You will notice that there is a question mark at the end of my title. This is actually deliberate as rather than stating opinion and cynicism as I normally do I would love to know how others do it. Is there a magic formula?

But before everyone comes up with fantastic theory, quotes from big data leaders and also common sense please take a moment to look back on your previous experiences and remember the reality of our people function.

I have had success across a number of organisations in installing a culture of data integrity, creating a rhythm of reporting and getting buy in to metrics and benchmarks. However, it is never pain free, it is never the same tactics used and the outcome is never what I expected. And yet my clients and colleagues feel enlightened, better equipped to handle data and have more kudos with finance.

So send your answers on the back of a postcard and let’s see if we can create the ultimate blueprint for making metrics more tangible in HR.

[Please note this blog was actually one of my cheeky ones as just wanted to ruffle a few feathers and get a healthy debate going]


2016 will be the year that HR departments embrace and utilise data to drive and support business strategies. That is the statement from many esteemed commentators. As a HR analyst this is music to my ears. Or is it? This has been the bold statement for the past three or four years but I am yet to experience this. Its not through lack or desire or investment (well hiring a new analyst or buying a new HR system) but the practicalities of it are light years away.

Why do I think this? Well its because I sit in a position where I have good skills across the HR analysis spectrum. I am not a data scientist, data programmer or even a HR guru. I see the world from all the stakeholders perspective. I understand that data could revolutionize HR but at the same time appreciate the realities of day to day life. Analytic vendors claim that their software will be a game changer. Commentators claim that data scientists will be game changers. HRD’s think that simply hiring a HR data analyst will be a game changer.

So why my doom and gloom? HR is not set up to take advantage of these things. HR is tasked with people issues. HR doesn’t have the luxury of taking time out to clean up its data, devise KPIs that link to business performance, take action on analytical findings and take on training to understand dashboards. If they have a tackle a bullying case, or conduct a promotion interview, review a set of bonus recommendations or just process a change of details form they can’t commit time to me to clean data, agree definitions of metrics, attend Excel training or provide the context to a set of results.

So what is the solution? People analytics being the number one objective on the HRD’s list? Support from the board to invest financially in HR analytics? HR employees having analytics as part of their JD? I think these are all going to help. Hiring HR analysts and buying new systems can’t hurt but a fundamental shift in thinking from the Executive Board to ensure HR demonstrates added value is the only way this will be the year of a happy marriage between HR and data.

Having just joined my third recruitment advertising agency (albeit as a consultant for just three weeks) I am staggered by a reoccurring theme. The quality and niceness of people is lovely to see but the complexity of the processes baffles me. Why have three people involved in a project when you can have 12? For a cynical answer see my blog on surviving in the current economic environment.

Why have the delivery teams getting involved right at the end I don’t know. They have no idea what the goals of the campaign were and get left with so little thinking time to produce a worthy service that the other stakeholders have concerns over quality of service that they become disengaged and consult with them even less. Chicken and egg scenario!!

The solution? Well talking to each other more would be a start. Appreciating the pressures and timescales is another. Understanding that in agency world that delivery functions don’t just look after one client (possibly 10 plus) and that account handlers are under extreme pressure to make each client feel like they are the only one.

Process wise lets make it simple and for a reason. Sometimes processes are out of date and no longer apply to the new model. Recruitment advertising used to be based on selling media solutions and making commission. Now its about consultation and strategy and charging for time. Processes do appear to be set in the old model. So lets make everyone’s lives easier and let people do a great job without the multi-layers of administration.

I was tempted to make this my shortest post ever by simply writing yes. Most people may agree with me but let you tell you why from an analyst perspective.

Before I do that I will try and convince those who disagree with some of my favourite quotes regarding questions and answers. I have limited myself to five:

  • “There are no right answers to wrong questions.” – Ursula K Le Guin
  • “Sometimes questions are more important than answers.” – Nancy Willard
  • “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” – Decouvertes
  • “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers”  – Voltaire
  • “If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer.” – Edward Hodnett

As you can see asking ‘good’ questions is the key. Asking lots of irrelevant question will only cloud the situation and damage your reputation. So why do I believe that questions are more important than the answers? Its because the HR community who I work with tend to know the answers. What they don’t have is the confidence to apply that knowledge to data challenges. By asking questions I am not necessarily trying to get the answer for me (unless of course I am building a dashboard, confirming a KPI or requiring context to my findings). What I am actually hoping for is that light bulb moment when they apply their knowledge to the analysis issue or begin thinking of other questions that will produce even better solutions. If nothing else I am trying to show them that being an analyst is not a mystical science and that they have the ability to apply knowledge to analysing data in order to drive Hr strategies.

