The 30 best HR Analytics articles of 2016

People Analytics and data driven HR continues to generate huge amounts of interest amongst those working in or associated with the field of human resources.

The potential analytics has to underpin the future transformation of HR with regards to digital, personalising the employee experience and identifying actionable insights that lead to better business outcomes is recognised by many but to date has only been realised by few.

For the last three years, I’ve collected what I believe are the best people analytics articles of the preceding 12 months. The purpose is to (hopefully) provide a useful resource for those already operating in or those who aspire to work in the field of people analytics (see collections from 2014, 2015, 2016 Jan-Jun and 2016 Jul-Dec).

I have been motivated to do this ‘Best of 2016’ piece because I missed (either due to publication date or my own human error) seven articles from my previous two 2016 collections. These articles are too good not to be recognised, so without further ado and in no particular order…

1. Dave Ulrich & Thomas RasmussenLearning from practice: how HR analytics avoids being a management fad; Esther Bongenaar, Vasilis Giagkoulas and David GreenThe HR Analytics Journey at Shell

It may seem strange to begin with an article that was published in 2015, but having somehow not included it 12 months ago, it only seems fair to start with what is one of the most important articles on people analytics I have read. The white paper provides a critique of the HR centric approach adopted by the majority of organisations when it comes to analytics and instead advocates an “outside-in” method targeted at solving real business problems. Two excellent examples from Maersk Drilling are highlighted to support the argument. Case 1 (see Figure 1 below) examines the impact of leadership quality and crew competence on safety, operational performance, and customer satisfaction whilst Case 2 examines the ROI and Strategic Impact of a Technical Trainee Acceleration Program. As the article reveals, both cases show that analytics is far more effective when tackled from a business (rather than an inward looking HR) perspective and that analytics should be treated as a change management process. Thomas Rasmussen is Vice-President of HR Data and Analytics at Shell, which is often (and rightly) cited as one of the leading practices on the planet. To find out more about what Shell is doing please see my interview here with Esther Bongenaar and Vasilis Giagkoulas.

Figure 1: HR analytics in Maersk Drilling. Percentages shown are the squared correlations, i.e., amount of variance explained. Often HR Analytics teams will only link leadership quality and turnover (box 3), while a broad analytics approach looks at the entire value chain  (Source: Maersk Drilling, Dave Ulrich & Thomas Rasmussen)

2. Anthony Walter – Bridging the gap between insights and action

Another brilliant article – this time published just days after my H2 2016 collection is this insightful and must-read piece by Anthony Walter, who leads Talent Strategy and Workforce Analytics at Gap. As Anthony correctly highlights, the volume of analytical insights continues to grow and whilst this is positive it is arguably a waste if these insights do not lead to meaningful actions that help drive business results. Anthony highlights four key areas of focus and suggests how these gaps between insights and action can be bridged. The four areas are: i) lack of alignment between business strategy and analytics, ii) missing skills in the analytics team (e.g. storytelling, influencing, consulting), iii) cultural impediments that block or slow down action, and; iv) the absence of feedback mechanisms to understand the impact of actions.

3. Placid Jover & Paul McNamaraHR Analytics – Fact, Fad or the Future?

One of the smartest HR leaders I’ve had the pleasure to come across, Placid Jover was recently appointed to lead HR for Unilever’s £3 billion UK business. Previously, Placid had established and led Unilever’s global Organisation Performance and HR Analytics team. In this thoughtful article, Placid reflects on his experiences, how the space has evolved and what the future holds for analytics and how it will underpin the HR of the future. Like the previous two articles, Placid emphasises the importance of focusing on insights that lead to business outcomes. A must-read.

4. Luk Smeyers – Why HR Analytics must report to the CHRO; Luk Smeyers & Mark Berry – 8 things Mark Berry can teach you about HR Analytics

In the previous article, Placid highlighted that Unilever is fortunate to have a CHRO who embraces data and lives and breathes the insight it brings to the organisation and people agendas. The role of the CHRO is pivotal, as Luk Smeyers, Co-Founder of iNostix by Deloitte, makes clear in this article for the HRN Blog. Luk makes an impassioned plea for CHROs to work closely with their HR Analytics leader arguing that this is how HR can have a demonstrable impact on business results. The second article – an interview with Mark Berry, former HR Analytics leader and now CHRO, illustrates Luk’s point perfectly. Mark argues that when executed correctly people analytics can be the “GPS of HR”, as he answers with typical candour and insight a series of questions on people analytics.

