In today's data-driven world, organizations rely heavily on comprehensive datasets to make informed decisions, drive innovation and gain a competitive edge. Data has become especially important for HR departments, where it can provide insights along the continuum of the employee life cycle, from hiring through termination or retirement. However, the unfortunate reality is that some departments—and the individuals within them—tend to "hoard" their data, leading to gaps in the company's data landscape that can result in flawed assumptions and poor decisions.
Data Is Buried Everywhere
As more organizations embark on "digital transformation," one challenge they face is getting their arms around all the different data pools that may exist around the enterprise. Employees—and even managers and leaders—are often hesitant to give up control over "their data," resulting in duplication of efforts, the potential for error, security risks and unnecessary costs.
In many organizations, data doesn't exist in a single repository. Instead, it tends to dwell in a multitude of small repositories that are owned and controlled by leaders and employees across the organization. The result is that data isn't interconnected or accessible to everyone.
The same issue exists within divisions and departments. Take HR, for example. HR data likely lives within the HR domain but may also reside within finance (e.g., employee payroll); learning and development (training information—e.g., courses completed, completion dates and success rates); risk management and compliance (e.g., licensures and sanctions); and on and on. In addition, supervisors and managers may maintain their own employee data in their own files, such as performance review information and disciplinary actions and documentation.
Data that is not connected across the organization is subject not only to duplication, but also to inaccuracies. And in the case of employee documentation, there are also potential legal and regulatory risks. This all has important practical implications for HR in ensuring that data is accessible, accurate and integrated.
A Case in Point
John Peebles is CEO at Administrate, a training management software firm based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He shared an example from one of Administrate's clients, a renowned boat manufacturer that was facing employee retention challenges with new hires. "We found that their training technology did not integrate with the company's other departments and business functions. This meant its decision-makers could not see why so many new hires left during or shortly after their training," Peebles said.
"Moving the company's training data to a digital format and then applying learning analytics to study it—and then integrating this data with other functions at the company—revealed shortfalls and gaps in their training program," he continued. "When these were addressed, they achieved a remarkable reduction in employee turnover, plummeting from 50 to 60 percent to an astonishing five to 10 percent."
While these and other process improvements can be made based on insights gleaned from relevant data, getting people to "let go" of their data—or even to share it—can be problematic.
Why We Hoard
"Information is power." It's an old saying, but one that is particularly apt here. There is a natural tendency for employees who generate or acquire information to want to keep it close to the vest.
"Data hoarding within organizations can be attributed to a combination of cultural, operational and psychological factors," said Jon Morgan, CEO and editor-in-chief of Venture Smarter, a consulting firm in San Francisco. "When departments view data as a source of power or control, they are less inclined to share it with others, fearing that it might diminish their influence."
Operational inefficiencies can also lead to data hoarding. "If access to data is cumbersome or time-consuming, employees may be less motivated to share it, preferring to keep it close for their own convenience," Morgan said. In addition, "psychological factors like fear of criticism or a desire to protect one's domain can also drive data hoarding." Employees may worry that sharing data will expose their mistakes or weaknesses, leading to a reluctance to collaborate, he said.
Jace McLean, senior director of strategic architecture at Domo, a data platform based in American Fork, Utah, said he believes that cultural factors are the most important lever to use in changing data-hoarding habits. "Creating the proper culture will autocorrect the operational and psychological factors," he said. "I haven't seen an organization specifically create a culture where the policy is to hoard data, but oftentimes the lack of a culture promoting openness and collaboration allows those psychological and operational issues to thrive."
Effective communication is a critical part of building a culture that encourages data sharing and overcomes hoarding tendencies. Employees need to understand why they should share data, who to share it with and how sharing will benefit the organization as a whole. But in addition to understanding the why of data sharing, they often need to understand the how.
Breaking Down Barriers Through Communication and Collaboration
"A robust policy that properly communicates the intent of an open data culture requires buy-in from many different areas of the organization," McLean said. "This will generally require input from those areas. Bringing together producers and consumers of data, and the resulting content, should start the process from a place of trust and lead to the type of culture that leads to data sharing."
Venture Smarter has used several strategies to encourage data sharing, Morgan said. For example, a companywide data-sharing platform centralizes data storage and access to streamline the process and foster a sense of transparency and accountability. In addition, the company has "incentivized data sharing through performance metrics that reward collaboration and knowledge sharing," he said. That has led to improved data sharing and more informed decision-making.
From a process standpoint, Venture Smarter has focused on "defining clear data ownership and access rights," Morgan said. "Regular audits and compliance checks help maintain data security, while data stewardship roles ensure responsible data handling. This framework strikes a balance between openness and protection."
McLean agreed that a proper framework is essential. "Establishing a data governance model is the first step in promoting an open and collaborative data culture," he said. "Without one, employees often wonder if they are allowed to bring data together and simply don't. By building a framework, it communicates to employees that as long as they stay within these guardrails, they are free to explore and ideate."
Effective communication can help critical department heads, managers and supervisors understand why HR data should be unified and accessible and how they can help make this happen. HR leaders can, and should, be proactive in this process.
"Transparent communication plays a crucial role in addressing data hoarding. We emphasize the importance of data as a collective asset and its impact on the organization's success," Morgan said. "Encouraging a culture of data sharing and collaboration requires leadership to lead by example and recognize and reward those who contribute to the collective data pool."
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.