How to Get Started with People Analytics

People analytics continues to be one of the hottest topics in the world of HR. This isn’t just a trend: aligning people programs and data to business impact has always been a goal in HR.

When it comes to driving business insight, employees may be your most valuable source of information—matched only by customer data. That’s why companies everywhere are focused on getting a better understanding of their people data and how it relates to day-to-day operations and long-term strategy.

Today, HR technology has given us increasing access relevant data, all hosted in the cloud. At HRWins, we surveyed more than 2,000 employers over the last two years and found that companies are using an average of eight HR technology platforms, eight single purpose HR applications, and nine apps. We’re using technology to manage every step of the employee lifecycle. Along with core systems, we’ve introduced pulse surveys, communications and feedback apps, and wearables into the mix. That all creates a lot of data.


Analytics for Everyone

People analytics has long been a luxury reserved for enterprise businesses with substantial resources and well-trained data analysts. But not anymore. The emergence of new HR technologies built for mid-sized companies means that the opportunity to analyze HR processes, programs, and systems is now agnostic to company size. We have the chance to rethink how we look at people data—but you may be asking yourself, “Where do I start?”

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all guide (there are limitless factors that determine what kind of people analytics your business needs), but my goal is to give you an understanding of where to start and what to consider.


Reports vs. Analytics

First, let’s clear up the common confusion between reports and data analytics.

Reports are snapshots of data gathered into informational summaries. A good example of a report is an absenteeism report. Seeing absence rates across locations, departments, etc. calls our attention to overall trends and may point to an issue in need of closer attention.

Analytics is the work of examining data and reports to extract meaningful insights that can be used to help make business decisions. For example, take that absenteeism report. Let’s look at it across 12, 24, and 36 months against representative demographics in the workforce, then align it with employee engagement metrics. Are some departments experiencing higher absenteeism when morale is low, based on correlated engagement metrics? Is there a spike in absenteeism during busy seasons when longer hours are required? Is one demographic group being impacted more than another? People analytics has the power to help HR identify problem areas and opportunities, which once addressed, can have a direct impact on productivity.


Before You Get Started…

Keep these four tips in mind as you get to work.

  1. Don’t do analytics for analytics’ sake. Look at the available HR data and find opportunities to make an impact. Keep an eye out as you work across the business. Are people talking about ways to improve customer satisfaction or employee productivity?

  2. Find an ally. Like piloting any new tech-based initiative, if you have a department head that really understands the value of HR and people programs, their engagement in your insights will become contagious for the rest of the organization.

  3. Consult with IT. Access to data is critical, and their support can be invaluable. Even in our world of open application programming interfaces (APIs), there may be some coding or infrastructure required to get what you need.

  4. Focus on the insights, not just the numbers. Use data to give your company a new way of looking at the problem. Every analytics expert that I’ve encountered will tell you to make your report as visual as possible. Try to make your deliverables more like an infographic and less like a text-heavy report.

Okay, so now what? Let’s use the employee lifecycle to showcase areas of opportunity for most all HR pros.

Talent Acquisition

The Basics: Time, quality, and cost. These are the three magic metrics for recruiting. In my 30 years in HR, I’ve helped hundreds of companies with recruiting and have yet to meet a business leader that wasn’t singularly focused on these metrics. Standard reports will give you these metrics. But once you have these ducks in a row, you can start thinking about other things.

What to Consider: When it comes to time, which landing pages convert candidates faster? Which messages work better in your job descriptions? As for quality, which job descriptions bring more skilled candidates? Which bring more diverse candidates? For cost, which jobs stayed open longer and could have justified more advertising spend? Are employee referrals converting immediately?


The Basics: Much of the conversation around employee onboarding centers on the time it takes to onboard, the employee’s experience through the process, and how long it takes for an employee to become “productive.”

What to Consider: Dig into pulse surveys that point toward onboarding effectiveness, new employee engagement, and performance. Performance feedback processes can identify new hire fit and the effectiveness of the learning or training process. Then, tie this data to other business metrics. How do onboarding metrics compare across geography, division, or department? Are new employees more engaged in a particular job family after 30 days? Have departments with better onboarding metrics seen improvements in productivity over 180 days or 1 year?

Payroll and Benefits

The Basics: Reports on things like payroll summaries, workers compensation summaries, payroll liabilities reports, PTO use and balance, time reporting, benefits utilization, etc. are common. Most of these reports keep an eye on our costs and help keep us compliant.

What to Consider: Think through how these fundamentals can improve the employee experience. Looking at benefits utilization across workforce demographics, are there opportunities for financial education? Do reports from our EAP, when aligned with location, job type, and performance data, show us opportunities for manager training or preventive interventions? How has the implementation of voluntary benefits align with performance metrics or business outcomes?

Core HR

The Basics: Our core HR systems are home to some of the most valuable data in HR, including full workforce demographics, compensation data, and employee relations.

What to Consider: Use this data to tackle Issues like diversity and inclusion, pay equity, and fair employment practices—all of which are hot buttons for leadership. You can leverage analytics to show not just current org state, but to demonstrate trends over time. By leveraging external data, much of it publicly available government statistics, HR can also compare the business to others in the same industry, marketplace, or with similar employee demographics.

Talent Management

The Basics: Talent management has long been the umbrella for all things employee development. There are a number of new approaches to performance management, learning, mentoring, workforce planning, collaboration, and more. As modern leaders build less hierarchical organizations, standard reports will become less useful.

What to Consider: The intersection of talent management data provides myriad ways to glean business insights. For example, what is the ROI on our training and learning programs? Who are the employees that are most called on for strategic initiatives? How much learning is happening outside of the LMS? Are we compensating and promoting employees fairly?

Clearly the opportunity for people analytics is immense (and hard to capture in just one post!). My last piece of advice to you is to just get started. You can’t know what data you need or how to improve your data-gathering processes until you start to go down this path.

For more people analytics basics, check out Namely’s Introduction to HR Metrics.

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