5. Kathleen HoganEmpower your employees to leverage their own data Dawn Klinghoffer and David GreenThe HR Analytics Journey at Microsoft; Dawn Klinghoffer, Valuing your TalentMicrosoft Case Study

Continuing Luk’s theme, having a CHRO who not only sponsors but is involved in driving the people analytics initiative is a common best practice I have seen in organisations that are successful in this space. One such CHRO is Kathleen Hogan. The first article describes how Microsoft is using analytics to help employees and teams to become more productive. More importantly, it also tackles the question of employee trust. Hogan emphasises that the purpose is to empower rather than undermine employee decision-making and articulates her vision of creating the ability for employees to own their data, improve their engagement at work, and enhance their work/life balance. Read more on Microsoft’s people analytics journey in my interview with Dawn Klinghoffer, who leads the HR Business Insights team here and also an in-depth case study on the excellent Valuing your Talent site here.

6. Andrew MarrittPeople Analytics: What’s in it for the employee?

When I speak to people analytics leaders, the topic of ethics and trust is never far from the top of the list. Andrew Marritt believes that trust is the most important part of doing great people analytics, and I’m inclined to agree with him. If your employees don’t trust what you will do with their data they won’t give it to you, or won’t provide relevant, truthful data. Not only does it affect the quality of data available, it also makes people analytics initiatives unsustainable. The Virtuous Circle of Data Quality (see Figure 2 below), conceptualised by Andrew, provides a convincing case for placing employee trust at the heart of any people analytics strategy.

Figure 2: The Virtuous circle of data quality (Source: Andrew Marritt | Organization View)

7. SHRM, Mark Huselid, Bill Schiemann, Mark Blankenship, Doug Grant, Dawn Klinghoffer, Alec Levenson, Alexis Fink, Greta Roberts, Jerry Diaz, Mark Rivera & Beth McFarlandUsing Workforce Analytics for Competitive Advantage Thought Leaders Retreat Executive Summary; Alec Levenson I solemnly swear…an HR data and analytics manifesto

One of the best events I attended last year was SHRM’s 18th Thought Leaders Retreat on using workforce analytics for competitive advantage. The event featured some of the leading academics and practitioners in the field and this article captures the many insights that were outlined and discussed over the two days. To pick just four examples: i) Alexis Finkhighlighted that the value of analytics is in discovering how it can make a difference to the organisation, ii) Alec Levenson (see also Alec’s superb HR Analytics manifesto) describing how analysing at the team level, rather than the individual level, can offer bigger returns, iii) Dawn Klinghoffer’s advice that sometimes it’s the quick wins that make leaders come back and ask for more, and; iv) that greater use of analytics requires HR leaders to think hard about ethical factors: what data is used, how it is used, how data is protected, and in what ways use of data and analytics might cross an ethical line. For more on using workforce analytics for competitive advantage also see this white paper published by SHRM two months prior to the retreat.

Figure 3: Intel’s People Analytics methodology (Source: Alexis Fink | SHRM)

8. Lorenzo Canlas – The ROI of Talent Analytics; Rebecca WhiteHow Building Out a Talent Analytics Function Saved LinkedIn Recruiting Considerable Time and Money

Published just a day after my H2 2016 collection, Amit Mohindra was right to highlight that this superb article by Lorenzo Canlas, Head of Talent Analytics at LinkedIn, demanded inclusion. Lorenzo describes how his team has refined its mission to helping leaders use talent as a lever to achieve business objectives and how their success is defined as having a measurable impact to business or talent metrics. As Amit also commented the evolution Lorenzo describes from “arming decision-makers” to actively participating in the intervention/solution is game-changing. The financial return (see Figure 4 below) of Lorenzo’s team demonstrates the significant impact that people analytics can have. Lorenzo goes on to cite several examples of the work his team has undertaken such as that impressively outlined in the second article by Rebecca White. This describes how a single project to better forecast and plan for how many recruiters were needed as the organisation scaled at over 40% a year, including where and when they were needed, predicted within 5% the actual numbers hired, saved the company 15% of its recruiting budget in year one and consequently paid for talent analytics for over four years. The Slideshare below, which was presented by Jennifer Shappley and Chris Pham at Talent Connect, also recounts this outstanding project.

