Decisions today have become impossible without the right data. In a world where drowning in information is easier than actually pinpointing the data we need, Priya Sunil covers all stages of the people analytics journey through conversations with leaders who walk the analytics talk.

While I’m sure you’ve all heard the one-liner about numbers hiding as much as they reveal, I’m hoping you haven’t heard this one yet: “Statistics is the art of never having to say you’re wrong.” Perhaps the one-liner has some truth to it, as decisions today have become impossible without the right data.

In a world where information is easy to access, and in fact, available in a deluge, having the right data at your fingertips is the difference between a slow and uncertain decision versus a prompt and 90%-sure decision.

Against this backdrop, people analytics has become a hot topic among industry leaders today, with more businesses recognising the need for this approach. Wherever you are in your people analytics journey – be it in the awareness stage, the early stage of implementation, or at the later stage where you’re looking to revamp your existing model – this feature is for you.

Through conversations with leaders who walk the talk in the industry, this feature delves into the key questions you may have such as, does people analytics need a big team? Not necessarily, as you’ll learn through a chat with Daniel Kusmanto, ASM’s Global Head, HR Analytics. What challenges can you anticipate in the process? Tham Weng Yip, HR Lead, Talent Management and Projects, Brenntag Asia Pacific, tells us. But before all that, what do you need to first ask yourself before embarking on this journey, or revamping it? We find out from Sajjad Parmar, Head of Reward APAC, eBay.

How people analytics turns data into meaningful insights

Sajjad Parmar, Head of Reward APAC, eBay, believes before implementing a people analytics model, leaders need to ask the ‘why’ before working on the ‘what’. He shares his take on how companies are taking this approach today, in an interview with Priya Sunil.

What are the typical business needs which drive a firm’s people analytics model?

Having the right talent gives companies a competitive advantage. Much of the research on what worries CEOs is around having the right talent in the organisation and the skills to do critical jobs. If so, then getting the right talent, managing and engaging them will have a massive impact on companies’ ability to not only do well and grow, but to also sustain for the long term.

Every decision around people becomes important, especially when we think about the constant challenge around acquiring the best people for your organisation. A lot of decisions we make on people are based on data and facts – so, the better we get at decisions based on insights, the better the outcomes.

If people are a company’s biggest asset, then companies need to make sure what they do will have the best impact on both the company and their employees.

The adoption of people analytics arises from the need to do what is right for the business and its peopleincrease fairness and transparency; and looking at factors and variables that sometimes we, as humans, normally do not think about or appreciate.

After all, if we base our business decisions on business analytics, why shouldn’t we make people decisions based on people analytics?

Q In implementing a suitable analytics model, what challenges do companies tend to face?

There is no one-size-fits-all. Each company is unique and in different stages of maturity in its journey. While there are some standard analytics models that I think every company should look at, I do believe that each company must evaluate what kind of insights it needs to drive business performance through its talent, that is, the kind of talent management problems they have and what the key HR challenges are. The analytics model and framework need to then ensure they are meeting these needs.

There are two fundamental challenges that can come your way. First, the availability and accuracy of data. If we think about the availability of data, we assume that companies have data but, what about the quality of data? If the data going in is poor, incomplete and inaccurate, you cannot expect deep insights to come out of it.

Second is technology and the expertise to convert this data into insights. We have plenty of amazing tools and technology now that allow you to convert massive data sets into easy-to-understand visual tools. Thus, if you don’t have people with expertise in understanding data and technology, it will be a struggle. That is why you see this exponential increase in demand for data scientists and engineers, and numerous companies now coming up with analytics tools, given the high demand for such tools.

Q What advice would you give to firms looking to work on their people analytics model?

My first advice is to ask yourself this: What exactly am I looking to solve through the use of people analytics? There is no point in having a very fancy framework that gives 100 amazing visual reports if you don’t know how these reports will solve your business and HR challenges. Companies need to link the business strategy to the HR strategy, identify the issues, and then see what kind of data and insights will help them solve those.

You cannot solve all problems through data, but you can still get a lot out of it. The analytics approach has to be proactive rather than reactive.

