Bring in the Big Team

A conference organizer confirmed this talent management trend while debriefing my keynote presentation with me. “The feedback was quite positive,” he said. “Your message was clear, the action steps were practical and the storytelling approach was engaging. But next time, use more numbers.”

Use more numbers also seems to be the contemporary rally cry for our work. In the past, we might have cobbled together a bit of information about staffing levels, employee satisfaction or performance results. Looking back, it was a small attempt to elevate talent management to a decision science rather than just theory and habit.

With the advent of large-scale and mostly integrated human resource and enterprise data systems, we have the opportunity to go from small information to big data.

The exciting potential is to improve our ability to make better-informed and higher-quality talent practice decisions as well as provide more compelling talent propositions to line leaders. In a way, big HR data is a step toward maturing as a profession.

As I’ve watched talent practitioners move along the journey of using the numbers, I have found one imperative: The big data pioneers who apply a basic tenet of talent management are doing much better in practice.

They assemble the right talent mix — the big team — while going after the prize of big HR data. I see four roles with very different capabilities emerging as the winning team.

Systems genius: Big data is mostly composed of multiple systems, each designed with its own original structure. Even with new integrated systems and cloud services, a critical capability is to understand and skillfully navigate multiple database behavior for data accuracy and consistency.

It’s not only about pulling reports, but producing quality data. Remember, the first test of selling HR big data insight will be about credibility, as line leaders won’t trust your amazing insights without first establishing that you know what you are doing.

But just having systems geniuses alone won’t be successful, as they will mostly generate reams of reports that will fill line manager inboxes without interest or impact. To the systems genius role, add the HR interpreter.

HR interpreter: This is the HR-savvy professional who can bring meaning to the work of the systems genius. Data needs context and at times curation to uncover useful insights.

The HR interpreter often sets up the HR analytics with a challenging hypothesis relevant to current talent practice problems. This role also can look beyond the numbers to understand what else is going on in analysis that needs to be understood.

Standing alone, this role will generate interesting HR insights, but will not engage the right people for the right action. Analytics may be of value for fellow HR colleagues, but it needs to be powerfully connected to the business to influence line leaders. Add the trusted business adviser role to bring the work to life for big business value.

Trusted business adviser: This role is focused on enabling line leaders to appreciate the analytics value and application. In many cases, the line leader is the end user who needs to have the information framed in a way that is familiar and facilitates better decision-making for superior talent management and business success.

The trusted business adviser serves as the bridge helping shape talent analytics based on how the line leader thinks and sees things.

These three roles and the capabilities they bring will form the basis of a solid HR analytics team. But it won’t be easy, and the team needs one more role — our role as talent leaders — to be the persistent champion.

Persistent champion: This innovation will take time to perfect. The new world of big data is exciting and shows much promise.

But even with the right capabilities, there will be obstacles and missteps before we get it right. In the end, our job as leaders is to assemble the new team, build the capabilities and bring forth more numbers in the right way.