5 tips for creating a fact-based culture in HR

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5 tips for creating a fact-based culture in HR

One of the most interesting challenges in the field of people analytics at the moment is to create a data-driven culture in HR. If you already have a great people analytics ‘machine’ in place, with all the governance, processes, and tech, you still need HR professionals to make this machine actually work and add business value to the company:

  • HR admins are your link to the technical landscape in the company. If they do not think in a data-driven way and with the people analytics ambition in mind, you will have more difficulties gathering or improving relevant people data and making necessary changes in systems.
  • HR specialists and policymakers use HR systems and reports on a regular basis and make changes in their field based on insights. Besides that, they are key to stimulating employees to fill out surveys and use HR systems in a way that leads to consistency in data gathering.
  • HR business partners are the linking pins from HR to the company’s business. They gather people issues related to business objectives and deliver insights from strategic dashboards and analytical projects. They convert key insights into action in their business line.

Of course, this is in an ideal world. In reality, many organizations struggle to create an analytical mindset among their HR department. This makes it hard to boost the people analytics ambition and roadmap, or to get a critical mass among senior HR people to create an ambition and plan for people analytics within the company.

Many HR organizations now find themselves in a position where they have gained traction with people analytics. They are starting to make their first improvements and to see their first results. However, they still face an HR population of which the majority is not ready to make the necessary changes in their way of working to really gain the advantages of fact-based decision making.

Based on our own and other’s experience, we put together some tips to help you move towards a more fact-based culture.

If you don’t feel like reading, our colleague Jeff will give you a summary!

Tip 1: Create a change plan…

..and gain sponsorship from at least one person from the senior HR management for it.

Creating a change plan can help structure your efforts in making the change happen. And it will show to the senior management that this sort of shift in mindset does not happen overnight, but takes some serious initiatives and energy. Especially when the change entails making strategic decisions based on data and analytics and you are faced with a population that is used to doing mostly operational activities without much use of data and analytics.

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A change plan for this objective should have the usual following content:

  • What is the change in behavior we are aiming for?
  • Why is the change needed?
  • What phases are necessary? (we usually build work in three phases: create awareness, build knowledge and develop skills)
  • What are the target groups?
  • Which interventions are most applicable for these groups?
  • Phases and interventions in timelines
  • Team, governance, and budget
  • Et cetera

The biggest challenge is to think up a great, effective and creative set of interventions. It is tempting to immediately jump to masterclasses and train everyone in Tableau or another data visualization tool. But if you rush into skills training with people that have no basic knowledge of analytics, you will put them in distress. You need a good estimate of the initial level of awareness and knowledge of your people to know what they need.

Extra tip: discuss the first contours of your plan with someone from Learning & Development. They should know how well your set of interventions matches the level of the audience. In addition, they might be able to bring some creative ideas to the table on how to stimulate knowledge and skills among these people.

Tip 2: Create awareness around the ‘why’

Creating a more fact-based culture within HR is a major change in many organizations. It is, therefore, useful to apply some basic change management principles.

In the create awareness phase, one of the first basic principles you can apply is explaining why the change is necessary and useful for the company. The why should always come from a strategic standpoint and explain how the company will benefit from data-driven people decisions. Stating that ‘we need to change because our senior management says so’ is never a good idea. People analytics should help the company perform better but also make HR professionals do a better job and create more customer value. More on that later.

To emphasize the why, it helps if you have other existing data-driven initiatives in the company (in marketing, for example) to show to your HR-peers. It also helps to bring an outside-in view with some great examples from other companies that have invested in people analytics. Present what it brought them and (preferably) how their business has thrived because of it.

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If needed, it might be useful to get an external speaker (someone from the many people analytics networks available) for that first injection of inspiration and awareness on the subject. There are some great people analytics-speakers out there who can help carry your message across with passion and authenticity.

Tip 3: Show (in practice) how it can make their work easier and more valuable to customers

Another basic principle of change management is to make the needed change recognizable and practical for anyone listening. This applies to all employees, including senior management.

  • ‘How will it help my cause?’
  • ‘How will it help me do my work better?’
  • ‘What specifically should I do differently in my daily work?’
  • ‘Why is the current way of working not sufficient?’

The last one is especially important when it comes to fact-based work in HR. The answer lies in part in the way HR and its role is changing as a practice, and how other competencies and a different mindset are needed.

The need for HR professionals to work more fact-based is often mentioned in companies’ strategies. It helps to specify how fact-based working will add to a future-proof HR professional’s toolkit.

Back to making it recognizable and practical: how can this be achieved?

In a few organizations, working with highly trained professionals, we asked people to come up with answers on how they could use more data & analytics in their work themselves and how they could facilitate discussions about it with their colleagues. Despite there being other ways, it mostly comes down to linking the available tools and channels to the activities and involving the people in this exercise.

Tip 4: Create a community of early adopters and change agents

When rolling out a change plan for fact-based HR you will quickly find out who is on board with this change and who is lagging. There is always a group within the HR community that already has a data-driven mindset and is looking for inspiration, examples, guidance and great tools.

For example, among HR business partners, usually about a third of the group is eager to learn and apply analytics concepts. Another third has the capacity for it but is quite skeptical towards the use of data & analytics. The last third does not get the point of using analytics in their work and probably never will.

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At first, when creating awareness, you want to target everyone; but as you move further down the road, it is wise to start focusing on the people that get it and are enthusiastic about it. Involve them in your activities in promoting fact-based working. For example, have them write a one-time blog about their experience in explaining the results of a report or analytical case to their business stakeholders.

Eventually, these people will become great change agents in their teams, as long as you keep them involved and engaged in the development of new tools and insights and regularly ask for their feedback.

Tip 5: Make it fun and lower the threshold

As mentioned before, it helps to be creative in your interventions and -especially in the beginning- to lower the threshold to actively use data and analytics in their daily HR work.

In inspirational presentations, or when writing article for a blog, include daily-life examples of data and analytics. I, for instance, often use Netflix and Amazon, but also political polling, insurance agencies, and law enforcement, and explain how they use analytics for their customers and society. These examples are often impressive and sometimes even funny. Then you can start moving towards more HR-based examples from other companies in order to ‘keep it real’.

Don’t only discuss amazing and complicated analytics but make a point in talking about simple examples too. A good example of a data-driven HR business case is always a good idea.

When it comes to applying fact-based working in practice, it can be stimulating to work through a (fictitious) case together with peers. For example, the Dutch ABN AMRO bank created an actual analytics escape room.

You would be amazed by how much energy and fun results from groups of people trying to solve an analytical puzzle together and, of course, competing with the other groups!

The key is to keep it simple at first and to not try to run a marathon immediately with the whole group.

In conclusion

The given tips above are (in our opinion) the basic fundaments to get a fact-based culture change started. But there is more! Even if you apply all the tips we listed, you will certainly still face other obstacles. For example, one organization we work with has come a long way creating a fact-based culture but is lagging in other areas such as reporting and dashboards. Their HR professionals are so frustrated about this that their initial enthusiasm about people analytics is starting to fade.

In other words, if you succeed in creating a data & analytics mindset, you will need to follow through on all the inspiration and (implicit) promises that you made.

Written by Rob van Dijk & Tony Brugman

Tony Brugman is an HR business analyst at Bright & Company, a Dutch HR consultancy. He is researcher people strategy and people analytics and writes on HR analytics.

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