What can organisations do to overcome resistance to people analytics with David Green

We conducted a Q&A interview with David Green, Global Director of People Analytics Solutions at IBM, in the build-up to his talk at the People Analytics World event.

How can an organisation looking to begin their HR analytics journey actually start from?

If you haven’t already started your analytics journey in HR, you really should start now. In terms of where to start, the best piece of advice I can offer is to focus on the specific challenges facing your organisation where people insights can help solve business problems. Learn the business, find out what matters to your CEO and senior leaders. For example, if you work for a company that is growing rapidly, there are probably areas in recruitment and retention that you can work on. 

Remember this is a long-term investment. You’re not likely to see a return straight away. It takes time. Look to build momentum, choose your first projects carefully – they need to be impactful and also relatively quick to implement. Once you’ve established your beachhead, look to build something sustainable both within HR but also just as importantly across the business. 


How can organisations overcome resistance such as budgetary concerns, the lack of skills and doubts from stakeholders to adopting workforce analytics?

There are a number of ingredients that help organisations overcome resistance to getting started with people analytics. These include:

1.     Focus – first and foremost as I’ve already mentioned focus on projects that actually matter to the business. Don’t waste time developing a model to predict attrition if it isn’t a problem for your company.

2.     Sponsorship - without CHRO and senior executive involvement your people analytics adventure is probably doomed from the start. The CHRO (or senior HR leader) can help you to identify the right projects, provide access to the right business leaders and help when it comes to making your insights actionable – especially where the findings are counterintuitive.

3.     Partner – the skills and capabilities required to do people analytics are varied and not likely to be found in one or even two people. So, look to leverage skills and data from elsewhere in the business. Other analytics teams in the organisation will likely be more established so i) will have the skills to help plug some of the gaps in your team, ii) experience in navigating the business to turn insights into outcomes, and; iii) possess the business data you will need to gain insights into the business problems you are trying to solve. 

4.     Culture – if you are going to develop sustainable capability in analytics then you must look at developing a data-driven culture throughout HR and especially with business partners. Successful people analytics teams have made efforts to excite, equip and enable HR business partners with analytics. Indeed, the recent High-Impact People Analytics study from Bersin by Deloitte found that this was the biggest predictor of success.


How much impact does effective storytelling have on the success of data analytics?

I’ve heard it said numerous times that storytelling is the last mile problem in people analytics. Even when you select the right business problems to solve, collect and analyse the right data and identify telling insights, if you can’t articulate the story in a compelling way that resonates with your audience, then it is highly likely that no action will be taken. Successful people analytics teams are adept at understanding what their audience needs to know, how they want them to feel and what they want them to do. I highly recommend the work of Cole Nussbaumer in this area. Her book Storytelling with Data is a must-read for any budding people analytics professional. 


Who really is the winner with people analytics? How can an ROI be justified?

I believe there are three winners when it comes to people analytics:

·       The business – analytics can help unlock insights about people that can help drive improved business outcomes in areas such as productivity, performance and engagement. Companies are using people analytics in many areas including to i) understand, predict and improve attrition and absence, ii) improve quality of hire, iii) understand the areas of engagement that drive performance, iv) investigate high-performing teams in order to replicate behaviours throughout the organisation. 

·       Employees – increasingly, the focus of people analytics teams is placed as equally on creating value for the employee as it is on solving business problems; not that the two can’t go hand-in-hand. This can be seen through efforts to understand and improve employee experience and wellness, create products that personalise and ‘push’ recommendations to employees in areas such as learning and internal job opportunities, and in sentiment analysis. Many organisations have implemented employee listening programs that understand sentiment, detect problems and most importantly help leaders make a commitment to do something about them.

·       HR – the insights offered through data and people analytics will improve the impact of HR and its perception within the business. People analytics isn’t going to go away and is indeed going to be a core capability of the future HR functions. HR professionals that are comfortable with data and/or make the effort to learn about analytics are likely to have more successful careers than those that ignore this evolution of the profession. Analytics is core to digital transformation of the function and emerging HR technologies that are built on AI and machine learning. 

ROI does seem to be an obstacle to many organisations getting started with or creating sustainable capability with people analytics. I think this is a bit of a misnomer in many respects. Providing that you are solving business problems that are important to the organisation, the ROI takes care of itself. Many companies get started with attrition as this is a problem with many especially with business-critical employees, and it is easier to quantify the ROI. For example, Nielsen quantified that a single percentage point of attrition was worth $5m to the business whilst IBM’s Proactive Retention program has, to date, realised a financial benefit of $300m.


What is one key takeaway from your session at PAWorld?

Well, as the main chair of the conference, I’ll answer this question by saying that People Analytics World is the premier gathering in Europe of the practitioners, vendors, consultants and experts that make-up the people analytics space. As such, the key takeaway from the event, aside from the terrific speakers and program, is the atmosphere of shared learning and collaboration. People Analytics is one of the fastest growing areas of HR and the pace of change as the discipline continues to broaden and deepen its reach means that events like People Analytics World are critical in helping those in the space keep up with what’s new and what’s happening.


This Q&A interview is exclusive for The Business Transformation Network, conducted in partnership with People Analytics World.


Sign up above, if you would like to hear David's talk at People Analytics World. The BTN is offering all our members 20% off for the event using the discount code "BTN20".

David Green (conference chairperson) - Global Director, People Analytics Solutions at IBM

Davis is a globally recognised and respected influencer, speaker, and writer on workforce analytics, data-driven HR, and the future of work. He won Best Writer at the 2015 HR Tech Writers’ Awards and, the following year, was awarded one of ten LinkedIn Power Profiles for HR. In his role at IBM, David travels the world to visit with HR and people analytics leaders, speak or chair conferences, and otherwise, learn about leading practices and emerging innovations in the space.