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HUMAN RESOURCES- How to Transform HR Data Into Business Results- B-AIM PICK SELECTS

To move people analytics forward, people experts need the skills to ask the right questions of the data and turn those insights into a story that will engage, resonate, and encourage stakeholders to take action.

For most business professionals, being proficient at analytics remains a daunting task. With the rise in AI and machine learning, the job of using these effectively can feel impossible.

If you are a human resources professional who needs to leverage this kind of technology to help make better decisions about your organization's people, don't worry: you don't need to be a data scientist to impact your organization.

The real gap in moving people analytics forward lies, not just in getting more data scientists, but in giving the people experts the skills they need to ask the right questions of the data, and then turning those insights into a story that will engage, resonate, and encourage stakeholders to take action.

HR Business Partners (HRBPs) as Data Translators

It's this reason why, by 2026, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that demand for "data translators" in the United States alone may reach two to four million. Translators are not data scientists; instead, they bridge the technical expertise with the operational knowledge of marketing, supply chain, manufacturing, risk, and other frontline managers.

In the HR context, this means mapping statistics back to meaningful stories, such as how turnover impacts innovation, revenue, or customer satisfaction. Within HR, HRBPs are in the perfect position to play this role. Their mandate is to work closely with an organization's senior leaders to develop a people agenda that firmly supports the overall aims of the organization—my training on being an active business partner centered on asking the most powerful and impactful questions. As a data translator, we can now more effectively help answer those questions.

As we have found, successful people analytics adopters have taken an approach where statistics-heavy specialists will do the intensive part of the research. Still, the HRBPs will own the process of highlighting the impactful questions, and telling the story to inform and engage stakeholders on the answers.

Challenge of Working With Data

Even though an in-depth knowledge of programming languages and statistics is not necessary, there is still a learning curve for data-aspiring HRBPs. The challenge appears to be two-pronged: technical and strategic.

On the one hand, HRBPs have not finished the transformation to become more comfortable with metrics and data. While demands for this type of analysis and information are entering the mainstream, nonetheless, these demands represent a recent change for the human resources function.

The other challenge has less to do with numbers and more to do with understanding the business. "In my future research on people analytics enablement, I spoke with numerous organizations that reported less than 25% of their HRBPs understood the businesses they support. Instead of providing strategic insight, many HRBPs still operate more as administrative aides to the business and prefer to handle employee relations problems," writes Lexy Martin, a respected thought leader on HR technology adoption.

Becoming more business and numbers-savvy is no easy feat. But here are some tips you can start using today:

Start the Journey

Becoming savvy in your business is a journey of constant exploration. Markets change, business strategies change, and competitors rise and fall. You cannot know it all nor become an expert overnight. So make having conversations with a diverse set of business leaders across your organization a priority. Be curious and understand what matters most to them and how people impact their success.

Measure What Matters

When it comes to being data-driven, you don't need to boil the ocean right away. Start by finding something specific (such as turnover) that you care about. Dig deep enough to become an expert on the topic by gaining an understanding of how the data changes over time, by tenure, for high or low performers. What patterns can you discover in the data?

Connect to the Business

HR leaders know the importance of understanding the business. Oftentimes, not getting that aligned with the data will send you off into a discussion that is not important. Asking the powerful right question is at the heart of being a great business partner, and working with data is no different. How does diversity impact hiring? How does hiring impact our business? Data on people goes from interesting to business-critical when you can connect people's decisions to business outcomes.

Walk Away From the Data

One of the top experts in the field of data storytelling is Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic. Before becoming the bestselling author of Storytelling With Data, she spent over a decade refining her skills through analytical roles in banking, private equity, and at Google.

Speaking at Visier Outsmart, a conference for data-driven leaders, Knaflic demonstrated how a story arc forms a bridge from our short term memory to our long term memory.

It can be challenging to distill the data into a tidy narrative structure. But as Knaflic recommends, once the analysis is complete, put all the data aside and talk it over with a colleague. Remember that data is evidence, and you have to tell the story to win the case. Stories are how we engage people, and in the case of data, you need to act like an investigative journalist - a data journalist who tells their story with data.

Include "So That" in Your Statements

Also, during Visier's Outsmart, Dave Ulrich (widely known as the father of modern HR) shared a little trick to ensure you are connecting your insights to the business. If you want business leaders to pay attention, include the phrase "so that" in reviewing and sharing your story. Business leaders are looking for business impact and asking, "so that" forces you to understand and explain the effects. But the phrase also makes people pay closer attention because conclusions force them to evaluate whether they agree or disagree with your findings. Remember, you are the expert, so share your expertise rather than just the data presented in a strictly factual manner.

Prompt with a Question

One of the best ways to contextualize data is to start from the business question. We use data to help us make better decisions. It is evidence that informs our choices, but without understanding what decision we are making or what challenges we are facing, you cannot apply the right data to the right problem. The easiest way to make this connection is to start with the right question.

For example, when evaluating compensation, there can be many opportunities. Are you concerned you are paying above or below the market? Is it impacting your ability to hire? That you are not fostering a pay for performance culture? Which question you are focusing on can both narrow the data work, but just as importantly, it makes it easy for your audience to participate in the discussion and decision.

The demand for people analytics skills is not going away any time soon. Today the HR team is no longer asked to provide data; Instead, it is requested to provide input on what the data means as well as recommendations for interventions. This is only going to continue, as studies have shown that "people analytics" was one of the fields with the highest increase in expected impact among HR professionals. By empowering HRBPs with data now, organizations can be prepared to tackle the future of work head-on.

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