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HR is learning to harness predictive analytics to unlock the right insights and make better human resource decisions.


The age of big data has dawned. Gone are the days when HR relied on guesswork and intuition. Using regular performance reviews and satisfaction surveys, talent management is looking a lot more robust in the data department.

But just how well is this data being put to use? Why is it still so difficult to foresee trends, predict resignations and prevent turnover? Could it be that all these measurement tools are doing are spitting out last week’s lottery tickets?

Think back to Back to the Future II, where Marty McFly’s archenemy Biff Tannen used an almanac of sports statistics to make his past-self rich beyond belief. Timing mattered: what was just an ordinary magazine in 2015 was a holy grail for sports betting in 1955.

That’s the trick with data. You may be sitting on a mountain of performance reviews large enough to rival Smaug’s horde, but if you don’t have the context to interpret it properly, it just sits there gathering up dust. Context is what turns data into insights. Put tomorrow’s lottery numbers or sports scores in your hand today, and you’re golden. That’s where analytics comes in. While not quite as effective as Biff’s almanac from the future, they can be astoundingly accurate.

Take Google, everyone’s favourite example of data-driven talent management. Before analytics was even a speck in the eye of most HR managers, Google had founded its People Analytics division, aimed at using predictive analytics to make smarter HR decisions.
People Analytics came up with its own version of Biff’s almanac – an equation designed to predict future promotions. The equation was found to have a 90% accuracy rate – a damn sight better than your uncle’s system for picking out lottery numbers.

Impressive, but there’s a reason you hear more about Google’s awesome work environment than its robotic equation used to hire and fire people. The team ended up throwing it out. Instead, they took what they had learned and created a people-driven model that used data to make work life better and more sustainable for its employees.

Like Doc Brown reminds Marty in the movie, time travel can be dangerous. Yes, Google’s people management is heavily data-driven, but not at the expense of commitment to responsible citizenship.

In real life, HR departments need to be aware of just how ethically they’re using data, to avoid becoming a Biff to their own employees. Nobody likes being seen as just a set of data points.
So what makes for a good data-driven HR system? A blend of predictive analytics and the ability to actively engage with employees. Analytics models are only as strong as the data that you put into them, and you’re more likely to get accurate information from people who trust what you’re going to do with it.

So if you want to ask yourself why your achingly expensive talent management system isn’t giving you the value you need, it may be time to stop dwelling in the days of data past and take a DeLorean trip to the future of analytics-based HR.