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A panel during the latest CIPD People Analytics Conference and Workshop in London, discussed the ways how HR can gain recognition in the business ecosystem for its data and analytics insights.

According to panelist, Rob Nitsch, chief operating officer at the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, HR should use data to talk about “culture problems” and not “process problems”. He explains that HR needs to focus on the culture of work if it expects to use people analytics to effectively “nudge” businesses towards behavioural change.

“Talk culture, don’t bolt on another process,” he said. “Try to resist processes and don’t turn problems into process problems but into culture problems – which is more difficult but for humans it’s more interesting.”

Sending a clear message and opening up opportunities to all members of an organisation is paramount to shaping a work culture and shows the difference between meaningful nudging on insights and just going with the flow. It also highlights the importance of persistence since nudging is a dynamic process that cannot simply be done with after implementing it once.

However, before HR can change behaviours and have any real business impact with analytics it needs to lay the groundwork, Nitsch said; highlighting three specific ways to get the basics established.

“First is organising data, understanding data – and the great way to get everyone bought in is to cleanse the data and that’s not just the job of data scientists,” he said. “Second get leadership commitment… so mobilise leaders and set direction. And third is to get the culture right.”

Fellow panellist, Olly Britnell, head of workforce analytics and HR strategy at Experian, agreed with Nitsch’s assessment. Britnell emphasised that the mindset of the wider HR function is also a crucial. “You can create the best analytics and have the best nudges and the best insights in the world but unless the wider HR function is committed to a data-driven culture it will be hard,” he said.

The panel was also in agreement that the right type of communication is required with senior decision-makers in order for HR to gain credibility and making an impact with people analytics.

No data is perfect, but more trust needs to be placed in HR data; instead of treating it as the “poor cousin” with worse data than other functions.

Cheryl Allen, HR director transformation at Atos, added that analytics “changes the conversations” HR can have. “As a function, for years many of us have been scrabbling with data to go into meetings with and argue with finance or whoever if it’s right,” she said.

The panel also agreed that storytelling is a key way to communicate to businesses on the matter of data. By keeping it simple and using the right language, proper storytelling can direct attention to the key points that need to be noticed.

Nitsch suggests sitting communicators with a business’ science team. By doing so, companies can bridge the gap between the questions that data looks to solve and the insights that are gathered. Data scientists have great skills but they’re inside the data. So teams need communicators who can tell stories on people analytics to the business.

He added that it’s more effective if these communicators sit within the data team from the start so that communication with the business is considered throughout any analytics work “rather than just having communication come after”.


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