Thursday 10 March 2016

#HRGV2016: HR Analytics and Artistry

I'm at HR Grapevine's annual HR and talent management conference.  This year it's focused on the role HR plays in combining left and right brain thinking to create balance in the force, sorry talent pool, ensuring creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit are grounded with analysis, logic and planning.

We've had two sessions this morning - one on culture, purpose, values etc which was headed up by Paul Lambert from Korn Ferry Hay and Lynne Weedall from Selfridges and also featured Stephen Lochhead from Unilever, Pauline Prow from Monarch, Liz Burton from GSK and Heather Melville from RBS.

Then there was a session on the digital revolution and the use of the data this produces.  This was led by Eddie Short from AON together with Tony Strudwick from Manchester United, supported by Tess Smillie from Samsung, David Connell from Peugeot Citroen, Darren Philpott from Barclays and Ann Pickering from O2.

It's been a great morning and I particularly liked the way that both sessions - the one on the more right brained concept of culture and the other on the more left brained requirements for measurement - actually combined the need to both science and artistry.

Ie we need to measure culture even though it's ambiguous and intangible (the key for me is to dig below the idea of culture and to express what you really need to build.  Once you've done this the more specific requirement which generally be much more easily measurable.)

And I liked that suggestion in the second session that there are two types of decision making - the human type demonstrated by Alex Ferguson at MUFC - the last of the great intuitive coaches, and the analytical type where the goal is to quantify human capital and the way business performance is provided through people.

Speakers suggested the analytical approach is important because currently we don't apply same rigour to HR as other areas of our business and we need to place HR on a par with Finance or Marketing.  It was suggested that one way of doing this is building a data warehouse to get a global view of information - absence levels, accident data, talent trends etc.  The belief was that data mining will help us talk about our strategy - how we can predict where next levels of stress will be, and spot peak absences and test hypo or performance processes etc.

Actually I should have said hope rather than belief.  I'm personally very suspect that data mining will ever provide a useful insight on strategy as the human information which is the most useful in developing HR strategy tends not to lend itself to being included in a data warehouse.  As one of the other speakers noted there's a good reason we've been slow to measure the link from HR to business impacts which is that we're dealing with human beings which once again are more difficult to measure.

However I agree with the same speaker that this can't mean that we don't measure what we can.  It's just that we have to be more open to qualitative and subjective forms of evidence than those that other areas of our businesses tend to use.  I loved the suggestions that we mustn't give up on using gut feel and that we have the right to use judgment along with data.

It's why I suggest we don't need data scientists in HR as much as we need wisdom artists.

There's a problem with this of course in that our business colleagues tend to expect that we'll start producing more quantified, reliable data for everything that moves.  Well either we can pretend that everything can be monetised and forced into a ROI calculation.  We'll probably get lots of kudos for doing this but won't ultimately have much impact on our organisations as we'll be over-simplifying things which are enormously complex and that will lead to poor decision making too.  Or we can be honest about the complexity and ambiguity of HR data, be criticised for being too pink and fluffy, but have bigger impacts on the performance of our businesses.

I know which choice I would make if I was still an HRD.  It's about resisting the Finance department's Kool-Aid, pushing back against Ram Charan's offer of a trip to Mars and being comfortable with our Venutian future (see my post on Finance is from Mars, HR is from Venus).

It's why I worry when I hear, as some speakers said, that we should make sure our programmes are business initiatives not HR initiatives, and that our analytics are business analytics not HR analytics.  I think this type of talk undersells, undervalues and distorts the work we do in HR.  And that we'll never really have the impact we want to until we, and then our business colleagues, understand that people and therefore HR are different to other areas of a business.

And why I wish there hadn't been quite as loud a round of applause supporting a challenge that HR isn't pink and fluffy.  Well people may not be fluffy but they are squishy.  And you can tell from my branding that I've got no issues with pink!  Actually I was interested to see a tweet from David Macleod at Engage for Success this morning suggesting "We have lost our humanity in business, we need to put it back."

Well maybe being a big more pink and fluffy would be a step in the right direction?

It was a provocative conference and I've been provoked to post a little bit further than I'd intended.  But I'd like to think you might still agree with me.  If you're an HR scientist I doubt that you will.  If you're an HR artist I'm more hopeful you might.

The good news is that most of you are artists at heart - or at least the majority of attendees at the HR Grapevine conference suggested they thought HR is more of an artist than a scientist.

Thanks to HR Grapevine for raising the debate.  We do need both art and science, logic and creativity, but the focus in HR has been on logic and science too long (eg the CIPD's HR framework).

Restoring the balance is about putting more art back into our roles - and into business too.

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