18 01 2016
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8 Things Mark Berry Can Teach You About HR Analytics

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Mark Berry 8 LearningsIf one person in the HR analytics world has been in the press all the time in the past years, it’s for sure Mark Berry. He was privileged to receive accolades from peers and experts in the industry.

Mark was being named one of nine “HR Trendsetters” in the January 2015 issue of HR Magazine for his efforts in workforce analytics & planning and was the subject of a Bersin case study on “continuous cost based workforce planning“. He also received the Workforce.com’s 2014 “Optimas Award” for Business Impact as a result of the work he pioneered in workforce planning and received the 2014 “WhatWorks” Bersin by Deloitte Award for his efforts in workforce analytics.

In addition, Mark was privileged to be part of a project with a major technology vendor, co-innovating in the development of a cost-based workforce planning application and last but not least, he featured as a speaker at several famous workforce planning & analytics conferences.

In the meantime, Mark has moved from his HR workforce planning & analytics role at ConAgra to the position of VP HR (and CHRO) at CGB Enterprises, Inc.

We are excited that he agreed to be interviewed for the iNostix blog and we are proud that we can share his learnings with our numerous readers and followers. Here you go, enjoy the reading of his 8 learnings!

#1. Reporting directly to the CHRO

Luk Smeyers (iNostix): In one of the articles you published earlier this year, you pointed out the importance of having HR analytics teams report directly to CHROs. Could you summarize for our readers in a couple of sentences why you believe this should be the case?

Mark Berry: To drive adoption of HR analytics, CHROs must lead the effort. I don’t mean leading in the sense of managing the day-to-day work of talent analytics, but rather being the ambassador for the initiative to the senior leadership of the organization and the HR organization as a whole.

As I’ve previously stated, it’s a mystery to me why a CHRO would have compensation, benefits, talent, etc. reporting to them & have talent analytics reporting to someone else. Talent analytics – rightly executed – is the “GPS” of HR. It is the means for the CHRO to objectively evaluate the impact of the organization’s people initiatives as well as identifying opportunities to better leverage talent within the organization. Why would you not want to have that lever to pull in the CHRO role?

#2. Inside or outside HR?

Luk: According to Bersin by Deloitte, a number of organizations are moving HR analytics teams out of HR departments altogether. Is there any hope for a centralized-analytics-team model – a team that will cover analytics for every part of an organization?

Mark: I find this trend unfortunate – but easy to understand. HR isn’t a function known for its analytics acumen; most organizations simply don’t have the horsepower to lead the work of talent analytics.

However, I’m concerned about divorcing HR analytics from HR – how can someone who is not a practitioner of the field understand the relevance of one’s finding? Marketing or sales analysts can do great work in marketing or sales, respectively, but shouldn’t be attempting to interpret HR analysis.

Opportunity – regardless where talent analytics set within an organization’s structure – is to ensure that the outcomes of these efforts are understood, embraced, and acted upon. They need to be focused on helping the organization address the most pressing people issues/opportunities. To me, that’s why I see HR as the place where talent analytics should reside.

#3. The CHRO and his/her analytical acumen

Luk: In light of the increasing pressure and need for organizations to form highly-skilled HR analytics teams, how important is it for a CHRO to have a deep understanding and working knowledge of analytics?

Mark: I don’t believe that deep understanding is important, but working knowledge and a strong penchant for evidence-based HR practices is critical. A recent survey of HR analytics leaders reveal that in the vast majority of cases, their CHRO was nowhere to be found in initial launch or subsequent public support of their work; instead, most chose to defer to the leaders of talent, organizational effectiveness, or some other group to support & promote analytics.

CHROs must have a good working knowledge of the capabilities – and limitations – of talent analytics. I worked for a CHRO who was a strong proponent of talent analytics, but had no idea about issues of correlation vs. causation, the importance of sample size & statistical power, and the ability to generalize findings across settings.

This is the level at which CHROs need to live – as a CHRO, I don’t need to be able to tell you the differences between a Pierson Product Moment correlation coefficient vs. a Spearman Rank-Difference correlation coefficient – or hand-calculate them for that matter (but I could do both!).

I do need to be able to know & intelligently articulate what we are doing as an organization in leveraging talent analytics, why it makes sense, and how it will benefit the organization.

#4. Gathering data outside of HR?

Luk: The term ‘People Analytics’ implies that data aggregation can no longer be limited to strictly HR data, but take into consideration what possible insights could be gained from other parts of an organization. What should be the first stop for a newly established HR analytics team in terms of gathering data outside of HR?

Mark: Forget about gathering data outside of HR as a first step with a newly established HR analytics team! Seriously, my counsel would to be start with what you have access to – core HCM, talent acquisition, and talent/performance management data – and work from there. You’ll need to master it to be effective with “outside” data – so it makes sense to start there.

