My mining metaphor for thinking about Workforce Analytics.
Over a number of years I have used a mining metaphor to explain how I think about Workforce Analytics.
The mining industry broadly works on a three step process when in exploration mode:
- Seismic surveying. This is a form of geophysical survey that aims at measuring the earth’s properties by means of physical principles such as magnetic, electric, gravitational and elastic theories. Geologists generate seismic waves and then use a seismograph to analyse the waves, be they refraction, reflection or surface waves. Based on geologists’ analysis they identify areas of probable mineral concentration. Seismic surveying does not tell a geologists where to build a mine, just areas of interest to explore in more detail
- Test Drilling. This is the stage where drilling occurs in the areas of interest identified in the analysis of the seismic surveying results. By analysing the ore sample extracted from the test drilling geologists can assess the levels of mineral concentration, if any. Once levels of concentration are discovered then more text drills are completed in the area to estimate the size of the ore body.
- Developing the mine. Its only after the results of the test drilling have been analysed that the mining company can access the cost benefit of building the mine. If the ROI is high enough then the mine is built.
I consider Workforce Analytics to be the equivalent of seismic surveying in that it does not tell you what to do. Workforce Analytics is about finding interesting areas to explore further. Workforce reporting and dashboards are more about dealing with the “known knowns” while workforce analytics is more about the “unknown knowns” eg how does engagement scores impact voluntary termination rates of high performers? as well as the “unknown unknown” such as how many graduates by discipline do I need to recruit this year with what cognitive and competencies profiles so we have enough high performance high potential employees by disciple in 10-15 years’ time? Workforce Analytics is about finding insights about the workforce that we don’t currently know which as important in their impact on people management.
After we complete our workforce analytics project/investigation it will generally be necessary to collect more qualitative data which is our equivalent of test drilling. This qualitative data could include conducting interviews and focus groups, conducting employee surveys and perhaps conducting post exit interviews or surveys. This will help us evaluate whatever hypothesis we are trying to test on our workforce.
Workforce Analytics does not tell us what to do just as seismic surveying does not tell the geologists where to build a mine. Both tell us interesting areas to investigate further.
Once we have analysed both the workforce analytics and supporting qualitative data then we are able to design our HR intervention, our equivalent of building the mine. I truly worry that too often in HR that we simply go out and build mines without the necessary critical analysis as to what interventions will have more impact on organizational effectiveness. Interventions are often initiated on the basis of requests from the C suites, CHRO meeting with consultants or reading an article etc. Most interventions add value to the organisation. What we don’t know is whether a different intervention would add more value to the organization. If we consider the formulation and execution of HR interventions as being how we operationalize our HR Strategic plans then we need to apply strategic thinking to the process. In formulating our HR strategic plan its all about priorities regarding the use of limited resources. Strategic planning, either for the organization or for the HR function is simply the methodology by which we assess and prioritize those interventions that will have maximum impact on improving organizational performance and organizational effectiveness. When we are formulating the strategic people priorities for an organisation then workforce analytics must play an integral role in assessing what we need to do.