Business acumen and quantitative skills are vital parts of HR leaders’ role, on the journey to the data-driven organization. I believe you won’t argue with that. However, while approaching the end of 2018, we still see that although the adoption rate of People Analytics is high, barrier overcoming is still slow. As an HR leader, you may ask yourself why your organization is stuck on a certain point in the maturity model of this field.
People Analytics practices are related to HR practitioners’ mindset. Sometimes a mindset change is a key to a successful path in analytics. That’s a significant part of my role as a consultant when helping HR people to find and follow their path in analytics. I decided to be where questions are evolved, not where answers are requested, which means that I mentor HR people in analytics, as opposed to doing analytics for them, or instead of them. But to do so, I must understand their level in analytics first.
Who are the People Analytics mentees?
Guenole & Feinzig, co-authors of “The Power of People”, which is among the People Analytics books I recommend, nicely illustrate different levels of comfort with analytics in HR. Specifically, they present three groups with respect to their current analytical capability: Analytically Savvy, who are formally trained in analytics techniques; Analytically Willing, who are open-minded about analytics and are ready to learn; and Analytically Resistant, who are skeptical and dismissive of the value of a data-based approach.
The key to developing analytical capability among HR people is to provide engaging learning opportunities that are aligned with their level of expertise. Since most HR people I mentor may be defined as Analytically Willing, a good starting point for them, according to Guenole & Feinzig, is to provide foundational education, e.g., a basic online course about workforce analytics, and then put learning into practice by applying techniques to day-to-day work.
However, as much as I appreciate the willingness and the ability of HR people who are Analytically Willing, I don’t see Guenole & Feinzig’s suggestion practically works. The contents presented in online courses are valuable but are mostly general. When applying analytics technics to work, an organization’s specific challenges appear, and the power of will alone is not enough to handle them and to close the gap between theory and organizational reality. Furthermore, the barriers I witness are not related only to analytics practices, but also to the implementation of technology that is sometimes necessary for those practices.
Why People Analytics mentees find it so hard to change?
Change is inevitable, and that is also true in the Human Resources domain. In a recent keynote speaking, Josh Bersin mentioned that the amount of investments in the HR-tech market is huge as the size of the market itself. While all the giant players, e.g., IBM, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, want to be in this market now, most of the investments go to plenty of brand-new companies, according to Bersin. There are so many brand-new technologies that any reasonable HR leader will find it hard to start categorizing them. No wonder why so many HR managers that I meet feel paralyzed facing the rapid change in this field. What would help HR leaders to change, become more data-driven, and relay on state-of-the-art solutions? It’s time to start re-thinking about hacking the human side of digital transformation within Human resources departments.
Scientific evidence connect the challenge of change to the way the human brain is wired and explains why most change initiatives and digital transformations fail. A core driver of the brain function is maintaining safety and stability. Therefore, even a beneficial change can be perceived as a threat. When you lead a change in your organization, you directly conflict with your brains’ core needs. The best efforts of any consultant and even the greatest technological solution are sometimes not enough to overcome evolutionary tendencies.
Overcome change barriers with learning culture and rituals
So, we need an alternative. My suggestion for making change easier and helping against the reflexive resistance is creating new rituals within learning sessions, that would generate a sense of security. Through my experience in mentoring HR leaders and teams, I discovered how effective such rituals could be. When meeting agenda and pace of learning are predictable, and when new social norms such as asking questions and thinking out loud are created, people practice openness and curiosity. Familiarity with the setting gives them a sense of certainty and stability. This contributes to a culture of learning.
In a reality where the reasonable employee has 24 minutes a week to learn, new practitioners of People Analytics need something else. They need to be encouraged and guided, in mentoring sessions, to connect the right microlearning opportunities to their actual analytics tasks. Though I don’t encourage mentees to be dependent only on my resources, but rather teach them how to find and use the right resources to support their advance.
In my People Analytics mentoring sessions the group agreed upon asking anything and considering any thought or idea as feasible. Together we encourage taking risks, making mistakes, but we also celebrate our wins. While acknowledging everyone’s ability and encouraging the unique contribution of anyone in the team, I inspire people to find their own answers, instead of telling them what to do. That’s how they learn how-to-learn, on the flow of work.
Learning culture and rituals are essential for establishing People Analytics functions. I see the results already.