Workforce Data Must Produce Actionable Results

By Steve Bates Apr 22, 2013
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Having lots of data is good. Having data that can be turned into meaningful information is better. But having information that can be translated into action is what HR and organizations really need, an expert in workforce planning and analytics advised HR professionals in an April 10, 2013, HR.com webcast.

Sponsored by business analytics firm Visier, the webcast (“Workforce Planning and Analytics: Do You Know Where Your Future Is?”) made clear that many HR professionals and organizations are still figuring out how to apply big data to their strategic advantage. Many find that their planning processes and use of statistics lag best-in-class organizations; yet they want to find ways to be among the best.

The path is far from clear: Something as basic as the term “workforce planning” has generated “a lot of definitions and some confusion,” said webcast presenter Mollie Lombardi, vice president and principal analyst of human capital management at the research firm Aberdeen Group.

Many pressures are driving workforce development, she noted. The changing business landscape requires new skills. Economic conditions demand more creative and lower-cost means for finding talent at a time when talent is scarce. No matter how well your organization is performing in these key areas, the most important test is “how you can take your performance to the next level,” she said.

Agility Is Crucial to Workforce Planning

Workforce planning requires “a balancing act,” Lombardi observed. Organizations need to plan for scenarios that will play out 18 months or more in the future while also being able to turn on a dime today as conditions shift. “You have got to be agile.”

During the webcast, Lombardi and Visier Chief Strategy Officer Dave Weisbeck asked participants to take a brief survey on how they handle workforce needs. The most common response was “reactive, immediate hiring” in reaction to organizational changes—representing the least amount of forward planning.

“You’re in good company,” Lombardi told participants, conceding how difficult it is—particularly among small and midsize organizations—to maintain a long-range focus in workforce planning.

Even so, there’s a “paradigm shift” going on in workforce thinking, she reported. In addition to “right skills, right place and right time,” now there’s “right cost” to consider, said Lombardi. “This may already be happening in pockets in your organization.”

Shifting the discussion to analytics, Lombardi admitted that “there’s a lot of data” for HR departments to process. And HR’s job “is not just about data,” she noted. “Ultimately, it’s about the ability for individuals and organizations to take action. Otherwise, [data] is just interesting.”

Lombardi said that HR and other departments can become overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of data available to them. The inability to integrate and interpret information can distinguish best-in-class organizations from others—and set profitable businesses apart from unprofitable ones.

“When people know you’re bringing together all the perspectives they need, they’re more likely to trust the results,” Lombardi said.

She cited Aberdeen Group research findings that best-in-class organizations are:

142 percent more likely than other organizations to integrate workforce and talent data.

45 percent more likely than other organizations to integrate workforce management systems with core HR and payroll.

“Workforce planning isn’t an event,” Lombardi emphasized to webcast participants. It’s a process and a mindset. Even HR professionals in small organizations, she noted, can “start the conversation” and “start experimenting” by selecting one department, such as sales, focus on a few key metrics and build from there.

Steve Bates is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area and a former editor for SHRM Online.​

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