders? CHROs?

If you’d like to be able to answer questions such as …

  • In which business unit do you have a succession issue?
  • Where are your pivotal talent?
  • What characteristics differentiate leaders who are most effective at driving innovation?
  • What are the ways in which new leaders are likely to shape the organization’s culture? To what extent does this align with what is desired?
  • What is the source of the lack of buy-in to the change? What are targeted ways to lessen the level of resistance and bring people along?

 … you need to do nothing else but the following three things:

  1. Know what data you have and where it is. Have as much as possible in one place.
  2. Your data: know why it matters. Consider all the business questions that could be answered in part by talent-and-people data and analytics. Always apply multiple lenses—including individual, team, organization, and external—to the business questions and available data.
  3. Identify what data can be leveraged again, such as individual assessment data, for greater ROI. Given the talent strategy, what else would be needed to be able to validate current efforts? 

Ironically, to be a data-driven opportunist requires structure and discipline and may not always be top of mind. The power of data is a fact; using it is a choice. By following a few simple steps, the power of analytics can be made readily accessible and will lead to enhanced value-added decisions far beyond what was intended.





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