Gary Russo, Director Workforce Intelligence, Providence Health & Services
Business urgency for Human Resources to rapidly transform its role from transactional to full-fledged strategic contributor has reached the boiling point. Salaries and wages, already a top expense, are experiencing pressures to increase, with organizations looking to HR to help control the cost curve. Earlier attempts by HR to collaborate on human capital challenges have been hampered by a lingering reputation of outdated systems, overreliance on anecdotes, or resistance to change. However, technology and software innovations have stepped forward with solutions to help HR redefine the value it brings to the organization.
The recent influx of capital into HR modernization has created a gold-rush of services flocking to the HR market. Today’s market is ripe with vendors that promise to refine the crudest employee data into valuable nuggets through the power of artificial intelligence. More organizations are hiring Data Scientists or creating People Analytics functions on the heels of this “HR datafication,” trying to capitalize on technology-enabled data insights. Unfortunately, marketing materials tend to focus on the end state of fully mature analytics and blur the path leading to that stage, threatening to create leadership expectations that are high impossible to meet.
The number of success stories is growing, but none have proven that HR technology alone is the magic bullet.
Technology has been most successful at transforming HR data into a Rosetta Stone that allows HR to initiate meaningful dialogue with the whole of the organization. The link between employees hired to perform work and the outcomes of that work is inseparable. Advancements in data visualization software have made self-service HR dashboards a nearly “out of the box” proposition, allowing HR to begin communicating in workforce facts that can more easily be translated across the business. Questions about “when” data will be available and “what” happened in the prior month are replaced with “why” are the numbers changing and “how” do we improve. This signifies a fundamental shift toward more strategic thinking, but continued success requires additional barriers to be eroded so that leaders are not restricted by traditional silos.
Self-service dashboards should empower leaders to access just-in-time data to take action; however, the scope of solvable problems is severely limited if the systems housing workforce data and business-outcomes data disagree on how key pieces of the organization are structured. Leaders will require context from information owned by multiple business functions if they are going to tackle more complex (and more critical) problems. This context does not typically require advanced algorithms or complicated statistics; instead, it requires standard definitions. For example, ensuring that HR and Finance agree on which departments belong to key service lines enables rationale conversations about the impact of turnover on productivity. These crucial foundational steps are part of a growing organizational data maturity that impacts not only how HR shares its data, but also how information is combined from across the organization to holistically evaluate business performance.
Technology is connecting the work being done with the people doing the work, adding critical context to help business leaders tackle bigger challenges. Cross-functional teams, now better able to incorporate additional strategic value from HR data, are working to deepen those insights by seeking standardized business definitions across the organization. This work will ensure a rock solid foundation to support new waves of technology and analytics that will allow HR to continue innovating in how the business manages its workforce.