August 13, 2021

The Myths, Mystery, and Magic of Big Data in HR

The Myths, Mystery, and Magic of Big Data in HR

It’s time to address the elephant in the room — BIG data. We can feel you cringe through the screen. Here’s the deal — don’t. Your immediate reaction might be “OK, well it’s not that easy.” Look, we know. And you’re right. It isn’t. The thing is, simplifying big challenges is our specialty, so take a deep breath and keep reading. We have some change management strategies that can seriously help you confidently step into the world big data. 

BIG Data is Data

We’ve all been inundated and advertised with the power of big data and its impact. It creates a sense of overwhelming emotion because as practitioners, we don’t know where to start. Let’s say it a little louder for people in the back — WE DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START! And guess what? That is OK because you are not alone. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we must use data to make decisions. Plus, our executive leadership, managers, and employees are expecting us to do so. That is where the two of us come in. 

Let’s turn this confusion into an opportunity by understanding the mystery surrounding data, debunking the myths that come along with it, and learning about the magic in leveraging big data.

The Mystery of Big Data in HR

By definition, a mystery is “something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.” In today’s day and age, we have to quickly realize that this SHOULD NOT be our response as practitioners when it comes to data. Unfortunately, most of us have never been trained on how to understand it. Yet we shy away from it because we think we don’t know. As we’ve consulted with organizations around the world, there are some common barriers to understanding data, several we won’t give away here because we want to see you at our session at SHRM21, but a major one is having too many data sources to pull from.

Think about the last time you were asked to pull a report on productivity, engagement, or something as simple as turnover. How many places did you have to go to? How much time was spent? Did you have to manually manipulate the data? You see, many practitioners shy away from the difficulty because our process may be broken and “we just don’t have time.” It’s like a bad mystery novel or movie that we lose interest because it simply just takes too long.

The Myth of Big Data in HR

A myth is “a widely held but false belief or idea.” You see, a myth is a collective train of thought. Think about it like this, “If you only eat healthy, you’ll be a healthy individual.” Well that’s not actually true. The parody is “You need to have a healthy diet & exercise.” If either of us eats incredibly healthy but doesn’t move, we’re not really setting ourselves up for success. But we see these advertisements all the time.

The same goes for data. We believe it’s too complex or too difficult, thus limiting our ability to make rational decisions. The two of us have worked with companies of all sizes — from 50 people to 100,000+ people. What’s interesting is that the small companies think they have to be a large organization to start with big data and the large organizations revert to the belief that they’re too complex to simplify. 

Across the board, we have to reset our expectations versus the reality behind data. There’s a process for this managing this paradigm shift that we’ll dive into more during our SHRM21 session, but here is a teaser — do you know what is available and where your data resides? In our practice, people start to list several places and have a difficult time simplifying because their expectation is different from their reality.

The Magic of Big Data in HR

Can “magic” really be defined? Of course it can. For this application, magic is defined as “Something that has a delightfully unusual quality.” “Delightful” is probably not what comes to mind when you think about big data. Y’all, we were with you at one point. 

Here’s the deal, sometimes it takes a real magician to get the non-believers on board. Luckily, there are technology solutions and people out there who can take on the magical work of unveiling actionable insights from raw data. These data magicians help you as the HR leader maximize business outcomes. To do that, they must look at people data to determine how maximizing the employee experience can impact your organization’s bottom-line.

With the right combination of people and technology, you can finally get answers to your burning big data questions. “Are we looking in the right place? More importantly are we seeing the metrics and outcomes correlation?” It all starts with identifying what to measure. At the end of the day, where you start measuring, even the smallest of data, will turn into BIG data at some point over the course of time — that’s part of the magic.

Here are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to data:

Big Data Don’ts

  • Don’t get caught up in the term strategic data: Every pain point or positive can be used for strategy. Find out what your workforce needs are and use them for strategies around retention, culture, and engagement.
  • Don’t feel like you’re alone: You aren’t. This is one of the many steps in your career/life-work journey that will continue to evolve and make you a powerhouse in your role.
  • Don’t lose sight of your organizational goals: Keep it simple and ask yourself “Does this move the organization forward?” If yes, press on.

Big Data Do’s

  • Do measure, measure some more, and keep measuring: Start with things like turnover, retention, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Not only are these critical areas of unrealized profit loss but they can also be measured through spreadsheets or a quality HCM technology system.
  • Do visualize your data: Even with disparate systems or multiple data pulls, someone in your organization knows how to work with numbers. Have this individual create charts and graphs for easy consumption. Not all of us are numbers people, so lean on visual aids when needed.
  • Do start small and expand: Too often we think “we need to measure everything.” Although there’s some truth to that, by starting small you give yourself an opportunity to understand the whole process and innerworkings of your organization. THEN expand as you navigate decisions around this.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! On behalf of both of us and everyone at UKG, we would love for you to join us at SHRM 2021 Annual Conference for a deeper dive and a workable framework to help you navigate the overwhelming topic of big data in HR. Did we mention that we will also be doing this at UKG Works? Join us as we tell you the ins and outs of what true data decision-making means. Until then, we wish you and your organization the highest success.