Figure 4: The ROI of LinkedIn’s Talent Analytics team (Source: Lorenzo Canlas)

9. Jonathan Ferrar – The role of storytelling in workforce analytics; Prasad Setty – The science of storytelling

Storytelling is the last mile problem in analytics. Fail to develop a compelling story for your stakeholder and even great insights and analysis will be for nothing. In this article, Jonathan Ferrar highlights a study by SHRM that reveals this is a skill lacking in many HR analytics efforts. He then recounts an excellent example of powerful storytelling from Mark Berry. Jonathan is co-writing a book – ‘The Power of People’ (pre-order here) on people analytics, which is due to be published in May 2017 and will feature a whole chapter on storytelling from where Figure 5 below is extracted. Can’t wait. Also on storytelling, the short video thereafter features Prasad Setty, who leads Google’s fabled people analytics team. In it, Prasad distils effective communication into three key points that matter: what you want your audience to know, how you want them to feel, and what you want them to do. The basis for better storytelling in analytics starts here.

Figure 5: Three Principles of Storytelling (Source: The Power of People by Nigel Guenole, Sheri Feinzig & Jonathan Ferrar)

10. Patrick CoolenThe 10 Golden Rules of HR Analytics (Crowd version); Patrick Coolen & David GreenThe HR Analytics Journey at ABN AMRO

The importance of storytelling also features prominently in Patrick Coolen‘s update of his much-loved 10 Golden Rules of HR Analytics. The result is the best version yet as not only has Patrick used crowdsourcing for the update, but has also taken the time to highlight examples of the research he and his team have conducted at ABN AMRO. My favourite rule? That has to be a tie between #2 ‘Only do business relevant research’ and #3 ‘Create actionable insights’. Read more on the people analytics journey at ABN AMRO in my interview with Patrick here.

11. Josh Bersin – People Analytics Market Growth: 10 Things You Need to Know; Madhura Chakrabarti A Look Ahead at People Analytics 2016 / 2017: Enabling Organizational & Financial Health

The world’s premier analyst on all things HR gave his observations on the field of people analytics at the midpoint of 2016. The headline finding is that “our research shows tremendous growth in this market, and a significant shift away from measuring HR toward a real focus on using people data to understand and predict business performance”. Josh then outlines ten elements driving this growth. This is a great analysis of many of the factors I am also seeing in this space. The second article from Madhura Chakrabarti, Bersin’s People Analytics Research Leader, highlights three emerging trends: i) the need for people analytics to add value to the business; ii) analytics as the new normal for HR; and iii) the critical role of technology. Complete and then look out for Bersin’s High-Impact People Analytics study, when it is published in the summer of 2017.

Figure 6: Redefining People Analytics (Source: Bersin by Deloitte)

12. Morten Kamp Andersen – Six must-have competencies in a world-class analytics team; Morten Kamp Andersen, Simon Svegaard and Peter Ankerstjerne Linking Customer Experience with Service Employee Engagement (Case Study)

Constructing a team with all of the skills required to do analytics is a challenge, not least because these skills are diverse and seldom found in one or two people only. This excellent article (including Figure 7 below) by Morten Kamp Andersen, not only outlines the six key skill areas Morten believes are required but also examines what happens when just one of those skills is missing. The second article is a wonderfully detailed white paper of a project Morten undertook with ISS to investigate whether and to what extent customer profitability is driven by customer experience and employee engagement.

