28 June 2018

Q&A: ‘The more HR and non-HR data you can merge, the better’

HR analytics expert Nigel Dias on what HR professionals should be striving to achieve with data, and how technology can help them make the leap from simple reporting to informed decision-making


Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery is head of content and community at Ciphr. She was previously deputy editor at People Management magazine. You can find her on Twitter @c_newbery.


HR transformation Performance Technology


HR analytics expert Nigel Dias on what HR professionals should be striving to achieve with data, and how technology can help them make the leap from simple reporting to informed decision-making

‘Make evidence-based decisions’ seems to be a common clarion call on the HR conference circuit these days. But what’s easy to promote from a brightly lit stage is, sadly, much more difficult to achieve in the much greyer and murkier real world. Ciphr spoke to Nigel Dias, managing director of 3n Strategy, an HR analytics firm, and organiser of ThisIsHr, about what strategic HR teams should be striving to achieve with data, the practical differences between reporting and analytics, and how technology can help.

Is it becoming more critical to have access to robust people data, and be able to interpret it?

It depends who you talk to; you’ll definitely find people paying lip service to data. Everyone should be doing data and analytics. But, in truth, most HR professionals struggle to work with data. While people might say they are doing analytics – they might even have deployed technologies that claim to be analytics platforms – they are really just doing reporting. And HR even struggles with just the reporting stuff. Hopefully, all HR professionals understand what a headcount is and what a basic termination rate is, but I would say that a lot of HR people struggle to take that insight beyond a dashboard and actually integrate that into a decision they are trying to make. They’ll be able to say: ‘I understand that my male to female staffing ration is X’, but when you ask them what decision they will make based on those numbers, they will struggle.

Why is this an area that the HR profession, generally, is struggling with?

If you are being mean towards HR, you could argue that, historically speaking, this hasn’t been in their skillset. That, depending on the type of HR person you’re talking to, they haven’t necessarily gone into the job because they want to be a strategic decision-maker.

I do think that’s a little bit harsh; most marketing professionals you might speak to probably didn’t go into those jobs to crunch numbers, either, for example.

What role can technology play?

Technology should be playing a key part in helping HR incorporate numbers into decision-making, if it is designed right and configured right. It should put them in an analytics experience, which helps them make a better decision but doesn’t make them scared of numbers. It should help them focus on the business problem they need to be focusing on. There are a lot of people who know that they want to do analytics, but they won’t have a clue what that means and what that really implies for their decision-making processes, so they will struggle to buy technology because they don’t understand how they want the technology to influence their decision-making.

What should HR professionals be aiming to achieve with data analytics?

There are only two reasons to collect employee data: for administrative purposes – to pay people, so you know who is absent, etc – and to make better decisions from it. If you have integrated HR systems, and that system includes things like dashboards and analytics, then you can draw conclusions from the data. So you can say, for example, did you know that employees who did X type of training have a higher performance than employees who did Y training? Or that employees who are managed in this type of way are more likely to have higher engagement levels? Or if you increase the bonus by X amount then it increases the retention rate of this category of employee? That’s where we need to be aiming to get to.

Are many HR leaders doing this already?

Most of the people I work with are trying to bring more data points together. A few weeks ago, I was in a presentation where they were talking about joining their HR data with their customer satisfaction and call centre data. The more strategic HR people will always want to do that, because HR and people have an impact on the business. You are not managing people better for the sake of managing people better – you are doing it so they work better, or sell more, or design more products or whatever.

The more non-HR data you can merge with your HR data, the better you can articulate to people the impact of HR initiatives on productivity, sales, or any other metric you’re measuring.

Read this next

 The rise of evidence-based decision-making: why HR needs to make friends with metrics

Forget ‘gut feelings’ – it’s time for HR professionals to turn to internal data and robust research as the foundation for their strategic interventions