The dash for dashboards – good news for HR ?

People Analytics

Add a few metrics vaguely to do with what HR really do, add a few charts, organize them in some fancy way and hey presto – actionable insights!

And so ends another HR Technology show in Las Vegas – still the biggest in the world, even bigger than last years apparently.  Judging by the expo area, it certainly looked like the tallest and most coffee enabled. Forget the glitz of the strip, if you’ve never been it’s one for the bucket list…

Some software vendors promoted their brand with massive multi storey stands topped with impressive 20 foot diameter circular “hats” suspended from the convention centre’s rafters with logo proudly displayed and declarations of how they can “help” or “change” or “empower” HR to be even better. A few vendors with the larger marketing budgets went a little further and chose to spin the whole affair turning the hall into a giant Mexican hat dance. I overheard one attendee muttering that the height of each exhibitors stand was a great gauge to how useful their understanding of analytics was – “the taller the worser”. Maybe in the battle for limited budgets, the marketing department, as ever, won the budget bun-fight to the detriment of product development.

On a more positive note, my spirits were lifted when I realised what I had been banging on about for far too many years was now being taken seriously by nearly all major HR software vendors – well sort of seriously….Apparently, HR Analytics IS the next big thing hitting HR (or People Analytics or Workforce Analytics or HCM Analytics depending on the level of brand snobbery). Seriously good news.

But software providers have been seduced or more accuately tring to seduce you by the worn word “vizualization”. Collectively they’ve cobbled something thats both pretty and “drilldown-y” thereby claiming the right to call it Analytics with the majority making the dash for dashboards. The simple recipe for success seems to be to add a few metrics vaguely to do with what HR do, add a few charts, organize them in some fancy way and hey presto! – you have suddenly transformed your product to have “real actionable insights” – or some similar overused marketing nonsense.

A well designed, well thought out dashboard is absolutely definately a step in right direction but this first step seems to be viewed as the end rather than the start point. Isn’t it just the same old HR reporting rebadged with prettier charts with a hefty monthly charge to show it has some sort of intrinsic value ?  A pretty chart is great in a product demo, but in “real” life – Insights? Actionable ? Really?

The problem with focussing on boxed up and standardised dashboards are multiple – it doesn’t overcome the challenge of aggregating data from different systems in order to get metrics which show a holistic view of the workforce, it doesn’t overcome data inconsistencies and gaps, they don’t seek out insights for the novice end user who neither has the time nor skills to find them for themselves, they don’t give those same end users tools to test their own hunches and a ultimately, for the the large minority of visualization atheists and agnostics, a pretty chart doesn’t paint a thousand words (contrary to the well-known quotation).

Meaningful metrics are incredibly powerful in describing an organisations strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats but to be useful to their consumer – they must be relevant to a decision or to a strategy that talks in the same language that the decision makers intrinsically understand. Don’t talk to a Sales Director about attrition, talk to them about missing target because their best sales execs have walked. Don’t talk to a ward manager about saving costs, talk to them about how many extra nurses they’d have with the money saved. And don’t talk to a CEO about having a well educated workforce, tell them about the bottom line impact of a training programme.

Saying all that, my strongly held views were humbled during a recent experience when a progressive HRD of a large energy company in the US. He discovered he had a looming crisisc in retaining corporate knowledge after viewing a simple age by tenure distribution chart. In his own words he had too many experienced old timers heading for retirement leaving the payground kids left to run the farm (and by kids he meant my age which analytically speaking is unfortunately unacceptably inaccurate).

Hardly analytical rocket science, but hey ho… I guess there are always exceptions.

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