Blog post

“HR analytics has helped us provide added value to the business”

tristan lavender
Tristan Lavender 09 January 2015

“In the past ten years, the question of how HR can play a more prominent role and become more important for an organization's senior management has often been the subject of debate. HR analytics gives you an instrument to achieve this.” Patrick Coolen, HR Metrics and HR Analytics Manager at ABN AMRO, truly believes in the power of data when advising the business. And for good reason. In the past eighteen months, Coolen has received a lot of positive responses to the way he introduced ABN AMRO to HR analytics. “It all starts with a question from the business. You then have to research and answer that question so that you can help the business get ahead.”

As the Raet HR Benchmark 2014-2015 has revealed, HR analytics is still greatly underdeveloped in lots of organizations. However, the ambition to do more with data is there. 58% of all HR managers are actually convinced that HR analytics is a precondition to enabling them to properly play their roles of HR business partners. Patrick Coolen shares this opinion: “The times that you could simply take part in a management team meeting and say that, for example, employee engagement had gone up from 70% to 71% are over. What is more important now, is the impact of such an increase in engagement on business KPIs such as profit or customer satisfaction. This latter type of insight is what our business is asking of us more and more.”

More than HR data

Patrick Coolen started working on this at ABN AMRO in early 2013. He built a new department that supports decision-taking in the business using data analyses. His team not only uses HR data, but also looks at plenty of business data, such as data on customer satisfaction or commercial performance.

“We analyze the mutual relationships between these different types of data. For instance, we use it to map the relationship between, on the one hand, HR factors such as engagement and leadership styles and, on the other hand, business results such as customer satisfaction and the number of products sold. The insights obtained help us make better choices as regards the HR factors we are focusing on and the actual resources our organization employs.”

Talk to the business

How do you decide what data to research? Coolen: “Talk to the business and make sure you have a clear view of the KPIs they find important. In other words: what's keeping them awake? Ask questions. Get to the heart of what the business really needs. You will then automatically see how you can contribute to solving their problems or achieving their ambitions. Before starting any research with my team, I therefore always ask both our HR director's and a senior manager's approval. In this way, I avoid the results of my work ending up unread in someone's desk drawer. It's all about relevance for the business.”

Coolen has learned that starting up research takes more time that the actual data analyses. “You have to take sufficient time to clearly formulate what the research will study, find the right data sets and clean up the data to make it ready for analysis. What's important next is to not lose contact with the business. You don't just start a research project and deliver a research report after three weeks. Interpreting the results together with the business is much more effective. Analytics is an iterative process. It lets you turn data into actionable insights that are useful for the business.”

Start small

Coolen hires the services of an external party to analyze the data. “I prefer to have advisors in my own team who really understand HR. They should of course have some affinity with statistics, but doing data analyses is something completely different. It has been our deliberate choice to outsource this aspect of HR analytics to real specialists.” 

Where can you start if you're not this far yet? Coolen recommends keeping things simple and just starting to work on any data set that happens to be available. “If you strive for 100% data quality, and you insist on various other preconditions being fulfilled before setting to work, you might easily find yourself six months down the line without actually having achieved anything. Start small, learn by doing, and gradually expand your approach. Even if you're not the size of ABN AMRO, you might be surprised by how much data you already have, for instance in the form of historic data that has been amassed over the years. Just dare to take that first step. And don't wait too long. Start tomorrow!”

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Tristan Lavender

Content marketing manager

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