Why big data can make HR more important

To all the HR practitioners out there: You have the potential to be one of the most important and valued employees at your company, but you need to be smart about it and you need to be unafraid of crunching numbers. Luckily you could have all the data you need at your fingertips.

“We used to be like shepherds, just counting people,” says Melanie Hache-Barrois, human capital management strategy director at Oracle. “But now we have more power as strategic decision makers.”

The key in managing this progression from pen pusher to priceless planner lies in collecting statistics and information from the workforce and analysing it en masse.

With the right technology, this can empower HR professionals to make predictions about their company’s future and have the data to back them up. That gives clout to any recommendations they make about how to best weather the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities heading their company’s way.

“This really is a new mindset,”says Hache-Barrois. “HR needs to have data to give power to their ideas. Big data and analytics are buzzwords, but we need to be more precise than just using jargon because there’s something really significant going on here. There is a real acceleration in the means that HR has at its disposal and data-backed analysis is one of them.”

When it comes down to exactly what kind of data to search for and file away, Hache-Barrois says it’s important to remember why you’re collecting it in the first place—to make predictions and strategic decisions. Don’t let your methods limit what kind of decisions you can make. “We’re beyond counting people in spreadsheets to form ideas,” she says. “It’s the other way around; we have an idea then use analytics to help us find the data make a decision based in fact.”

How data makes a difference

There are two ways of getting data from your workforce: the classical survey option, which Hache-Barrois calls “old fashioned” and a more systematic approach, which connects employee computers to HR systems via the cloud to gather information while they’re working.

“You can collect almost any kind of data from how your employees are working like this,” she says. “You know when they’re logging on to learning and training systems, you can analyse the sort of content they’re sharing and how they’re engaging with each other. Of course such actions need to be in line with relevant privacy regulations.”

This kind of data, when collected from all employees, paints a picture of the entire workforce. You can predict their reaction to new company policies or changes to existing ones, gauge how they perceive the company’s reputation, and decipher whether they are content at work or itching to leave the business.

Oracle Simply Talent Study found the majority of respondents (56%) cited enhanced productivity as a direct result of feeling more engaged at work. Crucially, 37% of employees said feeling more engaged makes them less likely to look for work elsewhere, vital for HR at a time when relevant skills are in such high demand.

“The more you have this kind of data, the more you can make employees happier, safer and more productive,” says Hache-Barrois—and characteristically, she has the data to back that up. Oracle has conducted studies across Europe where they asked 1,500 people in seven countries what makes them engaged in a company. The answer? People feel more engaged when they understand the company, their role within it, and when their manager is taking care of them.

The study found that for the majority of respondents (53%), being recognised for their achievements is their biggest priority, followed by helping them understand their contribution to the company (35%) and getting the opportunity to work on exciting projects (34%).

“When you’re loyal it’s because you feel valued and taken care of. Collecting and analysing this kind of data empowers HR to make decisions and implement policies to make this possible. That makes them important,” she adds.