Header Image
Header Image
Star Interview

Josh Bersin
on data


HR guru and consultant Josh Bersin reveals just how powerful people data can be when it comes to making key business decisions and working through a global crisis...

Words by Jade Burke | Design by Matt Bonnar

 

Data analytics has fast become a core part of HR practise. Designed to provide employers with more information when it comes to employee engagement, business operations and overall performance, being able to gather data and appropriately analyse it is crucial for any organisation. And it seems employers are starting to understand just how important data is. In 2019, Thomsons Online Benefits revealed that global organisations have increased their focus on upskilling HR teams to help unlock more people data. The results found that 43% of firms now have people analytics teams – up from eight per cent just three years ago.

Elsewhere, a report entitled The Innovation Generation: The Big HR Tech Disconnect, which surveyed 60 HR decision-makers from UK-based global companies, discovered that 70% have chosen to upskill their existing HR team members with data skills - with 22% claiming they plan on upskilling HR staff over the next 12 months. While these statistics are promising, 2019 research by YouGov revealed that 44% of the 500 UK businesses it surveyed maintained no focus on HR analytics.

Despite this, HR consultant Josh Bersin believes that any HR professional worth their salt must harness data if they are to have a successful career in the sector. In an exclusive interview with HR Grapevine, he explains: “I think there’s a basic business acumen that is required in order to be successful in HR right now. People who are frightened of data are probably frightened because they haven’t had a background in it or are intimidated by maths. It’s about being comfortable with financial numbers and feeling less intimidated by this.”

Who is Josh Bersin?

  • Bersin founded his company Bersin & Associates, a provider of research-based membership programmes in human resources, talent and learning.
  • He is a global research analyst, author and public speaker. Writing on his website he says: “I also advise a variety of HR and learning companies to help them align their products and services toward the needs of corporate buyers.”
  • The author has penned several books including The Blended Learning Book, The Training Measurement Book and The Pre-hire Assessment Handbook.
 

Evolution of data

Certainly businesses have started to recognise how data can make a difference. Bersin highlights that over the last 20 years there has been an increased understanding that the people data in a company is probably just as important, if not more, than financial data. “Historically companies spent a lot of money on financial, operation and supply chain data and people data was locked down in an HR system – nobody spent a lot of time looking at it,” he explains. “Then there was an evolution of what was originally called HR analytics – it would start to do a better job of analysing retention, pay, diversity, talent metrics. Then, maybe a decade ago, we came up with this new concept called people analytics.”

However, Bersin points out that people analytics isn’t HR analytics as the two are vastly different. People analytics measures data reactive to a company, such as people not being aligned with one another, why sales may be down, or why retention has dropped, for example. He continues: “All of those business questions have a people dimension so we now have a domain in HR where people analytics is crossing HR with the business, which is really where it should be. Eventually what I think will happen is the analytics of people will be in operations and it won’t even be in HR anymore. We are reaching a stage where it goes from HR analytics to people analytics to analytics.”

This is the time it all went from being a nice-to-do to we must do it now

How will people data change in the future?

According to Bersin there are three key changes set to impact analytics. These include:

  • “The first is it is going in real-time, meaning a lot of this data now is minute-by-minute, day by day – what’s going on today.”
  • “The second is the explosion of different forms of data. It isn’t just how much somebody is paid or what the turnover rate is. Now we have text pulled data from comments and natural language processing data that is coming in from surveys. That is a big part of analytics and understanding the sentiment and conversational data that’s coming in.”
  • “The third is AI. AI and analytics now fit together because AI is essentially software that makes decisions based on data, so an AI tool, AI dashboard or AI system is all based on analytics.”

How will people data change in the future?

According to Bersin there are three key changes set to impact analytics. These include:

  • “The first is it is going in real-time, meaning a lot of this data now is minute-by-minute, day by day – what’s going on today.”
  • “The second is the explosion of different forms of data. It isn’t just how much somebody is paid or what the turnover rate is. Now we have text pulled data from comments and natural language processing data that is coming in from surveys. That is a big part of analytics and understanding the sentiment and conversational data that’s coming in.”
  • “The third is AI. AI and analytics now fit together because in the domain of AI is essentially software that makes decisions based on data, so an AI tool, AI dashboard or AI system is all based on analytics.”

