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HR Pros Are the Unlikely Data Scientists in a Post-Pandemic World

Technological innovation within enterprise systems has come in leaps and bounds in recent years, and COVID-19 is only accelerating progression. As companies come under pressure to acclimate to an ever-changing landscape, the HR function will need to be the first to adapt.


Years of fundamental change in work patterns and approaches has been compressed into months, increasing the need for agile experimentation and innovation. Determining a strategy that's both adaptable and modernized is more critical than ever. However, frequently, alternatives demand a comprehensive transformation of existing legacy systems — a proposal that is a time-consuming, costly, and functionally unrealistic, “blocker.”

HR is the area most ready for reform. As COVID-19 restrictions start to ease up, HR will be doing the majority of the heavy lifting. But returning to siloed systems and relying on fragmented data will make adapting to the new normal that much harder. Obsolete legacy systems that still rely so heavily on manual integrations via spreadsheets within the HR function are howling for innovation. And, it's slowly materializing.

In 2019, organizations raised investment in HR technology by 29% — bolstering the entire HR technology market by 10%.

The predicament remains that while technological solutions certainly exist, the data-driven skill set required to use these solutions aren't typically held by HR professionals. After all, it isn't just outdated tech that needs overhauling. With adaptable, cross-functional employee skills acting as the foundation of future organizational design, HR professionals need to up their analytics game — spreadsheet skills aren’t enough. Because while the function isn't known as a haven for data scientists, the drive toward new technology demands it becomes one.

HR Will Take the Lead Post-COVID-19
Per the latest People Profession report from the CIPD, only 6% of HR professionals implement advanced analytical techniques when making decisions. Additionally, a further 37% of respondents use only the most basic HR data.

Not only did the CIPD study highlight the severe lack of analytical skills, but it also found that those who were less data-driven in their decision making viewed their work as less meaningful.

Fostering a data-driven approach to decision making by enhancing the skillsets of HR professionals and harnessing technological innovation, organizations can increase employee satisfaction and reinforce the company's bottom line. Moreover, by fostering data science skills within the function, HR not only become better people managers, but business strategists to boot.

Of course, when it comes to learning any skill, consistency is key. It’s believed that the half-life of technical skill is just two years, this means in two years, that skill is half as valuable. This being the case, HR professionals need to continually rehash and revise.

The report elaborates upon the importance of HR harnessing a data-driven approach, especially within a pandemic where productivity, working methods, and the economy as a whole, have been profoundly affected.

In recent months, organizations have had to make difficult decisions, considerably affecting their workforce. However, without an appropriate system to quantify siloed data, and with a weak analytical approach to data, these critical decisions are often based on inaccurate data interpretation and logic. This means that judgments have been reached without investigating all other viable options. If these decisions include redundancy, for example, employees will understandably demand to know whether all other alternatives have been thought of and deliberated. Without comprehensive central access to accurate data, this simple question is impossible to address.

When cost needs cutting, the knee-jerk reaction is redundancy. However, this isn’t always the most suitable course of action. Instead of severing payroll, HR should look to alternative means. If ESG is to mean anything, redundancy should always be a last resort. By providing comprehensive access to total rewards data that’s not limited to fixed compensation, but bonus, benefits, shares, options, pensions — along with the analytical skills to effectively comprehend it — HR  professionals can more efficiently scrutinize spend across the company and come to more complex but achievable cost-saving solutions based on fact. Particularly in the case of an economic shock caused by an unprecedented pandemic, this is vital. How tragic it would be for loyal, highly trained and experienced employees to lose their jobs, leaving their employers short of capacity when demand picks up, which might come sooner than we think.

This is a different kind of shock. A V-shape recovery remains a possibility.

Rewarding Performance
The rewards team stands to gain the most from HR's data-driven approach. The fact is, the reward function already employs a data-first method, simply because their role demands it. Rewards not only center on the lifecycle of employees from recruitment to severance, but on measures of productivity and performance as well. This being the case, factually accurate total rewards expenditure factored on an analytical foundation, is essential to the rewards team — a function deeply connected to any organization's bottom line.

As part of this change in methodology, soon, traditional rewards models, fixed hierarchies and organizational structures and pay grades will be a thing of the past. The progress to that coming reality has advanced since the pandemic struck.

All too often, organizations are left to rely on incomplete global platforms, locally procured technology or even spreadsheets. This is a vast efficiency gap that requires immediate patching, especially within global organizations that expect consistency, completeness, speed of access and accuracy in rewards across functions.

Organizations require a central hub to procure global total rewards data accurately and efficiently. One that's regularly monitored and leveraged as a single source of certainty.

Now is the time to improve the HR and rewards function, both in their technical approach and their people's analytical capabilities.

About the Author

Ken Charman Bio Image

Ken Charman is CEO of uFlexReward, a consolidated HR and rewards data platform providing organizations with a granular view of their total labor costs and a technology framework for managing the workforce of the future.

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