Figure 7 – The six must-have competencies of a world-class people analytics team (Source: Morten Kamp Andersen)

13. Al AdamsenThe 10 Essentials of Generating Workforce Insight

As founder of the Talent Strategy Institute and convenor of the People Analytics & Future of Work Conference, (which, I am honoured to be co-hosting with Al on 2-3 Feb in San Francisco), Al Adamsen is one of the most popular and knowledgeable people in the field of people analytics. Here Al provides ten salient points, which are a great template for the aspiring analytics leader to follow as they build and grow their function.

Figure 8 – The 10 essentials to generating workforce insight (Source: Al Adamsen)

14. Andy Spence7 Challenges that People Analytics must overcome

Whilst acknowledging his own excitement about the role people analytics will play in transforming organisations, Andy Spence correctly asserts that despite the hype adoption rates remain frustratingly low. He then describes seven challenges HR needs to overcome, as well as providing some astute advice to help practitioners succeed. Read alongside the accompanying Slideshare below.

15. Erik van Vulpen / Analytics In HR – 5 reasons why HR Analytics projects fail / Erik van VulpenThe Basic Principles of People Analytics

In just a few short months, Analytics in HR has rapidly emerged as the premier blog for those working and interested in the people analytics space. Ticking both the quantity and quality boxes, there is a wealth of excellent proprietary and third party content to choose from. Choosing just one article was difficult, but I’ve plumped for this excellent piece by Erik van Vulpen on five reasons why HR Analytics projects fail. It’s an invaluable guide for anyone working in a people analytics role, especially those just getting started – as is the recent book (in which a version of the article also appears) (The basic principles of People Analytics) Erik and Nando Steenhuis have published. I was so impressed that I happily agreed to write the Foreword.

16. Max BlumbergAvoiding People Analytics Project Failure

Failure, or more pertinently how to avoid it, is also the subject of this fabulous article by Max Blumberg, one of the leading consultants and influencers in the field. The article is designed to help budding aspirants harness people analytics, and avoid project failure, by presenting a systematic, cost-effective methodology for creating robust data sets that correlate. It’s an eminently readable resource full of great advice and tips to avoid the many pitfalls that can befall even the pluckiest of novices. See Max speak at People Analytics World in London on 25-26 April.

17. Evan Sinar and Rich WellinsGaps in Both Will and Skill Explain HR’s Struggles with Analytics

The glacial pace of progress in people analytics is perhaps not surprising since HR is trying to remake itself in an entirely new image, in an environment where supply of new analytical talent—and budget to hire them—is extremely limited. This article by Evan Sinar (also a must-follow on Twitter) and Rich Wellins describes the skills and traits HR needs, how well (or not) the function is prepared (see Figure 9 below, which had over 30,000 views when I shared it on LinkedIn before Christmas!) and the relationships in the business that can best help propel HR forward.

Figure 9: What HR needs to thrive with Analytics (Source: DDI)

18. Madhura Chakrabarti / RJ Milnor – Scaling People Analytics Globally: Chevron Takes a Multipronged Approach to Build Organization-wide Analytics Capabilities – Part 1 and Part 2

One of the more impressive stories I’ve heard on building organisational capability in people analytics comes from RJ Milnor and his team at Chevron. This detailed Bersin by Deloitte Case Study* comes in two parts. Part 1 describes how Chevron tackled its challenge to scale, unify and grow analytics capabilities across the organisation, making it an essential skill for all HR professionals and ultimately turn people analytics into a competitive advantage. The key focus was the business rather than HR and steps to achieve this included i) implementing a vision and mission statement to help create an identity, ii) consistently reviewing the metrics tracked for business relevance, and iii) creating a prioritisation mechanism for all analytics projects (see Figure 10 below). Building organisational capability centred on two main strategies: i) launching a Community of Practice, which now has 300 members spread across 22 business units and 18 countries, and; ii) introducing a three-stage in-house analytics curriculum that serves to create a structured learning and development program in analytics. Part 2 of the Case Study describes two additional areas of Chevron’s analytics journey: how it built a centre of excellence to optimise its organisational structure and why it believes in leveraging analytics talent across functions. This multi-pronged approach has helped create a vast and virtual people analytics team and effectively changed the way HR and the business thinks. With this firm foundation in place, Chevron is well-positioned to derive the competitive advantage it seeks from its investment in people analytics. For more people analytics case studies, see here, here, here and here

