Prioritizing People Analytics: 6 HR-Driven Data Trends for 2021

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As organizations adapt to new workplace realities, there's an uptick in "people analytics" to improve performance and boost employee engagement. But what does this look like in practice? Here's a look at six HR-driven data trends for 2021.

The world of work has changed. Due to COVID-19, data trends and analytic processes still in adolescence have rapidly matured, been adapted and expanded to help organizations improve remote work performance and boost employee engagement.

The challenge is that while many businesses have solid analytic foundations, they may be unsure of how to translate digital assets into actionable insights for their workers and for the C-suite.

Amin Venjara, VP of Product Management for ADP DataCloud, notes that "the challenges of the global health crisis have made data critical." With Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) now tasked with delivering actionable insight in a socially distanced environment, new processes are required. Here are six key data trends to help HR teams unlock their people potential.

1. Creating metrics of consequence

According to research firm Gartner, in a socially distanced work setting, data becomes even more important for HR decision making. Known as "people analytics," this branch of data discovery focuses on using information typically collected and stored by HR to deliver a better understanding of what staff are doing, why they are doing it, and how it impacts the organization.

Industries such as finance have been leveraging data for years, and while their outcomes often focus on profit more than people, the basic principle is the same: metrics matter. Specifically, Venjara notes that HR teams must develop "metrics of consequence" — analyzed and audited processes that empower business decisions – much like those in other functions like sales and finance. For Venjara, this means two things:

  • Defining the key questions to answer for your business; and
  • Ensuring your systems and the business processes they support are capturing data that represents reality.

For example, a key metric many businesses struggle to track is new hire turnover. This is the percentage of employees who leave after the initial onboarding period (e.g., a week a month or three months). Tracking this metric measures the success of your recruiting (finding the right people) and onboarding processes (getting them productive and engaged). To ensure the metric calculates effectively, you also need to inspect how data is being entered during recruiting, hiring, and termination processes to make sure the numbers are accurate and also so you can understand the "why" behind the numbers.

By starting with data and managing critical metrics, human resource leaders can better position themselves to develop actionable insights that support the work of their colleagues and businesses.

As a CHRO, you need to not only be thinking about analytical talent, but who will take the data and stories and work with the business and operations teams to take action.

- Amin Venjara, VP of Product Management for ADP DataCloud

2. Bring your data to life with storytelling

As Venjara notes, "stories catalyze action." While data in isolation can offer a snapshot of what's happening in a specific place at a specific time, broader insights are driven by storytelling. This is especially critical in people analytics, as employee behaviors aren't static; rather, they're driven by factors such as evolving work expectations and personal challenges like childcare concerns, ongoing health issues or mental stress.

Storytelling to account for the many variables at play in employees' lives can help connect the dots and provide employee-focused solutions to ongoing and emerging challenges.

3. Infuse HR expertise in your analytics

While many organizations already have some type of in-house data application, Venjara notes that "generic solutions are too much work to get the specific data businesses need." As organizations look to find their footing and make business-critical decisions after the initial rush of the remote work revolution, "many leaders have realized they don't have the data they need to make these decisions," according to Venjara. To account for this, he recommends that organizations invest in HR-specific solutions with a tailored people analytics application designed to collect, analyze and interpret employee behavioral data automatically.

To get the caliber of people analytics needed, Venjara says, organizations must bring together domain knowledge, HR-aware knowledge, turn their HR data into meaningful data (and call out any data gaps), identify the most meaningful metrics to create – and synthesize them for action. And this needs to be done now.

In effect, this branch of analytics looks to unpack the inherent "people potential" of an organization — the ability of its workforce to increase overall performance, make key operations more efficient and improve corporate culture with backing from informed C-suite decision making.

4. Understand the bias inherent in your data

Despite functional similarities to more cut-and-dried data sources, information generated by people-focused processes comes with the specific challenge of bias. According to Venjara, this requires organization leaders to recognize that "an analytics algorithm is not an objective piece of software. It must be treated for bias. Data-aware CHROs need to understand what processes have been put in place — or need to be put in place — to deliver equal to or less than human bias."

He points to the increasing use of adversarial training algorithms designed to assess the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and determine whether current data processes reflect specific unconscious biases around metrics such as gender, ethnicity or age.

5. Data translators are critical for driving action

For people analytics to deliver both immediate and ongoing value, translation is required. "As a CHRO, you need to not only be thinking about analytical talent, but who will take the data and stories and work with the business and operations teams to take action," says Venjara.

Businesses must determine whether HR leaders are equipped with the proper resources, training and bandwidth to take on this task. They may consider creating a new HR role for this valuable purpose.

6. Get granular with skills data

The number of analytics-trained HR professionals is on the rise as businesses increasingly prioritize practical applications of people data across organizational silos. CHROs looking to leverage people data to full effect will need to assess current skill sets and determine whether any gaps exist. It may be necessary to find and hire additional qualified professionals to fill these roles. According to Venjara, this will require moving beyond traditional notions about job titles.

"A job title isn't enough," he says. "People who know how do to things the 'old way' and the 'new way' are often called the same thing." Skills — not salutations — must inform people data processes.

2021 promises to be a banner year for people analytics. Organizations are embracing the realities of more permanent remote work, and new technologies are making it possible to collect, access and analyze employee data at scale in socially distanced settings. To navigate the new operational normal effectively, business will need to account for and apply these emerging data trends.

Valuable insights are hidden in your data. ADP® DataCloud can help you find them.

Other articles in this series:

Trends in HCM Tech for 2021: How Will HCM Technology Continue to Evolve?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace — Trends for 2021

Buckle Up for 2021: 4 Compliance Trends to Watch

Evolving Work Trends in 2021: Engagement as the Proactive Path Forward