You also need to ask the ‘why’ before you work on the ‘what’. Get people who understand data and can help create meaningful insights from the millions of data points.

Based on my personal experience, you can look at one data set in a variety of ways, which allows room for creativity – this field is not limited by any means. Ultimately, regardless of what model you choose, it must lead back to the original challenge you are trying to solve.

Last, as this is an evolving field, more technology and tools mean more data is created. You need a framework that allows companies to constantly monitor, adapt and evolve their analytics capability and reach. What works now will not work in two years’ time, even in how companies are thinking through their approach and constantly linking their analytics models to solve business and people challenges.


People, process, and system: ASM’s three pillars to a successful people analytics transformation journey

At the end of the day, transformation is not a big ‘bang’. It happens bit by bit via the small interactions with data and analytics that create the ‘aha’ moments daily, affirms Daniel Kusmanto, the firm’s Global Head, HR Analytics, in this interview with Priya Sunil.

ASM, a supplier of semiconductor process equipment for wafer processing, founded in the Netherlands, believes in the importance of starting right. So when it started a people analytics team in 2017, the team comprised just one full- time person – Daniel Kusmanto, the firm’s Global Head, HR Analytics. Why? He explains: “There are companies that come in with a big bang; you’ll suddenly see in the newspaper they hired a head, and a bunch of analysts. But at ASM, we believe people analytics is more like a transformation journey that grows organically. It’s a bit hard when you’ve started off big, and then you keep measuring the ROI. You might even lose the idea of people analytics being a journey and not a destination. After all, it is always good to travel light for a long journey, right?”

Undoubtedly, it is never easy to start off something that transforms the way decisions about people are made in an organisation. In line with that, he highlights the three key pillars of transformation – people, process, and system, emphasising the importance of HR and IT collaborating towards a common vision and moving forward as one in the analytics journey. “Without this alignment, it is an uphill battle to make progress.”

On this journey, people are the hardest to transform. How was this challenge tackled? “As in marketing, we started off by segregating our target population and transforming them progressively, starting with the HRBPs who were considered one of the most important allies and important stakeholders that can bring data and analytics to the discussion table with senior business leaders.”

In encouraging transformation, he believes the team should become more like an evangelist by continually promoting people analytics and recognising opportunities to embed people analytics in decision-making.

He adds: “The next equally important segment is the HR leadership team, following which, we should move beyond HR to people managers and eventually all employees.” In encouraging transformation, he believes the team should become more like an evangelist by continually promoting people analytics and recognising opportunities to embed people analytics in decision-making. “Whenever we’re in the midst of a casual talk or regular meeting with colleagues, they may mention an issue they are facing – it can be in retaining talent, recruitment or compensation. In these instances, it’s important to identify any opportunity where people analytics can help with. Something where data can give them an insight into what is happening and what they can possibly do,” he said.

“At the end of the day, transformation is not a big ‘bang’. It happens bit by bit via the small interactions with data and analytics that create the ‘aha’ moments daily.” Overall, he shares the transformation journey and the growth of people analytics at ASM has been “quite successful” and that although ROI is yet to be established in dollar-terms, there is still an impact on the business. “Looking back at where we started with HR data still scattered and not much opportunities to retrieve insights, to today, where the results of people analytics are being discussed at the highest level in the organisation, thus triggering cross- department initiatives – it is indeed great progress.”

However, he is quick to point out the firm is “not there yet”. In fact, he believes there are many more uncharted territories in the organisation where people analytics can play a more significant role, such as workforce planning, organisational effectiveness, and so on.

Moving forward, he emphasises that people analytics leaders, as disruptors to HR’s traditional way of working, are being disrupted as well by ready-made analytics capabilities that come with HR technology platforms.

“Hence, we need to move away from transactional analytics towards blending business knowledge, HR policy and practice, and data analysis to break down a generic business question on people (e.g. if we have more headcount, why are the machines still producing the same amount and how can we boost this?) to many granular questions that, in the end, can be answered (perhaps not at 100% confidence and it will be in terms of probability) with people data and analytics.”

