How Important is Data Analytics to HR?

07/04/2017
What skills are no longer nice-to-have in HR? HQ Asia speaks with Jesper Helt, CHRO data protection and information management software company, Commvault. He shares insights into building and buying talent, the HR function of the future and the changing role of c-suites.

Nowadays, your company can track how active you are on LinkedIn, can assign a numerical value to how likely you are to be looking for a new position, or even how open you are to being a passive job seeker. Big data and data science are transforming the HR profession: talent acquisition specialists can write code to automate their LinkedIn searches so that they can perform their job faster and better.

This brings up an ethical dilemma: how much is too much information for a company to hold in its proverbial hands? Is it fair that your company can know how likely you are to leave in the next six months? And if so, what do you do with that information?

HQ Asia sat down with Jesper Helt, Global CHRO of Commvault, a leading data protection and information management software company. By grappling with these topics, we talked about the future of HR, what skills will be needed, and how the responsibility of the company has morphed yet again.

The Changing Role of the C-Suite

Over the last 10 to 15 years, the role of the c-suite has been redefined as new things become important, such as prevalence of data. “No c-suite can survive without data. Most executives recognise big data and predictive analytics as the next frontier of building competitive advantage, however most of us are also struggling to understand what that exactly means,” explains Helt. “We need to enable and create environments that leverage unstructured data.” One change that Helt notes is that data scientists are becoming part of the DNA of all parts of an enterprise – not just development but across sales, customer support, marketing, finance and HR.

Another change is the need to shift the mindset of the company and its leaders – nowadays they are being assessed and evaluated constantly. “Leaders need to be authentic and transparent,” says Helt. Not that these weren’t always valued traits, but nowadays with always-updated review sites, leaders need to be much more mindful of both their and the company’s talent brand positioning and their joint role in creating it.

According to Helt, the relationship between c-suite members should be reciprocal. “This is the ideal – that all of the c-suite can serve as a sounding board and coach for his or her peers,” he explains. Helt himself seeks to serve as a trusted adviser to the c-suite and he openly gives feedback. “In return, I also expect and seek out the same from my peers. In this way we all become better leaders and company ambassadors,” he says. 

How HR can Better Leverage Data

Currently, companies like Commvault are capturing and protecting data. The next step is how to create an active asset of ‘dead‘ data.

When asked for best practices for HR executives, Helt advises the following for how to get on the journey to better leverage data to deliver value:

  1. Build analytical capability. Cross-pollinate the HR team with analytical talent from functions such as finance or business operations and challenge the team to know their data and come up with new ways to capture and analyse data.
  2. Acknowledge what you don’t know. Bring in data scientists to help innovate, automate and structure existing and the many new data sources, like filling the top of the candidate funnel through writing code for LinkedIn.
  3. Pushing entrepreneurship to the personal level. Encourage employees to think bigger than their level, push the envelope and themselves into the ‘discomfort zone’.

Historically, HR has used data to track progress and the perception of and by employees. Think of yearly performance reviews, employee engagement surveys and 360-degree feedback. But what happens when data is used predictively? Commvault, along with many talent acquisition teams, now have a member who writes code to automate the talent search on sites like LinkedIn.

The future of HR involves having to answer questions like how much information is too much? And how much do we really want to track our employees? Because it’s already possible to use data to predict how likely an employee is to leave and how active they are on professional sites like LinkedIn. According to Helt, the best way to manage this ethical dilemma is by having an opt-in feature for employees. By agreeing to have data like this tracked, HR can be proactive when they start to see signs of disengagement or burnout.

Lastly, Helt’s advice for leaders leading in the digital economy is to build up the capabilities you don’t have or don’t know, be aware that everybody is watching and that nothing is gained by not being transparent, and allow time for mistakes and risk when building up a new talent arm like data science. “There are those who get on the digital train and those who don’t,“ says Helt.

Learnings from a Leader

“HR serves as the guardian of everything people and culture,” explains Helt. When he joined Commvault, the CEO, Bob Hammer, was looking for a Silicon Vally HR leader because of Commvault’s reputation as a traditional company and the need to compete with all the big name talent brands for tech talent. Now part of Helt’s role is to shape the culture. He asks questions like how do we scale culture? What are we about? and What people-investments do we need to make?

Gone are the days when a company’s brand was defined by communication strategists or even how the leadership wants them to be seen. A company’s brand is defined by its online presence, by how people rate and review the company on sites like Glassdoor, by its Facebook likes and engagement. Helt explains that more than ever before, companies need to be authentic and transparent. “No one can hide, especially not on social media. Anyone can search for your organisation to get an instant peak at the employee experience, and your online profile is a crucial asset and needs to be invested in and managed as such” he explains. To define this, Helt suggests asking questions like what do we, as a company, stand for and how do we ensure it is felt throughout the organisation? For Commvault, it is fundamentally about happiness at work. It’s about creating an environment where innovation is pushed to the individual, learning and growth is a daily endeavour, people can flex their strengths and feed off each other with a sense of purpose, pride and fun.  They are also striving to get a better gender balance in roles and investing in women in technology.

When asked for book recommendations and books that he turns to, Helt shared how much he learned from reading Work Rules by Lazlo Bock, the former head of HR Operations at Google. “It’s a piece of thought leadership and really makes you realise how and why Google have changed so many of the old taken for granted people practices…it ultimately comes down to equal parts innovation and keeping an open mind/questioning but also what the data would suggest,” he explains. Helt also points out that Google is a classic example of a company with data science embedded into its DNA. “By using data to drive HR-decision, a company like Google ultimately disproved many of the paradigms on how to create high-performing teams and organisations,” Helt says. “A definite must-read for any modern day HR practitioner.” 

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