How can you Overcome Resistance to Adopting Workforce Analytics?

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Despite a pretty much irrefutable case for the benefits of applying a data-driven approach to people decisions, many organizations are still struggling to get their workforce analytics initiatives off the ground.

Overcoming the resistance blocking progress was the subject of my recent session at the IBM HR Summit in Boston with Dr. Sheri Feinzig, director of the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute.

The recommendations we shared are based on 50+ interviews Dr. Feinzig and her co-authors (Jonathan Ferrar and Nigel Guenole) have undertaken with leading workforce analytics practitioners and experts as part of the research for their book ”The Power of People: How Successful Organizations Use Workforce Analytics To Improve Business Performance.


Three categories of resistance

The research highlighted that resistance to adopting workforce analytics falls into three main categories:

  • Stakeholder skepticism – either about analytics itself, or, more commonly, whether HR has the capabilities and skills to provide insights that will impact positively on the business.
  • Financial frugalness – budgetary concerns and questions as to whether the organization can afford to invest in analytics and implement the resulting recommendations.
  • HR hesitancy – a myriad of anxieties such as whether HR has the skills, capabilities and tools required, data availability and quality, and questions over whether HR will be able to implement the actions.


Overcoming skepticism

Dr. Feinzig outlined a number of actions that aspiring workforce analytics leaders can take to overcome resistance and bring an analytical approach to HR. These included:

  • Build relationships with business leaders – identify business stakeholders open to analytics, listen and understand their challenges and seek to add value.
  • Gain the support and sponsorship of the CHRO – those organizations who have led the pack when it comes to workforce analytics tend to be those where initiatives are sponsored and driven by the CHRO.
  • Be open to working with third parties to accelerate progress – either internal to the organization but outside HR, or third parties with demonstrable track records.
  • Communicate your successes – share success stories across the organization focusing on the business benefits of your work.


Overcoming frugalness

In general terms, more education is required when it comes to the potential financial benefits of workforce analytics. People are typically the largest investment on the balance sheet, so can any organization actually afford not to do analytics on their people data? Recommendations put forward in this area included:

  • Be creative when it comes to budgets – look for opportunities to redirect budgets to workforce analytics, focus on projects that will have business impact rather than those confined to HR, absorb the work using the redirected budget and strive to over-deliver.
  • Choose the right projects – if there is hesitancy over whether you will be able to afford to implement projects with high anticipated costs of change, select those where the costs of implementation are projected to be lower.
  • Prepare and validate the business case – contrast the cost and benefit of action vs. inaction, and seek to get this validated by Finance—their stamp of approval will likely carry a lot of weight within the business.


Overcoming HR hesitancy

In my experience, it is the hesitancy of HR to embrace workforce analytics that is perhaps the biggest form of resistance. Dr. Feinzig and I proposed a number of recommendations here:

  • Focus on the business – learn the business, understand what drives sales growth, customer loyalty and product innovation. Focus your analytics efforts on projects that really matter.
  • Build the team – look inside and outside HR: the optimal skills and capabilities required to do workforce analytics include data science, statistics, visualization, industrial/organizational psychology, storytelling, consultancy, change management and business acumen, so…
  • Be open to borrowing skills from other business functions – many of the skills and capabilities just outlined have not typically resided in HR, so don’t be afraid to borrow or share resources with other business functions such as Finance, Operations and Marketing. This may also help grant you access to business as well as people data.
  • Overcome fears regarding data quality – start with a small, well-defined data set.
  • Resist the temptation to invest in expensive tools and technologies – initially at least, look to keep costs down by starting simply – a lot of the best insights have been identified using Excel: you just need to know how!
  • Look for quick wins – think through whether you will be able to implement the anticipated actions with sponsors, but balance this with working on projects that will have real business impact.


To find out more about the Smarter Workforce Institute, click here.

To join the conversation from the HR Summit, follow #PowerUpHR.


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