We need to move away from transactional analytics towards blending business knowledge, HR policy and practice, and data analysis to break down a generic business question on people

How to create enriching career conversations through data

For Tham Weng Yip, HR Lead, Talent Management and Projects, Brenntag Asia Pacific, people analytics is about the ability to gather and combine data to tell meaningful stories and gain insights about a specific situation and about people. He shares more in this short interview with Priya Sunil.

What are the typical business needs which drive a firm’s people analytics model?

The needs vary, and include: boosting sales revenue; penetrating a new market; studying customer buying trends; measuring customer satisfaction levels; enhancing the current supply chain and distribution network; hiring and developing talent; succession planning; career management; reducing staff attrition; driving performance and company culture, and engaging a multigenerational workforce.

At Google, for instance, the firm’s Project Oxygen uses people analytics to uncover the practices of its best managers and provides coaching sessions for low performers. While at Dell, analytics is used to increase the success of its sales force.

At the same time, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) uses people analytics to identify the traits of great managers, and leverages that for their development. RBC also uses internal and customer data to diagnose reasons for the performing and non-performing branches, regions or product innovation.

Back home, Singapore is investing in becoming a SMART nation. The key pillars to support this are a digital economy, digital government, and digital society. Our people, our companies and our public agencies all have a role to play in this transformation by becoming a value-creating nation going forward, versus a value-adding one.

Overall, it is about the ability to gather and combine data to tell meaningful stories and gain insights about a specific situation and about people, while allowing you to plan interventions that will solve key organisational challenges and, ultimately, drive business outcomes.

Q Based on your experience across industries, what key factors form the basis of each industry’s needs?

People make things happen. It is an opportunity to create self-awareness for the organisation and employees around people analytics and what it can do for them, and, in doing so, engage them to play their part. It is also about understanding and gaining insights, for example, about people’s behaviours, forecasting trends and predicting events for better decision-making, to name some.

Understanding employees’ stories through data will enrich career conversations, by knowing their preferences, values and motivations. This is strategic in developing talent initiatives to achieve organisational goals, engaging the hearts and minds of employees, and building that ultimate employee experience that promotes the company brand.

Understanding employees’ stories through data will enrich career conversations, by knowing their preferences, values and motivations.

Q In implementing a suitable analytics model, what challenges do companies come across?

The first challenge lies in combining accurate and clean data from various systems, in order to mine valuable insights and interpretation of the employee’s behaviour and journey. Another challenge is in ensuring sound governance around how the data is processed, used and kept with compliance to the local data security and privacy policy.

In my view, the next challenge is around building understanding and commitment to change as part of the communication strategy and change management. Finally, the challenge also lies in developing the competencies and skills of the HR professionals and employees who use the data to support decision-making.

Q What advice would you give to firms looking to work on their people analytics model?

Firms intending to embark on this rewarding and exciting journey are advised to begin with a road map. Asking the right questions will lead to actionable insights, while setting a vision with clear goals provides clarity of direction about what you want to achieve. Organisations should also be able to identify the support required and assemble the team members who are passionate about analytics.

In managing the expectations and communicating the need for change, HR is presented with an opportunity to diagnose, and build understanding and commitment to change for the organisation. First, begin with one or two key initiatives that will solve key organisational challenges and witness the ROI in the journey to get buy-in, and establish credibility in the process.

Further, firms who wish to revamp their existing people analytics model are advised to look critically at what areas have worked well, what has not, and what can be stopped. The important takeaways are, overall, the rich lessons learnt as an organisation, as a team and as an individual through the experience. This will provide guidance in the road map for the next phase of your people analytics journey.

We are living in a data-driven economy. Data is now readily available, complemented by many tools being developed in the market to boost analytics capabilities and cater to the interest in big data. Progressive companies see the advantage of leveraging people data to make better decisions, managing people at work, and reaping the benefits of implementing a people analytics strategy.


This feature was published in Human Resources Online’s January-February 2020 edition of the Singapore magazine and will soon be published in the Q1 edition of the Malaysia magazine. Read the story in the magazine below:

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