How to Start and Scale HR Analytics for Almost Free

Panasonic exec shares how she built talent analytics using Excel, PowerPoint and free tools

By Dave Zielinski October 25, 2019
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How to Start and Scale HR Analytics for Almost Free

​Starting an HR analytics initiative from scratch can be daunting. But it can be done successfully without a big investment in analytics software or HR staff, according to Lydia Wu, head of talent analytics for Panasonic USA in New York City.

Speaking at the recent HR Technology Conference & Exposition, Wu detailed how she was able to build and then scale an analytics program with limited resources

Wu, who works in an HR shared services function at Panasonic, launched the project on her own. "It was me, myself and I for the first three months, and then we eventually hired an analyst," she said. "Over time we morphed into a group of four that now focuses on different phases of the HR analytics cycle."

Wu initially sought to build Panasonic's HR analytics capabilities in three core areas:

  • Basic data literacy. "We needed to be more conversant with our current business data rather than only with historical experiences of anecdotes," she said.
  • Improved HR data quality. Instead of attempting to conduct a full data cleansing or implement new analytics software from vendors, Wu decided to start small. "We got scrappy with it and used the resources we had in front of us to get started."
  • Increased stakeholder understanding and adoption. Wu wanted to break through a perception that HR wasn't "data smart" and only served in an administrative and compliance capacity. "It had been difficult for us in the past to even produce accurate head-count numbers," she said.

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Measuring the Employee Experience

Wu said one of her first goals was to create a better measure of the employee experience at Panasonic USA. "We wanted to stitch together different datasets to paint a more accurate picture," she said. "Some of the metrics involved in that were turnover rates, length of tenure and gender percentages in the workforce."

That meant gathering and analyzing more data on the job-candidate experience and employee engagement, onboarding experiences, exit interviews and more. "We needed to get a better sense of the moments in employees' lives that really matter to them," she said, "so we could better direct HR and business resources to those events" with the ultimate goal of improving employee engagement and retention.

Analytics on a Shoestring

What resulted from that effort was the creation of embedded talent analytics, which are now a core part of the group's strategic HR planning activities. Those analytics include predictive forecasts, historical insights and market research to help guide line leaders' decisions around talent.

Wu accomplished her initial goals without having to invest in new HR analytics software. "We've relied on Excel, PowerPoint and tools our IT group gave us for free for a good portion of the 18 months we've been doing this," she said. "I'm an advocate of using what's available to you, proving the case and then working on getting additional funding. I think people need to overcome the perception that you need a large team and a big tool set of analytics software to get started."

Another area where Wu focused on building her team's analytics skills was in consulting with line managers to better understand and address their key challenges.

"My philosophy is if someone comes to us with a request, and they don't think they need to sit for 30 minutes to explore that request further, chances are it's probably a reporting ask and not an analysis ask," she said. An analysis question—a line manager's request that Wu's group help interpret rather than just gather data—requires a deeper dive. "It's through that kind of real engagement with stakeholders and placing ourselves in their shoes that we can figure out what the real questions or problems they're facing are," she said.

One of Wu's team members has expertise in industrial-organizational psychology and is especially equipped for such data analysis and consulting.

"That person's primary focus is looking at the data and coming up with the 'so what?' " she said.  For example, if employee turnover rates are trending up, it could be a reflection of many factors, including greater market competition, more external job opportunities, a drop in employee morale or manager relations issues. Wu's team helps to sort out those variables to pinpoint real drivers of the problem.

Scaling an Analytics Initiative

Once her analytics initiative was off the ground and producing results, Wu sought to take it to other parts of Panasonic. The goal was to create a system that could be scaled and repeated around the organization as business units faced similar challenges.

"We have a number of subsidiary businesses at Panasonic, and we stressed it wasn't our way or the highway when implementing HR analytics," she said. "We encouraged those businesses to customize our approach to their own management styles or nuances."

To that end, Wu's team supplied the subsidiaries with templates and best practices it had created around analytics and encouraged the units to tailor them as necessary.

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer in Minneapolis.

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