During CEB’s ReimagineHR conference in Miami on Wednesday, several dozen talent analytics professionals came together in a breakout session to discuss their common challenges and success stories. Participants in this peer benchmarking session, who represented private, public, and international organizations ranging in size from under 1,000 to over 25,000 employees, responded to a series of live survey questions, which led into discussions about how their organizations were using these new tools and fitting them into their structures and cultures. The overall picture that emerged from the surveys and the discussions was one of great diversity in the size, structure, ownership, and goals of talent analytics programs, as organizations experiment with different ways of incorporating analytics into their HR functions.
Here are four brief takeaways from Wednesday’s conversation:
1) Talent analytics teams are small, but growing and diversifying:
A majority of the participants said their organization had only one or two full-time equivalent employees devoted to talent analytics, while none had more than seven—but most organizations are growing the size of those teams, increasing the opportunity to build in a variety of different, complementary skills. Organizations are increasingly realizing that a diverse skill set is needed to realize the full potential of talent analytics, from data collection through analysis, interpretation, and turning insight into action. Participants told stories about adding talent to their analytics teams and finding that the best results come from combining the skills of technical experts like data scientists, statisticians, actuaries, and organizational psychologists with the talent-focused knowledge of HR business partners who can use analytics to tell compelling stories and help leaders make better decisions.
2) The shape and structure of talent analytics functions is evolving:
Only 14 percent of participants in Wednesday’s session identified themselves as heads of talent analytics, and only a quarter of the room said their organization had a dedicated analytics function. Twice as many said either that they had dedicated analytics professionals scattered throughout their HR department, or that HR staff used analytics in their day-to-day work but did not work with a dedicated function to do so. Those with analytics professionals embedded in different functional areas indicated that this disjointed approach created challenges in deciding what data to collect, in bringing it together, and in drawing actionable conclusions from it. Some said their organizations were working to connect those dots, bringing more infrastructure and governance to talent analytics at their organization, such as by developing a dedicated function for it. Clearly, who “owns” analytics and where it belongs in the organizational structure is a question many are still trying to answer.
3) Analytics is doing best in employee engagement and retention:
35 percent of participants identified this as the area in which their talent analytics program was having the most success. The group gave several examples of successful innovations in this field, including connecting engagement data with other company data to tell new stories and develop new forms of action plans, as well as enabling HR to see turnover data from throughout the organization in order to perform comparative analysis. Identifying drivers of retention and attrition allows organizations to understand their employees’ behavior both historically and looking forward, making this perhaps the most promising venue for predictive analytics in the talent space. The next most fruitful area for analytics was in high-potential, leadership, and succession planning, which 23 percent identified as their most successful application. Nonetheless, a plurality of 44 percent said their organization was ineffective overall at using talent data to inform important business decisions.
4) Drawing actionable insight from analytics is a common challenge:
Asked if there was one thing they could do to improve the overall impact of talent analytics at their organization, 32 percent said they wanted to derive better insights from their data and 24 percent wanted to get better at helping internal clients apply those insights, while 28 percent wanted better data to start with. Only 4 percent said they needed to get better at analyzing the data they were collecting, reflecting these organizations’ growing confidence in the composition and technical skills of their analytics teams. One theme that emerged in the discussion was that leaders often get bombarded with data they don’t know how to use, and rely on HRBPs in particular to walk them through what the data means and what they can do with it. HR professionals can sometimes be afraid of data when it raises questions they can’t answer, however, so it’s increasingly important to train HRBPs in data fluency and storytelling, and to recruit with an eye for this skill set as well.