Why HR Leaders Must Embrace Data to Create a More Engaged Workforce

Dermot O’Brien, CHRO, ADP

Dermot O’Brien, CHRO, ADP

When HR leaders talk about “engaging and retaining talent,” you might expect them to discuss themes like team-building, or leadership training, or even corporate social responsibility. But what about data and analytics?

According to new research from Deloitte Consulting, more HR leaders are indeed talking about this kind of technology—and they are doing something about it, too. The research, “HR Technology Disruptions for 2017: Nine Trends Reinventing the HR Software Market,” shows that companies are already using “people analytics” to understand and act on employee engagement in completely new ways, including identifying which employees are at risk of quitting.

“Employees want to see their paychecks, clock their time and sign up for benefits all on their mobile devices,”

At the recent HR Technology Conference, I participated in a panelon “Engaging and Retaining the Talent of Tomorrow” with a group of highly respected HR leaders including Diane Gherson, Chief Human Resource Officer of IBM, Francine Katsoudas, Chief People Officer of Cisco Systems, and Scott Pitasky, Chief Partner Resources Officer of Starbucks. We spent a lot time talking about the intersection of technology and the workforce, and how HR leaders are embracing data analytics to gain insights to make better informed workforce decisions.

If you’re still on the fence as to whether analytics can help you add value to your employees and C-suite, here are a few things you should consider:

1. The workforce is changing—data can provide the insight to help understand it.

The moderator for the panel, Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien, kicked-off the discussion with survey data from the ADP Research Institute’s 2016 Evolution of Work study that mapped out how employers and employees around the world are feeling about the future of work. The study showed that employees are demanding more choice and flexibility, access to real-time training opportunities, and the ability to work on projects that are personally meaningful.

As the expectations of employees change, businesses need to be more agile and responsive, but they first need to gather and assess internal data. To do this, Cisco has implemented pulse surveys that managers can send to direct reports that allow them to collect data on how different employees are feeling, and gather feedback on how the company can improve.

2. A personalized employee experience starts with technology.

A study by Kelton showed that 86 percent of active job candidates use their smartphone to begin a job search. In other words, employees are already infusing technology into how they work, before they become employees—and therefore have the expectation that their personal experience with technology should match what they get at work.

Employees want to see their paychecks, clock their time and sign up for benefits all on their mobile devices. In fact, Starbucks recently launched a new healthcare marketplace for its 180,000 associates in the United States, and more than 40 percent accessed it via their smartphones.

Further, Cisco’s Katsoudas pointed out that using technology for employee engagement is more than just making work easier for employees; it’s about personalizing the experience. Cisco is using technology to create benefits profiles that help guide employee plan selection so they can make better choices. For example, a recent college graduate who just joined Cisco would be able to see the most common benefits plans selected by people in her peer group.

3. A more data-centered workforce means a more strategic HR function.

In the past, HR leaders may have been able to run reports to see how many employees were enrolled invarious benefits plans, but they didn’t have the Big Data to enable them to benchmark how their company’s workforce data compared to its peers.

Today, Big Data helps HR leaders recognize patterns and trends so they make better informed decisions on everything from compensation to employee retention plans. Josh Bersin, principal at Deloitte Consulting, also spoke at HR Tech this year. He shared that his research shows that HR leaders are increasingly starting to connect employee data with business objectives. By tapping into Big Data, HR can now help answer questions ranging from why unplanned absences are increasing to why one business unit is paying more overtime than another.

IBM’s Gherson also shared her perspective on using Big Data to help employees make better benefits choices. By using data analytics, IBM found that lower-earning employees were buying the most expensive health plans because they were afraid of the deductibles and/or they didn’t study the materials enough. By gamifying the experience, IBM was able to both coach and educate employees so they could make more informed decisions based on past data.

In the past, HR professionals traditionally made workforce decisions based on their personal experiences, anecdotes and gut feeling. Today, every decision we make can be backed by data and tied to hard facts.

Armed with the insights provided by data analytics, HR leaders will increasingly have a seat in the board room and be viewed as true business strategists. 

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