HR experts call for integrated approach to people and data

The discussion was moderated by James Hurley, left, of The Times and included Natalie Cramp, CEO of Profusion, Stephen Frost, CEO of Included, and Louise Brown, Head of HR at HSBC

Leading HR professionals have called on HR teams to take an integrated approach towards data in order to maintain trust among employees. With research showing that 61% of employees are comfortable with being monitored in a transparent way, experts said that HR needs to keep human oversight in data-based decision making to provide safeguards and explain the context behind the numbers.

At an event hosted by data science company Profusion, attended by senior HR and business professionals, looking at the role data plays in HR and its potential to transform businesses, Louise Brown, Head of HR at HSBC, said that HR teams “need to tell the true story of data and not cherry pick in order to tell the business what they want to hear”. Natalie Cramp, CEO of Profusion, said that “data helps to give insights into, and make the case for, what needs to be changed in an organisation, but should never be automated”. It is important for leadership teams to “know the data, know the limitations of the data, and understand how it commercially attaches itself”, Louise Brown added.

HR leaders agreed that the vast majority of employees are actually comfortable with HR teams using more advanced analytics to monitor performance as long as it is transparent and they are given an element of control. Profusion’s recent survey of 1,000 workers supported this, showing that 61% or employees are comfortable with being monitored in the workplace, when done in a transparent way and with clear policies and procedures in place. Natalie Cramp noted that BAME employees are more likely (at 74%) to accept monitoring, with data helping to avoid biased personal decisions on promotions or recruitment processes for example.

The panel also addressed the issue of the great employment churn, with Profusion’s research finding that 40% of all employees are actively looking for a new role. The key drivers behind this were found to be flexibility and pay, with the cost of living rising, and the increased difficulty of creating connectivity between colleagues in a hybrid working environment.

Stephen Frost, CEO of Included, noted that “the role of the employer has changed with the personalisation of work, meaning that businesses need to be prepared to adapt to meet the needs and requirements of their team if they want to keep them”. He added that the simple step of asking the right questions in employee surveys can help to identify what employees are looking for. Natalie Cramp of Profusion commented that “companies can use data to predict risk factors of who is likely to leave – those that stop turning up to training, or start providing more negative feedback in surveys – and work out what will make a difference”.

On diversity and inclusion, the experts looked at data showing that BAME employees are more likely to change jobs than the average worker (by 53% to 34%). Stephen Frost commented that “minority groups are the most excluded from the locus in power, meaning that they feel less involved and less engaged”, adding that “it is disproportionately important to reach out to the least represented, as they are most likely to leave”.

Following the discussion, Natalie Cramp said: “At Profusion, we are passionate about the connectivity between data and its ability to transform businesses. HR has the capability to be the partner of the data team to drive the digital and data transformation of businesses. This event has shown how many HR professionals share our view that better use of data in HR could level the playing field and lead to fairer decision making. The task for employers is to ensure that they educate their workforce on their data rights, create transparent and clear processes, and ensure they act responsibly and fairly.”

“Currently, only a very small minority of companies use HR data to its full potential. Implemented correctly, a data-driven HR function can play a critical role in improving the wellbeing of staff, diversity and inclusion initiatives, employee retention, and also radically enhance business performance and efficiency. There is a clear opportunity for companies to rethink how they approach HR – for example, by making their next HR team hire a data specialist.”