How did you get into a career in People Analytics?
Unintentionally! I've always been curious (nosey) and a recent personality test told me my top strength was 'Analytical' so I have some great leaders to thank for spotting that early and giving me the freedom to experiment with different reports and data sources and also a platform to share my findings with key decision makers.
As a generalist HR administrator I would find time to include 'extras' alongside the standard monthly reporting. For example, one month I explored trends in our leaver data and found that half of all new recruits in one particular department left after less than two years with the business.
It was these extras that started a 'pull' for data from other areas, rather than something HR would 'push' out each month. People analytics quickly went from a small transactional part of my role, to nearly all of my role over the space of a few months.
What are the key responsibilities in your role?
My role is mainly concerned with compensation & benefits, which in itself contains a good deal of analysis; but I would carve People Analytics up into two parts:
Calendar Reporting is the regular high-level stuff - KPIs and trends to leadership and relevant data cuts (e.g. lists of employee names) to different areas of the business. It's important but repetitive so there are rarely any surprises.
Ad-Hoc Reporting is the more strategic stuff where things get interesting - this could mean looking at 5 years' worth of absence data to consider a change in a policy or looking at the size and structure of departments in comparison with external market data. It also includes mandatory reporting like Gender Pay Gap Reporting and CEO Pay Gap Reporting.
Describe a typical day.
A typical day could involve any number of data requests or none at all. Someone might ask me for a simple present-state report straight out of the system, whilst another might want employee turnover and leaver analysis for a department over a number of years. Requests are so varied that I'm often finding myself experimenting with new formulae or new reports trying to get to some meaningful insight
Most presentable pieces of analysis do take a number of days to complete. A funny but quite common one is when people just say "Can I have some HR data for my team?" so you do have some control over your workload by going into as much or as little detail as you can accommodate in these cases!
What skills are needed for this role?
It's in the name, you absolutely must be analytical. You always have to question why something could be as it is, and once you think you've found a reason or reasons, you have to ask why again!
It helps to be curious because this keeps it interesting for you. Don't wait for people to tell you what to analyse and don't stop at the basics when they do. Word of warning though, it's best to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way round - so if you think there might be a connection between age group and the people leaving the business, go and find out!
Another important skill is that you need to be able to relate to others; what we might find fascinating as analysts could be an absolute snore-fest for others! You need to tailor your conclusions to your audience. A managing director usually wants the bottom line first. Start telling them about the incredible formula you just wrote and you'll lose their attention (and more importantly, your message) very quickly.
On the theme of relating to others; I always keep my conclusions factual and free from opinion unless it is invited. We might see a high number of leavers in one department and think that's bad, but if that department is no longer very profitable or their workload is drying up, this natural attrition might be helpful in avoiding redundancies later on.
What challenges do you face in this role?
'Dirty' data: Data with errors, missing data, incorrect data and a lack of available data.
Information in HR systems is gathered from a number of places and usually involves a lot of human input... consider yourself lucky if it's in a system at all! Some processes are run completely on spreadsheets with no validation so are prone to human error, duplication and inconsistency. Trying to clean these sources up before reporting is always more time-consuming than the analysis itself. It can be frustrating when it falls to us to clean up ahead of a deadline, but as the saying goes "garbage in, garbage out" - you can have the fanciest macros and pivot tables, glossy graphs and stunning visuals but if your source data is poor your conclusions are, at best, inaccurate.
What keeps you motivated to go into work every day?
I really enjoy contributing to the 'so what?' once the data is out there in front of business leaders. HR sometimes struggles to influence all of its stakeholders, so it's great to provide evidence which usually gets the business partnering strategically with HR to come up with plans which invariably improve people's working lives.
What advice would you give someone considering a career in People Analytics?
Always stick to the brief and provide all the analysis that was requested, but also think about other questions you could ask of the same data set and come up with some additional analysis to prove or disprove other possible causes.
The above being said, don't waste too much time trying to add extras into your report if the source data is poor or if the analysis is too difficult for you to handle right now. You can learn later (there are some amazing Excel communities on the web)
Keep your visuals really tidy and minimal - less is more! Can't stress this enough, don't go touching those nasty 3D effects!!
Experiment with different styles and ways of displaying or presenting your analysis. Save templates so that you can quickly adapt past pieces for future work.
Always consider the external market, this brings context to your analysis and really makes your figures mean something. The CIPD has some fantastic resources in the Knowledge Hub so this is usually a great starting point for me.
There’s much more to our profession than HR and L&D – which area would you like to specialise in?
Information and guidance to help you excel in your role, transition into the profession, and manage a career break
Read the CIPD’s November 2023 submission to His Majesty’s Treasury