Figure 10: Chevron’s Grid to assess prioritisation of people analytics project (Source: Chevron / Bersin by Deloitte)

19. Bart Baesens, Sophie De Winne, and Luc SelsIs Your Company Ready for HR Analytics?; The Atlantic | Kaveh WaddellThe Algorithms That Tell Bosses How Employees Are Feeling

Whilst HR is “the new kid on the block” in the business when it comes to analytics this may not be such an obstacle providing the function is prepared to leverage the experiences from elsewhere in the organisation. In the first article above from the MIT Sloan Management Review, the authors describe four lessons from customer analytics than can easily be applied to people analytics. The second article looks specifically at sentiment analysis, which has long been used by organisations to better understand its customers, and is now increasingly being used by forward-thinking organisations to get invaluable insights on their employees. Two examples from Twitter and IBM are highlighted. In the latter, the article describes how IBM used an internally developed sentiment-analysis tool called Social Pulse to engage its employees in a revamp of its performance-review system.

20. Nigel Guenole & Sheri FeinzigDecoding Workforce Analytics

If people analytics is to become a core component of the future HR then it is important that everyone working within the function has a reasonable level of analytical understanding and curiosity. This excellent white paper by Nigel Guenole and Sheri Feinzig, adapted from ‘The Power of People’ book (pre-order here) they have written together with Jonathan Ferrar, simplifies the potentially complex subject of research designs and different analytical methods. Confidence (or more to the point, the lack of it) is one of the inhibitors holding many HR professional back from embracing analytics – resources like this white paper are exactly what is needed to accelerate progress.

21. Olly BritnellIt’s time for HR to be bold with analytics

As Olly Britnell, Head of Global Workforce Analytics at Experian, testifies in this article, many organisations are still swimming in the slow lane when it comes to workforce analytics. As he goes on to state, it doesn’t have to be a struggle, and this is less likely to be the case if organisations and nascent analytics leaders follow the excellent advice in this article. Effective stakeholder management, building a balanced team and prioritising education and awareness are just three of the tips provided.

22. New Talent Management Network (Marc Effron, Zac Upchurch, Joyce Petrella)Still Under Construction: The State of HR Analytics 2016

Whilst this white paper provides a stark analysis on the current state of people analytics it does provide HR with some helpful home truths, which if the function doesn’t address may lead to many organisations situating people analytics outside HR. The three primary areas of deficiency highlighted by the study are i) most organisations are still only doing basic analyses (see Figure 11 below), ii) poor data quality, and, therefore perhaps not unsurprisingly; iii) a lack of confidence by the business in these fledgling people analytics functions. Indeed, more companies said their people analytics team hinders their analytics work than helps it. The silver lining is that these challenges can be tackled and the report goes on to elucidate some of the practical steps that organisations can take to do just that.

Figure 11 – The type of people analytics projects being undertaken today (Source: New Talent Management Network)

23. Manoj Kumar5 Reasons Why Your HR Analytics CoE is Not Delivering Expected ROI

Many organisations decide to build a Centre of Excellence (CoE) as part of its attempt to develop people analytics capability. In this piece, Manoj Kumar, who led HSBC’s HR Analytics CoE for five years, outlines five reasons why a CoE may not deliver ROI within expected timelines whilst also suggesting fixes to each of these challenges. I can also highly recommend Manoj’s Talking HR Analytics blog as an excellent resource for those working or interested in the field.

Figure 12: A HR Analytics CoE requires that change is driven by all the stakeholders (Manoj Kumar)

24. Tracey Smith13 People Analytics Ideas to get you Started

Being a mathematician, prolific writer and consultant Tracey Smith tables 13 (it’s a prime!) ideas for the budding people analytics aspirant to get started. Together, these cover the whole gamut of people operations from recruiting through to engagement, performance and retention – all with the emphasis on providing business value. There is plenty to inspire here.

