Why Managers Hate HR’s Love Affair with Big Data

How Human Resources Uses Big Data Reporting

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal published an article on Moneyball and the HR Department.  While the response was mixed among commenters, I applaud HR for actually taking the time and effort to use data to support their efforts.  I also applaud the WSJ for printing the article even if it sucked and was completely wrong.  Big Data, my friends is the beginnings of strategic HR so start picking out your executive office chair for that seat at the table . . .

BigData is not a new topic when it comes to HR especially reporting.  It has been in the news for months.  See an article by Forbes from Feburary 2012, another article by HR Examiner in March 2012, and even SHRM also this month.  Josh Bersin of  Bersin and Associates has reported on Big Data in great detail in the past.  So why did this particular article strike a nerve with the HR community and general public?

For those that don’t understand, human resource departments are tapping into information from job seekers, exiting employees, and current staff using seemingly unrelated data that upon further analysis correlates to one another.  Except that in most cases that seemingly unrelated data is something that likely your HR team knew all along.  Don’t worry, I’ll explain why that is later below.

Defining Big Data for Employers

Aberdeen Group defines in their January 2012 Research Brief, as the common set of problems associated with rapid growth of business data over the past several years.   Think back to Target and how they are analyzing customer purchases to determine that a customer is in fact pregnant.  They looked at purchase patterns of young women and determined that when a woman purchases a combination of items over a period of time, they are likely to be expecting even before they connect the dots themselves.  And so Target, sends the expecting mother a coupon packet to her home address or prints out coupons for use at later visits with her receipt.

HR departments can use data and various reporting patterns to determine more effective hiring processes or patterns decreasing cost per hire directly affecting the bottom line.  HR can now directly point to bottlenecks in processes and provide concerete evidence and suggests solutions to correct these errors.  Even boring reports like payroll and benefits costs when supplemented with annual reviews, employee schedules, absenteeism records, and compensation data can provide solid analysis on how a process as well as HR can impacts the overall organization.

Except that it’s likely your management team doesn’t agree with the HR’s new love affair with BigData.

While senior leaders are likely thrilled that HR has finally found a way beyond traditional human resources metrics and formulas, their reporting analysis is causing a problem for your management team.  Because of BigData in HR, they no longer have someone to pass the buck to.

HR New Strategic Role Courtesy of Big Data Analysis

HR was once thought of as being full of touchy feelly rule monger formerly administrative assistants who created policy for sport.  Because of this stereotype, they were an easy target for your organizational leaders.  Except that you and I know that is not the case.  Your hiring manager has a hiring need that can’t seem to be filled quick enough or employee turnover just won’t stop.  It must be HR’s doing, and for years we have taken the fall.  With our teeth grinding and our brows fully downwardly scrunched, we’ve  (HR) walked out of manager meeting upon manager meeting as the fall guy or girl because we had no hard data or analysis to support our gut feelings or half baked ideas.  That is until now.

Enter BigData who provides HR with evidence that supports the hiring bottleneck when it comes to your time to fill is not your recruiting team or even HR.  It’s your managers who are dragging their feet and are reluctant to close the deal and make their top candidate an offer.  Generally speaking, having access to Big Data makes for happy managers, but not in this case.  While managers may appreciate the information, they don’t like the finger being pointed directly at their face.  Especially when HR’s been so easy to point the finger at in the past.  Well, with Big Data that is no more.

The chart you see above you is once again from Aberdeen Group and demonstrates how Big Data and access to information via self-service allows for increased satisfaction.  Expensive yes but senior leaders love Big Data and the strategic overarching ability to see the bigger picture how many reports, events, and activities impact one another.  It’s like being able to see your house’s energy usage overall as well as being able to view how each appliance, room, or light fixture impacts the bigger picture.  You can see the need right away for a new larger fuse box even before turning on all the appliances and having the fuse blown.  We can now scientifically prove that when we run the hair dryer in the spare bathroom along with the dryer and only the oven, does the fuse actually blow.  Thank you Google, and thank you big data.

The possibilities for Big Data are endless when it comes to HR, but these analysis are only as good as the data used and the tools in which to analyze the information which makes Big Data a big topic for HR technology vendors and service providers as we move into HR’s Strategic Era courtesy of Big Data.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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