Despite claiming that questions or more important it is sometimes necessary to suggest potential answers to your own questions in the hope that your HR colleague will identify a nugget or expand and develop one of your answers.

We all try our best to do a great job. We try to be as honest with people as possible. But what about being honest with ourselves? Most of us use mirrors for checking our hair is in the right place or our shirt is tucked in properly but do we ever use the proverbial mirror to reflect on our behaviours, actions and thinking?

I am getting better at it and it honestly helps. At first you feel that you are not very good as realise you could do things better. You ponder and linger on these improvements and think why do I react to difficult situations like that, why do I rush elements of my work or why do I not speak up more? My sense of reasoning is if you don’t go through this reflection and pain phase you wont in six months time be a better rounded person.

So a very simple Friday message. Use the self mirror to assess your general ethos, behaviour and reactions and let the reflection looking back at you change and start looking fantastic (and of course check you haven’t left you skirt tucked into your underwear).


I read lots of articles on how to calculate attrition and how to interpret the findings. I am wondering if we can cut to the chase and pinpoint one of the main reasons why and start tackling the issue (rather than purely report attrition and say this is terrible and start recruiting more people to replace the leavers).

A great quote from Marcus Buckingham is “people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers”. Ring true? As a line manager myself for a number of years I can confidently say that I didn’t lose a team member due to poor people management, lack of development opportunities or allowing employees to make and learn from mistakes.

What I have observed being a non line manager is many people leaving organisations because of poor management. There confidence is destroyed, they feel worthless and can’t see a way to progress or develop.

The issue is two fold. The first issue is ‘bad manager’ is not a leaver reason on many HR systems (and the thought of selecting this is future career suicide) which means the problem is not reported to senior leaders. The second is bad management is a sensitive issue and a hard problem to admit to and therefore tackle. By acknowledging it companies have to admit they have not developed the necessary skills in its workforce.

But things have to change. Length of service, age or gender should not determine who managers people. It is a skill that is both natural and learnt. Some of the best managers are hands off and some take a micro approach to developing and coaching team members. There is no perfect manager but there are bad managers and these people need to be identified and put on a development programme or removed. Being arrogant, self centered and dictatorial are not good traits so lets focus attention on this group of people.

Great managers help bring out the best in people and motivate the most important asset the company possesses. It is cheaper to develop great talent than hire expensive new talent.

Presentation1 np

I attended and presented at a Workforce and HR Analytics event last week. I was covering the subject of analysis capability within HR. I looked at both finding the right skills in analysts in the market as well upskilling the HR community as a whole. As I wrote my notes in advance and listened to the debate amongst the crowd it became apparent that the HR analyst of today needs to be good as an awful lot of things.

And this the tenuous link to the 70’s superstar Mr Benn who entertained many children. For those who don’t know him he was an ordinary man in a bowler hat who went on different adventures taking on different roles such as a cowboy, astronaut, chef and balloonist.

The analyst of today also needs to take on many different guises as they try to excel in the world of HR. The image I have added to the top of my post gives you a flavour of the different hats they need to wear. Many are obvious but let me tell you why I have chosen a few obscure ones:

  • Doctor – A key to taking a good brief is asking the right questions to determine exactly what the issue is and develop an action plan to provide a cure
  • Magician – Often there is no data or a poor brief and they need to pull out all the stops to deliver some insight from nowhere to expectant HR professionals
  • Artist – Being great at interpreting data is not enough anymore. You need to be creative when designing dashboards so bring the results to life
  • Politician – Sometimes the data doesn’t paint the picture the requester was expecting. Being able to spin a good story without lies is a devilish skill to possess
  • Counselor – Similar to the politician skill the analyst needs to be able to bring comfort and solace to colleagues when the data does not bring a smile to their face

But don’t let this fun list become your shopping list when recruiting. Be sensible. Certain skills can be learnt, some are natural and some are just very difficult to find in just one person. Budget allowing, try and hire a good mix of people with skills that complement each other. Typical roles in a great analytical team are the statisticians (looking for trends and correlations in big data), the senior analysts (storyteller, relationship manager and analyst) and the data manipulators (downloading data, creating reports etc.).