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  • Nigel Dias
    Nigel Dias

    How you can improve your analytical abilities without become a data expert

    Posted 12 months ago


    The author of this post is Professor Mike Ulrich from Utah State University, ThinkTank Academic Lead and author of Victory Through Organization. To find out more about the types of work that the ThinkTank is undertaking, please click here. To take part in the research, please complete this form.

    HR analytics is not just about analytics - you can improve your analytical abilities without become a data expert.

    I once worked on an HR analytics project with a team of highly trained statisticians and HR professors. Our goal was to comb through hundreds of thousands of observations to predict what health insurance plan an employee would choose. At the start of our second weekly meeting, a statistician colleague mentioned in passing that her machine learning algorithm found a variable that explained over 95% of the variance in turnover. This was incredible–in just two weeks she accidentally figured out the leading cause of turnover, something companies and researchers spent decades trying to decipher.

    My other HR colleague and I immediately started dreaming about the publications and consulting opportunities that would result from such a significant finding. That is until she told us that whether a company offered pet insurance was the magical variable, which led us to question how much our statistician friend really knew about people and HR. Alas, after a little more exploration, pet insurance wasn’t the panacea we hoped.

    This story highlights an important principal of HR analytics that often goes overlooked: analytics is not about analyzing data or modern computational techniques; analytics is about using data to gain insights that enable better decision making and performance. Analytics without a structured decision-making process is like trying to bake a cake without sugar–it may look okay on the outside but ultimately leaves you wanting more.

    "If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions"

         — Albert Einstein


    How can you improve your evidence-based decision-making mindset?
    Regardless of your formal role, an analytics mindset can improve your performance and decision-making. Becoming an analytically-minded HR professional won’t happen overnight, and you likely will never be an expert in every part of analytics, but with deliberate effort and training you can begin to incorporate analytical and evidence-based skills into your day-to-day activities.

    While each analytics project is different, there are principals that research suggests produce better results.

    • Remember that analytics should be geared towards collecting and assessing evidence to make decisions with real business implications. Evidence-based management may not be trendy but it produces better results.
    • Spend time at the start of a project 1) identifying the right questions to ask; 2) understanding, reframing, and defining the problems the project hopes to solve; 3) how the project’s results could be implemented; 4) getting buy in from decision makers
    • Understand the limitations of data and statistics. Bad data may produce interesting results but fail to improve the business. For example, subjective data (e.g., engagement, net-promoter score) are far less valuable than objective data.
    • Bias is inherent in all science but don’t let that stop you from listening to people whose biases are different than yours. We lose perspective and limit opportunities for creativity when we only listen to people who agree with our existing opinions.
    • Not everyone on the team needs to be good at data science or statistics. Just because someone failed Introduction to Statistics or Research Methods for Dummies in college doesn’t mean they can’t add value to an analytics project. One of my most useful colleagues doesn’t know the difference between a mean and an eggplant but has an incredible ability to ask questions and reframe problems.
    • Finding amazing results doesn’t matter if you can’t tell a story around the data. Data doesn’t change minds without an accompanying story.

    These are just a few of the many ways you can start building better individual competency and business capabilities for HR analytics.

    The HR Analytics Forum hopes to shed greater light on these topics and other ways you can use analytics to make real business impact.

    Edited by Nigel Dias

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