HR ‘New Frontier’ for Data-Driven Business Strategies


By Kathy Gurchiek July 28, 2015

Top executives are relying more heavily on HR leaders for innovative, data-grounded business strategies, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey of U.S. CEOs.

“HR is the new frontier for data science applications in business,” said Matt Ferguson, CareerBuilder CEO and co-author of The Talent Equation: Big Data Lessons for Navigating the Skills Gap and Building a Competitive Workforce (McGraw-Hill Education, 2013).

“CEOs are looking for HR to be just as data-savvy and digitally savvy as other areas of the company and take quick, measurable actions that move the business toward its goals,” Ferguson said in a news release.

The CareerBuilder findings, released July 2015, are from an April 2015 survey of 88 executives at companies nationwide with revenue of at least $50 million. Nearly two-thirds said that post-recession, HR’s opinions carry greater weight with senior management.

Driving this change, the survey found, is increased competition for talent, a shrinking labor pool and a demand for higher salaries.

Need for Better Recruitment

More than half of the CEOs surveyed said their organizations have not been able to reach their full potential because they can’t find enough qualified job candidates. Nearly half said inefficient recruiting has cost their companies money.

The top three recruitment challenges, they said, were a lack of skilled candidates, taking too long to fill positions and a poor candidate experience.

Job candidates want a more engaged process and a more responsive hiring team; they want to understand the brand and the company culture quicker, according to Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

“Technology is a very big aspect of the candidate experience,” she said. “Organizations that seem to be doing the best at this [use] four or five touch points” from the time a candidate applies for a position. “[You] don’t want to lose the candidate because you’re not responsive enough.”

Broader Influence

Ninety percent of CEO respondents said it’s important that HR leaders be proficient in workforce analytics and more than two-thirds said this was “absolutely essential.”

HR executives can have a broader influence, they said, by:

*Providing actionable talent data and other research to devise strategies to meet the organization’s larger business goals.

*Showing how the organization can cut costs or become more efficient in how it uses the workforce.

*Working with other leaders to help solve business problems. Seventy-three percent said their HR leader provided data that they have since incorporated into their business strategy.

CEOs want HR leaders to have business acumen, Haefner said. A consistent complaint from the CEOs surveyed was that their HR leader is not well-versed in the core business strategy. They want HR leaders to be able to say, “ ‘Here’s the roadmap and here’s where we’re on track or off track.’ CEOs are saying [that they’re] still not seeing that linkage,” Haefner noted.

HR leaders “have to make a concerted effort to carve out time” to meet with other members of the organization and learn what they do, including going on sales calls, “to understand operational metrics. You need to make sure you have opinions about the business, [and that] you can back it up with data. That’s where you’re getting engagement with your CEOs [and other business leaders],” Haefner said.

Lisa Connell, executive director of the Society for Human Resource Management affiliate HR People + Strategy (HRPS), said HR leaders need to go beyond the HR department and speak to the entire business.

“Knowing HR is not enough. They have to know the business, they have to be able to influence it,” she said. For recruitment, that can mean learning what the competition is doing to attract candidates and using that information to their organization’s advantage.

“Some organizations are doing this, but as a general rule I don’t think that’s been the status quo for HR.”

Connell advised HR leaders to approach the heads of each department in their organization.

“Partner with them to help them solve their problems, to help understand their challenges, collaborate on their solutions. Just dig in.”

And HR leaders “need to be able to do what they’re doing in an analytical way with the data to support it. They should be able to talk about their business data in general,” she said. “They should be seen as a business leader. That’s the bottom line.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @KathyGurchiek.


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