Blog post

The future of HR: may the data be with you

Hans Janse 20 March 2018

Change comes rapidly, especially in the HR industry. Are you ready to join us and jump aboard the 2020 express? My name is Hans Janse and I’m in charge of innovation at Raet. In this blog series, I’ll be taking a look into the future and offering a vision of HR in the year 2020. What challenges will organizations be facing? What changes are in store? What are the key trends and how can we make sure we are prepared for them? In this blog, I’ll be zooming in on digital transformation and, more specifically, on the role that Big Data plays in HR.

“Big Data offers unbound potential for an organization, not least the HR department.”

Printed payslips, cabinets stuffed full of personnel files, the manual processing of expense claims: these are things that, by now, really should have been consigned to HR history. Digitization is here to stay: employees receive their salary statements digitally, use an app to arrange their time off and expenses, and even personnel files are no longer physically present in the office. Much to my surprise, I still encounter companies that have yet to go digital at this level. But on the whole, the Netherlands is well on its way to digitizing all basic procedures.

For some time now, the world has been swept up in a tide of change, rushing in the direction of smart, smarter, smartest. This development brings a complete transformation of the economy, the business world and human interaction as a whole. While embracing the new always involves a step into the unknown and an element of uncertainty, digital transformation also offers a host of new opportunities. It generates a vast wealth of data, or Big Data, which opens the door to meticulous analysis. Big Data offers unbound potential for an organization, not least the HR department.

Evidence-based HR policy

 “To achieve this, it is essential for HR to make good use of data, and that entails a shift towards a more evidence-based policy.”

Thanks to the administrative digitization of HR mentioned above, and in some cases even the complete outsourcing of admin tasks, the role of HR has changed significantly. HR now has the opportunity to increasingly focus on playing a role in the strategic issues an organization encounters. To achieve this, it is essential for HR to make good use of data, and that entails a shift towards a more evidence-based policy. At this point you might be thinking “been there, done that!” It’s true that a look back at HR publications over the past five years or so suggests that this shift has long since taken place. But allow me to ask a few – potentially confrontational – questions:

  • Do you measure the effect of training programmes on work productivity? 
  • Can you confidently predict that a specific training course will lead to a specific percentage increase in turnover?
  • How often has your HR analysis enabled you to prevent valued employees from leaving the organisation, and saved you the substantial cost of replacing them?
  • Do you measure the effectiveness of your application and onboarding processes?
  • Do you measure the effect of annual job appraisals (if you carry them out) on aspects such as productivity, financial turnover, employee satisfaction and employee turnover?
  • Do you have an accurate impression of the skills present among the workforce and the skills needed to respond to strategic change in your organization?
  • In the education sector: are you looking for the correlation between students’ results and teachers’ competencies and qualifications?

Today, there is plenty of data available to help you measure these aspects. It’s all there waiting for the moment when you, the HR professional, decide to use it to your advantage. This is data that offers HR the opportunity to influence policy based on actual evidence, rather than subjective assumptions and experiences.

"As a department, learn how to analyze and really get to grips with HR data."

Internally available data is not the only kind that unlocks a treasure trove of possibilities; external information can also boost your analytical prowess. Consider data on labor market trends and the effectiveness of employee benefit programs: both are data types with a meaningful part to play in optimising talent acquisition.

As a department, learn how to analyze and really get to grips with HR data. This will enable your organization to make smarter decisions in areas such as cost reduction, strategic staff planning, recruiting and deploying the right people.

HR is about figures and people

In my blog on talent acquisition, I emphasized that it’s the people in an organization that ultimately determine its success. Analyzing turnover and performance figures, details about the age structure of the employee base, outflow prognoses and future training needs are all ways for HR to ensure that the organization as a whole not only achieves success but also sustains it.

At a time when many companies are handing over control of this domain to clinical calculators and spreadsheet boffins, I am calling on HR to transform its role and above all to maintain the personal connection between the individual and the company. As a modern HR professional, you need a thorough understanding of IT and data analysis and how to use them effectively. However, always keep in mind that work is ultimately about people. When was the last time you had a good chat with an employee, just to find out how things are going...?

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Hans Janse

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