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Words to the Wise: Leading HR and Workforce Analytics

(September 2023)

As might be expected, high-performance organizations are much more advanced when it comes to workforce analytics strategies and practices than are low-performing organizations. Is workforce analytics less important to those low-performing organizations? Absolutely not, it’s just as critical to those organizations, but perhaps leadership’s expectations of HR are not what they should be.

Context – some facts and figures:

  • 70% of company executives cite people analytics as a top priority (Wharton Study, 2019)

  • 3% of executive respondents said they have the information needed to make sound people decisions (2021 Global Human Capital Trends Survey – Deloitte)

  • 13% of executives believe their organizations are delivering on their data strategy (VentureBeat Survey, 2021)

So, what is it then – is it a priority or is it not a priority?

If something is a “top priority”, one usually makes sure it gets the focused attention it deserves and that it gets executed effectively and efficiently, and especially if it’s considered a “strategy” such as a data or people analytics strategy.

What would you do if you were one of these executives whose expectations regarding people analytics were not being met? I have oft stated that leadership gets what they expect from HR, and typically their expectations need elevation, serious elevation.

Some more data to consider:

  • 75% of HR departments do not have basic operational metrics (HR Daily Advisor)

  • 40% of companies are not using workforce analytics at all (Skyquest Technology Survey, 2022)

So, it’s starting to make sense now. Executive leadership thinks that their companies should have workforce analytics as a top priority strategic capability, so they have the data, information, and insights needed to make good decisions regarding their workforce.

And yet, it’s not happening – no data, no information, no insights. And no evidence of a people data strategy.

Possible solutions:

Before we start to consider solutions, I think first we need to understand the root causes of this obvious misalignment between executive and HR expectations regarding workforce analytics.

Where did leadership’s expectations come from? Do they just know what they want when they want it, and they expect HR to just know?

Before we outright dismiss this as silly, I can attest to the fact that this does happen in organizations. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. It’s a problem that won’t fix itself so HR should step up, proactively get to the table, and clarify leadership’s expectations – i.e., what data do they want to see? HR should come to the discussion already prepared with some recommendations regarding important metrics that HR should be collecting, and that leadership should want to know.

In general, there is a lack of competence among HR professionals regarding analytics. There’s no good reason, it just is what it is. This is why HR in the corporate world is generally considered to be operating in a “data-free zone”. That’s supposed to be funny, but it’s not.

HR professionals are expected to have competence in technology and data analytics. We’re supposed to be thought leaders in this space so we can improve HR operations, develop and share relevant workforce insights, and facilitate better people decisions throughout the organization.

This competency gap in HR perhaps explains why data initiatives are driven by leadership 65% of the time, and by HR leaders only 35% of the time.

So how does an organization begin to correct this obvious deficiency?

I would suggest that leadership’s expectations regarding workforce / workplace data and analytics be addressed – i.e., what are they, what should they be, and where are we today? There will most likely be a gap, but once we know how great the gap is, we can begin to develop a plan to close it.

HR will very likely lack the capabilities to do this work – or you’d like to think they would already have done it. So, start small and identify what metrics we currently have or can easily get. There are many articles and templates readily accessible on the internet regarding basic operational metrics for HR. HR staff should get busy getting educated. It really is not optional in today’s world. Just as leadership must elevate its expectations of the function, so should HR leaders be elevating expectations for the function and for themselves.

Develop a roadmap that begins with basic operational metrics and increases with expertise and capabilities over time in a disciplined and measured way.

The Talent Analytics Maturity Model (Bersin by Deloitte) below illustrates the progression as the HR function grows in capability and analytics competency. We’re starting at the bottom of the maturity curve, but (1) it’s a start, and (2) it’s important information for the organization even at its most basic.

Begin to align leadership expectations with HR capabilities. Establish success measures. Then execute and deliver.


We know that the workplace/workforce and talent management matters of the future will become increasingly complex. When considering the impact of AI, workforce upskilling/reskilling implications, evolving compliance requirements, or the forces of an increasingly dynamic talent market, our ability to gather and analyze data, and to then generate knowledge to add value for our organizations will become a competitive advantage.

Final points:

  • Don’t report data just because you can; report what is relevant and meets a need.

  • Data should result in knowledge; the HR professional turns the knowledge into insight.

  • HR’s focus on human capital planning and development, and on organizational effectiveness requires competency in analytics to fulfill its responsibilities to the organization.


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