Data in a crisis

This rise in the importance and use of data leads Bersin to share how he believes data can be crucial during a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak, which has grounded business as usual, as many countries go on lockdown in order to help stop the spread of the virus, leads Bersin to claim that data can be a fundamental tool that many companies should harness during unprecedented times such as these. “Right now, in the coronavirus crisis, the companies that have been investing in good people analytics and infrastructure are able to identify who the people are that are located in Italy, who are the most effected, what age groups are most effected, where are those people, what do we need to do to help them, who’s working from home and who’s not,” he explains.

“So that is real-time resilience response systems that need this kind of data, so we have been through quite a journey talking about this topic for a few years and now it’s moving into a very significant important part of HR.”

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instructed employees to work from home where possible, while schools, pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities such as cinemas and gyms have all been closed under lockdown rules. This placed immense pressure on businesses as they had so shut up shop, resulting in a lack of income and profits, however the UK Government has since put in place new measurers including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is an HMRC grant that will cover 80% of employees’ wages. With this in mind, Bersin believes it is essential for employers to carry out daily meetings in order to track and monitor people data. He goes on: “You need to have almost a daily meeting to look at the data of your company and what’s changing form the day before.

“Some companies are having strikes now because their employees don’t feel safe coming to work, so all of that data is real-time. The current analysts that have been doing this for a while are being told to show up at the daily operations meeting, ‘to tell us what’s new’, which can range from all sorts of things from the health information, to the retention of people, the location of people, and the various labour issues. This is the time it all went from being a nice-to-do to we must do it now.”

 
 

One of the most important sources of data is what’s happening today, what’s happening this week, what happened this month and not what’s happened over the last two years

Gaining knowledge

It’s clear that Bersin believes having access to data and being able to understand it is now a fundamental skill every HR leader should be harnessing. A 2018 report released by Fast Company highlighted this. Quoting a previous HROS report, Fast Company findings revealed that people analytics was the field with the highest increase in expected impact (22%) among HR professionals, with 48% of sharing that their employers had plans in place to invest in people analytics software over the next three years. But how exactly should HR be sourcing this people data in the first place?

Bersin states that this can be found in the most simple of places such as the payroll system, which can reveal information such as how old an employee is, to how many years they have worked at the business for. In addition, he notes how crucial engagement or pulse surveys are as they house mountains of data. “It’s common for most companies to have regular engagement and pulse surveys and if you don’t there are a lot of incredible tools for that,” Bersin says, “so I would make sure that is well operating and running because right now, as things change quickly, one of the most important sources of data is what’s happening today, what’s happening this week, what happened this month and not what’s happened over the last two years – there’s more of a demand for that.”

 

If you have a crisis like this and you don’t have the data, you are going to be scrambling to make those decisions

Taking the plunge

For those still on the fence when it comes to people data, Bersin implores HR leaders to take a look at the current economic disruption to understand how analytics can really help a business succeed and look after its staff appropriately. Plus, with so many platforms currently available to buy, that also house good analytics systems, never before has it been easier for HR to take the plunge and embrace data.

“Look at what’s going on right now; you have this massive economic disruption with stores closing and people unable to come to work, so how do you make decisions? You need data. You need to know the business people, the CEO and CFO need to know how many people are affected by this, what are the revenues, what do we have to do to stay profitable, what if we run out of cash – all of those decisions are going to be made in real-time and so if you have a crisis like this and you don’t have the data, you are going to be scrambling to make those decisions,” he concludes.

 

More from this issue
L&D
Future-proofing leadership development training and learning experiences
Ken Blanchard

Future-proofing leadership development training and learning experiences

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Efficiency
Free HR from unnecessary admin and get set for growth
EPI-USE UK Ltd

Free HR from unnecessary admin and get set for growth

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Cover Feature
Inside BP's data-driven talent pipeline
BP

Inside BP's data-driven talent pipeline

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd