How to Prepare HR Business Partners for Analytics

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How to Prepare HR Business Partners for Analytics

Data scientists get the glamour, but the success of your people analytics program depends on your HR business partners. The core analytics team can never handle all the questions that get sent their way; and so if you are serious about analytics you’ll train your HR business partners to do their part.

“Wait! Wait!” Those are the shouts of your HR business partners (HRBPs) who are not so keen on this idea. For one thing they’ve got no time; and secondly they took the job because they’re “people” people and not “numbers” people. They don’t want to learn statistics. Those problems are not trivial, and HR needs to solve them.

Addressing the fact that HR Business Partners have no time

According to McKinsey, about 30% of activities in most occupations can be automated with today’s technologies. Given that this percentage is increasing we should expect HRBPs to have more and more free time on their hands. Left to their own devices this won’t happen because work expands to fill the time available. However, it does point us in towards the real problem: it’s not lack of time, it’s that HRBPs’ time gets filled with low-value activities. If we can reduce those activities then they’ll have time to use analytics.

Related: A List of 21 Employee Performance Metrics

Here are the low value-added activities that suck up HR Business Partner’s time:

    • Running errands

Some managers use HR Business Partners as an extra set of hands to run any HR related errands. These are things that the manager should do themselves, or maybe don’t need to be done at all; but as long as the HRBP is happy to do them then managers will keep sending them on errands.

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    • Handholding employees

Humans love to chat and if employees are allowed to think the job of the HRBP is to chat then they’ll spend hours complaining about their job, their boss, and their co-workers.

    • Filling in for poor processes

Most of the transactional work of HR should be handled by automation and shared services centres. However, if the processes don’t work then HRBPs are left running around to fill the gap.

It may seem a side issue, but in fact the success of your company’s people analytics program depends in part on sorting out the role of HRBPs. Get that right and you can engage a lot of HR talent in using analytics to solve business problems.

Addressing the fact that HR Business Partners don’t know statistics

Teaching HR Business Partners statistics is hard. Fortunately you don’t have to. The majority of analytics problems don’t need anything more sophisticated than high school arithmetic. The value of an analytics mindset comes from taking HRBPs from a world of “no numbers” to a world of “some numbers”. They just need to get better at basing decisions on data. You want to teach them skills like “decision awareness” (when to use data), “decision clarity” (what data you need) and “data judgement” (a basic comfort and skill with using data).

Related: What is Human Resources?

Train HRBPs to use data in decision making. Don’t try to turn them into expert data analysts.

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What you can work on now

    • Clarify the role of HR Business Partner

The role doesn’t need to be exactly the same everywhere, but the job should be more like a consultant who runs projects and solves problems than someone who does transactions or holds employees’ hands.

    • Train them on the basics of making decisions based on data

We need to help them shift from the world of unsupported opinion to evidence-based thinking.

    • Provide tiers of support

An HRBP tackling a problem may need an experienced colleague to help them frame the problem, they may need someone with better Excel skills than they have to do some basic analysis, and occasionally they’ll need the full power of a data scientist to tackle a difficult problem. Provide tiers of support so they can get the help they need without tying up expensive resources.


The data side of HR, whether it is the traditional HR reporting function or a modern advanced analytics function is often far removed from the HRBPs. If you want to have an HR department that makes decisions based on data, then you have to move HR Business Partners into the centre of the analytics equation.

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