How to get HR Fact-Based? A Case Study

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How to get HR Fact-Based? A Case Study

The number of articles on People Analytics is increasing. Taking a quick look at LinkedIn is enough to get you settled for a day of reading easily. Which is not bad in times of working from home during these strange COVID times (please all stay safe!).

Most articles are theoretical: they discuss how People Analytics should be done, why you should do it, and what type of analysis you could do for any given subject. That is very helpful, but it takes more than that. How do we involve our HR colleagues who are not in analytics? They are our frontline as they are the partners of the business. The People Analytics department performing an analysis and sharing it with the rest of HR is not enough.

You need to invest in a fact-based culture. At Dutch Railways, we do that by creating a specific campaign for HR. The message is clear:


Why is it so important to work fact-based in HR? Because we want to be considered as a serious business partner. To achieve this, we need to combine expert knowledge with information based on facts. And only by doing so we can make a difference and keep our seat at the table. We define fact-based working as:

  • Asking (the right) critical questions;
  • Basing strategy on factual results and making clear decisions;
  • Deeper analysis for more complex questions (together with People Analytics Department).

One Size Does Not Fit All

Not every position job in HR needs the same level of data savviness. At Dutch Railways, we grouped our HR jobs into three domains: operational, tactical, and strategic. Different jobs means different kinds of fact-based working. Decision-makers will probably not make an analysis, they will use the analysis to make their decision, to explain to others what the data says. That would be strategic. The people actually making the analysis are more in a tactical role in which they create insights. What is very important for the more operational roles in HR, is making clear that their work might have administrative components that directly turn in to data once in the system. Since we all know that garbage in is garbage out, we need to understand that this is where the garbage might appear.

reading data-creating-insights&analyzing-making-data-based-policies-infographic

Always realize that your colleagues in HR might not be into numbers and data, at least not as much as the people in People Analytics. And more important: try not to judge! Some people do not have experience in working with data. They might be scared to use data or not have the right skill set to work with data at this moment. Knowing that obligates you to help them out. In a traditional company like Dutch Railways, some of our coworkers are already working with us for over 30 years. That was way before big data, fact-based mindsets, and People Analytics made their entrance. Some of them just need more awareness and others might need a new skill set.

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Human nature is not well-known for its eagerness to change. So that’s something to keep in mind. When you want HR to work with data you have to explain ‘what’s in it for them’. Do that with tangible examples of current issues. Managers have an important role as well: they should be a role model for their teams. They should actively challenge for data-based output. And ultimately you should develop both soft skills like critical questioning and hard skills like using applications.

Another Obligation for People Analytics

There is something else the People Analytics department should work on. Imagine that your campaign works out just fine and more and more colleagues will use data in their work. That means that data should be available. And that your analytics team will receive more questions. What you don’t want is to disappoint them with ‘no’ for an answer or not having the basic data needs in place! When you ask something of people, also consider what you are offering them in return.

When One Size Does Not Fit All: Ask Them!

We launched a self-scan survey for our HR colleagues to find out where they stand on working fact-based. Our questions focused on six subjects:

  • Current knowledge;
  • Vision & Importance;
  • Data use;
  • Use of tooling & systems;
  • Data capabilities;
  • Learning preference.

We asked them, for instance, to rate themselves and their team on working with data, how much they used data and how they would like to learn new skills regarding data. The results of our survey, which had a 60% response rate, made it possible to specify what subjects to start with and what learning interventions might be most effective.

We are nearly there when it comes to our plan for HR! We first allocated all HR jobs to a domain (operational, tactical, and strategic) and now we also know how HR rates itself on fact-based HR. So what we got is the gap between what we want and what they can do at the moment. That’s the starting point of the campaign. We also determined one year and five-year goals with KPIs we can measure by sending out the self-scan every year.

The Campaign

The first part of the campaign is Awareness. The key here is communication and the goal is to create a sense of urgency. We have introduced three themes:

  • Information & Data Capabilities;
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Solving Problems

We do cross-media communication, so we make a combination of digital and physical communication. All of the communication is focused on underlining the relevance and urgency of fact-based HR. We will be introducing things like ‘Black on White’ (black and white candy jars with data related messages), vlogs on Data at Dutch Railways, and ‘Data Tuesdays’. The idea of Data Tuesday is to pro-actively feed our HR colleagues with data. This could be a small fun fact like ‘Did you know that…?’ or a more detailed report on a subject that is keeping us busy at that specific moment. 

The second part is the Relevant Interventions. This is basically focused on developing relevant knowledge and skills. We will organize workshops that stimulate knowledge sharing and design infographics which we connect to the learning modules that are already available at Dutch Railways. A key ingredient for our campaign is fun. Other interventions we’re thinking about are an HR Fact-Based Escape Room or a game show. These are games with a serious message to initiate behavioral change.

Our final piece of the puzzle is Organizational Context. We want every proposal for our HR Management Team to be fact-based. We want to motivate people to do so, so we will be introducing ‘golden tickets’ for special training. Our management will get a kick-off training to underline relevance and their role model function. And last but not least, the People Analytics department will make sure more tooling and reports will be available for HR and business management.

The Key Takeaways

HR needs to become fact-based. To get there you need to invest in a fact-based culture. To do so, determine what level you expect of every HR job in your department. Then ask your colleagues where they stand on data use and capabilities. Design your campaign. And very important: make it fun!

My special thanks go out to Frisse Blikken. They helped us all the way with setting up this campaign.

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