How can HR thrive in the era of Big Data?

HR has often relied on ‘gut instincts’ to make decisions – it’s time for a paradigm shift

How can HR thrive in the era of Big Data?

If data is the currency of the future, then insights into human capital are the new gold standard of the HR practice. And HR professionals who develop their proficiency with data will soon reap the benefits of this change.

HR has traditionally been aligned with the ‘soft’ sciences of psychology and sociology. But thanks to the advent of Big Data in the social sciences, HR professionals now understand the value of being data-savvy.

“The HR profession, in fact, is one of the largest professions where one can learn to use data for decision making,” said Dr. Jaclyn Lee, CHRO at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and a renowned leader in the area of HR data analytics.

READ MORE: Four steps to maximise the value of HR analytics

“A lot of the other functions like finance, operations and marketing have traditionally been using data to make decisions. Well, HR professionals now have to learn to be a lot more data-savvy to be able…to make more objective decisions.”

Dr. Lee, one of the panellists at the upcoming HR Leaders Summit in Singapore, will share her insights on how organizations can capitalize on data. Her team at SUTD has incorporated analytics into its practice for a couple of years now.

“We have actually been using data in almost every function here in HR,” she said. These functions range from recruitment to benefits administration and leadership development. “Lately, I see a lot of interest in this area.”

How can HR learn data analytics?

“It’s a continuous process,” Dr. Lee shared, emphasizing the need for HR practitioners to make time to learn data science no matter how hectic their work days.

One of the first skills her team had to master was how to cleanse data.

“Sometimes you might not be able to interpret [your data set] correctly,” she said. “When you are doing data analytics, data management and data cleansing become very, very important.

“My team started the data cleansing process a couple of years back, overhauling the data and knowing how to pull data from various sources.”

READ MORE: Data analysts like gold dust to HR

“When it comes to the mathematical drilling – that is not the difficult part – you can get analysts, people with a statistical background or machine learning skills,” she said. “You know, people who know how to develop mathematical formulas to run the data set.”

Learning data science from the point of view of HR, however, entails a paradigm shift.

“The HR profession has always relied on gut instincts using very descriptive data,” she said. “The idea is to change your mindset from one that’s reactive to one that’s proactive.”

Being proactive in identifying data patterns and knowing what they might mean pushed her to send her team for some technical training so that they know how to use data to do predictive analysis.

How can HR analytics support the business?

Data management – in HR and beyond – requires team effort, explained Dr Lee. HR cannot do it alone – IT is needed to help “pull the data” and analysts are required for data crunching.

“Even if you cannot be an expert data scientist, you should know enough to tell the data scientist what’s right,” she said. “Understanding Big Data is important. In fact, skills such as algorithm [development], design and data analysis will become core skills for the HR profession.”

HR analytics isn’t contained in its own universe, however. Much of the analyzing done in the field of HR is concerned with real-world business problems, she said.

For example, if HR faced any hiring challenges, HR can use data to answer questions like: ‘How can I solve this recruitment problem? How can I know that, in the next five years, I'm able to find the manpower to support the business?’

What you can do, said Dr. Lee, is to work with the business to understand:

  • Skills sets you need to hire for
  • The talent you’ll need in the next five years

“Then you need to understand the pattern,” she said. “As an HR practitioner you start to look at the data set to [understand] the capabilities of the people.”

Additionally, HR should also monitor retention rates – and analysing data sets can help HR determine if there’s a “potential for people leaving”.

“The idea is data analytics [should not be done] for the sake of analytics,” she said. “You have to be able to use data to support the business.

“A lot of things are actually related to human capital, so you’ve got to be able to solve all kinds of problems using data analytics.”

Catch Dr. Jaclyn Lee at the HR Leaders Summit held on 3 October at Hilton Singapore. Click here for more details.

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