Workforce analytics – old wine in new bottles?

By Robert Bolton, KPMG Management Consulting

Last year Google published the result of Project Oxygen, a data-driven investigation of the factors that differentiated the best managers from the rest.  As a result,  Google’s HR analytics team was hailed as the ‘next big thing’ for HR – a demonstration of the shift in skill set required by HR professionals.  But is this approach really so radically different to what came before?


The essence of analytics

Our view is that workforce analytics is not a new concept – at least not as currently practiced.  The shift is that a niche skill set is becoming mainstream. 


So why the current focus on analytics? 


The first reason is that HR systems are increasingly integrated and allow easier access to both sides of the regression equation – input measures on people’s characteristics and output measures such as sales data.  In the past it would have take significant effort to collate these two data sets.  Now it is much easier. 


There is also a buzz around big data and data analytics across the business world.  Yet, allied to this and potentially more interesting, is the availability of social data. 

The new breed of social HR systems which are introducing social connection not only to recruitment and L&D but also to performance management and reward and recognition -– offer exciting analytic possibilities that are genuinely ‘new’ and ’ground breaking’.


The problem is that unstructured social analytics for HR is still more ‘possibility’ than ‘reality’ for most.


So what?


In our recent global survey conducted with the economist intelligence unit, Rethinking human resources for a changing world, fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said that already data analytics are helping to identify future talent gaps. For example, one giant automobile manufacturer was identified as having used data analytics to identify where the biggest skills gaps will emerge in its workforce over the coming decade as a wave of retirees exit the company.


Another uses algorithms to analyse 70+ variables mined from social media platforms to predict when employees might be starting to look for a career change.  They then deliver a list of candidate email addresses to recruiters of those passive candidates that are starting to become active.  This is analytics in action.


So HR Functions must indeed embrace the power of workforce analytics and recognise that to take full advantage of these tools will require both a mind-set change and a skill-set change for HR professionals.  They may not be new, but the opportunity to decant some of this old wine into new bottles and let it breath is indeed a tasty prospect.

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