Next, it comes down to the issues you are seeking to address. That’s what determines where you go. In my most recent role, it is cost-based data – variable personnel costs not traditionally maintained in an enterprise HCM environment. However, as we’ve begun to aggregate that data, we’re looking at non-HR data such as sales revenue, sales margins, and operating profits.

However, to get access to this information – which usually sits in data systems “owned” by other functions – one must build a meaningful business case and a mutually beneficial trust relationship with those system “owners”. I’ve found this to be relatively easy – focusing on finance and sales team members who have a penchant for analytics.

They have a big “get it” factor (they understand what I’m trying to do), and have an interest in getting access to traditionally “personnel” data (which we can do – either by providing it in aggregate or by restricting access to personally identifiable information (PII) or sensitive information (SI).

The partnerships can be powerful – both for HR and the associated functions, but require that we leave our egos at the doors and be willing to share the good will & professional equity realized from the work.

#5. Building analytical credibility

Luk: Many HR departments struggle with gaining a seat at the senior leadership table due to their recurring failure to present data-driven business-oriented proposals. Analytics are meant to solve this exact problem. In your experience, what is the time lapse between hiring an HR analytics team and becoming a true business partners for HR departments in mid-size companies?

Mark: The short answer is – “it depends” – on the experience of the analytics personnel, on the maturity of the organization, of the ability of HR leadership to make the business case for talent analytics, and the organization’s leadership to trust that HR can do this.

It’s ironic – many of the best business leaders with whom I’ve worked have been strong proponents of analytics – operations, marketing, sales, and finance – but had no “mental model” that supported HR doing this type of work. Unfortunately, many talent analytics teams focus on the areas not of greatest relevance to business leaders.

In my current role, the areas of greatest relevance were – out of the blocks – retention of key talent and optimizing our total cost of workforce. As I’ve begun to show how we can use analytics to solve for these, I’m leveraging that “equity” to enable us to focus on other opportunities – employee value proposition (EVP), evaluation of outcomes from leadership development programs, and a host of other opportunities.

Too often, HR analytics leaders – driven by their CHROs or VP, Talent – focus on these things first…and miss what – in the mind of the business leaders – are far more burning issues. We must first go where the customer’s felt need exists. As we win the confidence of our customers, we can pivot to other areas of greater opportunity – areas not on the forefront at the beginning of our work.

Also see iNostix’ article: 5 Ways to kickstart your predictive HR analytics activities

#6. Build or buy?

Luk: Many “internal” HR analytics teams simply lack the horsepower and the expertise to do the work. What has been your experience with analytics with this specific challenge?

Mark: As we begin to expand our analytics influence in my company, I’ve identified several opportunities that would lend themselves well to predictive analysis. However, I won’t “build” internal capabilities to go after this; my strong preference – having done that once in the past – is to “buy” the capabilities, partnering with consultants (such as iNostix) to lead this effort on our behalf.

Why buying? Simple: I’m interested in bringing the best of talent analytics to my organization. My interest is not building – internally – a “full-suite” talent analytics capabilities. Why would I try to “build” something internally when I can “buy” deeper expertise on the outside?

I believe that this model – combining internal & external “partner” capabilities – is a winning proposition for many organizations, especially small-to-medium size organizations that may lack the scale to sustain the employment of tenured data scientists.

Also see iNostix’ article: 12 Reasons why outsourcing HR analytics is good for HR

#7. Skills for doing HR analytics

Luk: It’s a well-known fact that finding the right talent to fill the HR analytics roles is no easy task. What are the top 3 skills organizations should look for when evaluating candidates for this position?

Mark: Sub-question and a hypothetical: if the search comes down to two candidates – one with great experience in analytics but in an unrelated function (say marketing or finance) and a candidate with vast experience in running HR departments – which one should an organization pick? Why?

I’ll dodge the question by saying simply that you need both. The best organizations have strong data scientists AND evidence-obsessed HR leaders who can partner with business leaders, understand the key challenges & opportunities, partner with the data scientists to win the business, design “experiments” that can be executed in a business milieu, help the data scientists interpret & communicate the outcomes, and design compelling interventions based on the findings.

Much has been made about the advent of the industrial/organizational psychologist. It’s not new – my advisor as an undergraduate student was an I/O psychologist (and that was a few decades ago) and it’s not the only option for success. For example, I have a masters degree in psychology & a masters in business administration.

My psychology degree gave me the exposure to experimental research, design & analysis, and statistics, as well as a strong background in psychometric assessment – all applied to address human issues. My business degree gave me the same – as well as a far broader business perspective.

However, even more important than degree is one’s determination – to ask “why”, to relentlessly seek to answer the most critical questions with data, to not allow their – or others’ – biases to cloud their judgment, and to be able to apply these capabilities to address strategically significant business questions and issues.

