Big Data: HR’s Chance to Matter

Over the past five technology generations — from mainframe systems to disk operating systems, (DOS), then a prettier DOS called Windows, to a distributed Windows called client/server, to the first generation of Internet applications — HR has done the same old thing with each new generation of technology: transactions.

As these technologies continued to touch more and more people, volumes of data piled up. This, combined with a new era of data created from talent management systems, wearable devices like Nike FuelBand and Jawbone UP, social collaboration tools like Chatter and Yammer, means the volume, variety and velocity of data available to HR professionals has exploded in the past three years.

One of the most overused clich?s in the HR profession is HR’s desire to get a seat at the table. What this initially meant was HR was not invited to strategic initiative discussions and likely was not included in the executive leadership team.

For the most part those days are gone, but today, even as HR has gained a seat at the table, a bigger and broader question should be what is it bringing to the table?

HR organizations have focused tremendous effort in the past decade building HR scorecards and dashboards. Some are there and others are still struggling, but what most senior executives will tell you is that the data, scorecards and metrics that HR brings to the table are in a different language — the language of HR, not the language of the business.

This continued disconnect between the HR function — the function that leads the most important asset in an enterprise — and the business is why HR is often seen as a nice to have at the table but not a true value-adding business partner.

Big data and the money, marketing and momentum behind it should be HR’s call to change this past behavior once and for all.

HR organizations worldwide need to take a step back and ask themselves: What could we measure about the people part of our business that would bring value to the business and align to this year’s business goals and objectives vs. measuring ourselves and our ability to transact?

This exercise is tough. We are turning a paradigm of standard HR metrics on its head and looking outside to data from other business systems — interactional and transactional.

These data from other places must correlate with people data to not only provide updates on processes the way HR has done for decades, but also it must provide prescriptions to the business on how to leverage and understand its most important asset: the workforce.

This starts with HR having a deep, detailed understanding of what drives the business today and what will drive it during the next three to five years.

Many in HR have been keeping the lights on by providing day-to-day support, but a modern mindset shift requires us to think about the lights in the future, the workforce in one to three years vs. the workforce of today.

It requires us to look for new correlations between business data and people data and work directly with the business, not HR, to test these correlations for value and validity to drive transformational outcomes and business intelligence.

Technology plays a big role in all of this. If I have implemented my systems that are meant to do HR in a payroll frame of mind or I have implemented my talent management tools in a way to process transactions, I may need to re-implement.

The goal is to start with the outcome in mind and realize re-implementation is not a bad word; it is part of the constant state of change that all businesses go through on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

Take the time to realize the business world works in waves, and the wave of big data is just beginning. If HR doesn’t take the time to understand and embrace it, chances are we all will be watching from the beach as the surfers hang 10.