25. Greta Roberts – The beginner’s guide to Predictive Workforce Analytics

As founder and CEO of Talent Analytics, Greta Roberts has been helping organisations do analytics with their people data for 15 years. Therefore, it is no surprise that she offers some great advice in this article on how to implement predictive workforce analytics and the common pitfalls to avoid. I particularly like Greta’s advice on avoiding the “Wikipedia approach” of starting with the dataset rather than the business question – a typical problem I encounter with organisations trying to get started in this space.

26. Saskia MenkeHow do you transform HRBPs into “consumers of analytics”?

How do you engage HRBPs and make them “consumers of analytics”? This was the weighty challenge set for the first Human Capital Analytics Group Hackathon held by Copenhagen Business School under the auspices of Professor Dana Minbaeva. The solutions are nicely summarised in this article by Saskia Menke. It is certainly an important challenge for organisations if they are to scale analytics and create a sustainable capability across HR, so the findings make for interesting reading.

27. Jacob Morgan & Ben Waber – People Analytics: The promise, the perils and the possibilities

Jacob Morgan’s Future of Work podcast is always worth a listen and this is certainly the case when it comes to this episode featuring Ben Waber, CEO of Humanyze, a social sensing and analytics platform that uses sensors in employee ID badges to drive team effectiveness and engagement. Waber offers some fascinating observations on the people analytics space, not least his observations to i) start small, but do something that makes you uncomfortable and outside of your comfort zone, ii) if you don’t start people analytics in the next two years it will be hard to catch up with those that have, and iii) on average people analytics increases top line performance by 10-15%.

28. Sidhartha ShishooDecoding HR Analytics

Another practitioner article comes from Sidhartha Shishoo of Genpact on the excellent People Matters site. The article describes some of the challenges Genpact faced when embarking on its people analytics journey including i) separating analytics from reporting, ii) data quality, iii) building capability and iv) employee privacy. It’s an outstanding article and one that emphasises the need for boldness: in thinking, in strategy and in application when it comes to people analytics.

29. Sam HillWhat teaching People Analytics has taught me about teaching People Analytics

Sam Hill trains HR practitioners through his ‘Practical People Analytics’ course (and very good it is too, by all accounts). This article describes some of the lessons this experience has taught him such as the need to i) differentiate between reporting and analytics, ii) embrace rather than eschew traditional HR intuition and iii) collaborate and share. Read the article for further insights and also see the equally good Part 2 and Part 3 of Sam’s series.

30. Steffen MaierHow Google Uses People Analytics to Create a Great Workplace; Charles Duhigg | New York TimesWhat Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team; Darren KaplanGoogle Game Changer is changing HIS Game

Google is the poster organisation for people analytics and there have been countless articles written about their phenomenal success in this space. These two rank amongst the best. First, Steffen Meier describes Google’s data-driven approach and use of employee feedback to optimise its people processes and culture. He also summarises Project Oxygen (on leadership) and Project Aristotle (on team effectiveness). The New York Times article provides a fascinating and detailed description of Aristotle, which is an essential read, and finally the third article features Darren Kaplan’s tribute to Google’s former HR head Laszlo Bock. As Kaplan rightly asserts, Bock is one of (if not ‘the’) most influential figures in people analytics and data driven HR and all of us in the space have a lot to be grateful to him for.

Figure 13: The five key factors of team effectiveness at Google (Source: re:Work, Project Aristotle)

…and not forgetting David Green

Hey, it’s my blog so hopefully you can forgive the mild self-promotion, but here are three of the blogs I published in 2016 that seemed to get a positive reaction:

  • Read my Demystifying People Analytics series on the HRN Blog: Part 1 (where the People Analytics team should sit in the business), Part 2 (skills and capabilities) and Part 3 (the power of storytelling)
  • Read and listen to my interviews with people analytics leaders at IBM, Microsoft, Shell, ABN AMRO and Cisco
  • Finally, have a look at my 2017 predictions for HR, which you won’t be surprised to learn includes a number of predictions with an analytics theme.
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