I’ve written about the importance of “evidence-based” HR practices – this is nothing more than the effort of many of us as practitioners to eschew HR’s “flavor of the month” and focus on proffering up solutions that are empirically valid, measurable, and impactful for the identified business outcomes.

It requires the HR leader to call “bull” on practices that have not been proven to be effective & have the courage of conviction to make others uncomfortable if they are wrong. This is tough stuff for many in HR – HR practitioners are not known for being either analytical or assertive.

When you develop a capability to be both, you will stand out. In some organizations, you won’t make it. In others, you will. The opportunity is to find those places that value what you have to offer – and then deliver!

#8. Analytical acumen for HR business partners

Luk: One of the challenges that organizations face when implementing an HR analytics strategy is the lack of competencies within HR departments on the managerial level to integrate this new mode of operations. What are the top skills HR professionals should polish up on in order to be more efficient in working with analytics and HR analytics teams?

Mark: Last year, I was cited in an article in HR Magazine entitled, “Analyze This”. In it, I share my perspective that there are 3 types of HR practitioners:

  1. Understands the value of analytics and can use it. It’s a very small percentage of the HR community
  2. Don’t necessarily get it, but wants to understand & use it. This is the majority of HR professionals;
  3. Don’t get it & don’t want it. These individuals would be better served working in other fields.

For groups #1 & 2, we can build skills, but this takes resources & time. For group #3, we are wasting our time.

HR has to begin at the source – hiring people who have the orientation & acumen to drive fact-based decision making in the organizations they serve. Development programs need to be focused on honing these skills – as much or more than the other skills considered critical to HR professionals. HR leaders must “up skill” themselves in talent analytics – and promote people who have done the same.

Certification boards – in the United States, this would be SHRM and HRCI – must make analytics a far bigger part of the competency model required of HR professionals. Right now, for all of the talk about talent analytics, I don’t see certification boards taking the lead in this area.

Lastly, senior leaders – CEOs, CFOs, and others – need to expect more from HR in terms of evidence-based programs & practices. I fear that for all of the talk about HR and analytics, it’s still much talk and little progress. Deloitte’s study – from 2015 – found that 75% of companies surveyed believe that using talent analytics resources is important but just 8% believe their organization is ‘strong’ in this area (with no progress versus 2014).

These types of numbers would never be tolerated in the sales, marketing, and operations functions within these companies, but it’s not an issue in HR?

As the CHRO of our organization, my CEO – righteously – is looking for me to lead. My opportunity: to focus on those opportunities that will drive the most strategically significant business (not just people) outcomes for the organization. When I do this, HR’s reputation is solidified in the organization and further opportunities will come our way. However, we have to “earn” the business.

Thanks a lot, Mark, for your great insights!

About Mark Berry (Connect with Mark via Twitter or via Linkedin)

mark berryMark Berry is a business HR leader and passionate proponent of evidence-based HR practices, who has first-hand experience establishing a successful “People Insights” function at a Fortune 200 consumer packaged goods company, as well as co-innovating in the development of a next-generation workforce planning technology platform.

Mark’s work has been honored with Bersin by Deloitte’s “WhatWorks” Award for Innovation in Talent Analytics and Workforce’s Optimas Award for Business Impact with Workforce Planning.

Mark got named as one of nine “HR Trendsetters” in the January 2015 issue of HR Magazine for his work in workforce analytics & planning. He has 20 years of HR experience (having started as a child) in food ingredients (ConAgra Foods), paper/packaging (International Paper) and chemical (Borden Chemical) industries, respectively, as well as 10 years of experience in applied psychology. In 2015, Mark has moved from his HR workforce planning & analytics role at ConAgra to the position of VP HR (and CHRO) at CGB Enterprises, Inc.

Mark holds B.A. & M.A. degrees in Psychology, as well as a M.B.A. with a concentration in Operations Management. Prior to his work in HR, Mark was a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP).

Mark resides in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife, Carolyn, and daughters, Hannah and Grace. In his free time, he engages in masochistic pursuits, such as ultra-endurance running, including a number of 50- and 100-mile trail races each year.

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Meet Mark Berry and Luk Smeyers at the People Analytics Conference 2016 in London

Both Mark Berry and Luk Smeyers will be presenting at the annual Tucana People Analytics Conference in London on April 27-28, 2016. For an overview of the Conference Agenda: go to the home page of the conference. Follow the latest news via #PA16LDN or @Tucana_HR.

Interested in getting started with HR Analytics?

Interested in using predictive HR analytics as a key component in your HR strategy? Get in touch with CEO and co-founder Luk Smeyers for more information: [email protected] or via Google+. Or follow iNostix on Twitter and/or Facebook for exciting international articles on HR analytics. And don’t forget to register for this blog!

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