photo of Mark Berry, on where he is an Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

Mark Berry, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

“Run if you can. Walk if you have to. Crawl if you must. Just don’t quit.”

Those words – from Dean Karnazes’ book, “Ultramarathon Man” – were uttered to Dean by his father as Dean was attempting to finish his first 100 mile race. He was only a few miles from the finish line of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run – one of the toughest trail races in the world. At the time, Karnazes was – literally – crawling down the middle of the road, uncertain he would make it to the finish. His father’s words – “run…walk…crawl…” – motivated and inspired Dean to finish the race and were words relived in countless other ultramarathon events.

Five years ago, in a company far, far away, I began the process of building an evidence-based capability within the HR organization of a Fortune 200 company. Although we started small, we had big aspirations and – over the course of the months and years – were able to lay the groundwork for evidence-based human resources. Through the course of that journey, I – mentally – referenced what I had read in “Ultramarathon Man” and what I had experienced in countless ultramarathon events of my own – “Run if you can. Walk if you have to. Crawl if you must. Just don’t quit”.

Since beginning that journey, the most often-asked question I receive is encapsulated in one simple word, “How?” People – especially HR peers in organizations that lack capabilities in fact-based decision making, good self-service & on-demand descriptive analytics, workforce planning, and inferential or predictive analytics – want to know “how” – “how” to obtain the support of senior leadership, “how” to initiate the work, and “how” to get traction with evidence-based decision making within their respective organization. Honestly, these are the questions that need to be answered before even considering the journey. Failure to do so will – at the very least – complicate the journey and – at its worst – virtually guarantee its failure. What I learned as I embarked on the journey may not be applicable to all organizations, but in many, the steps on the journey are common, repeatable, and will result in success if followed.

A Roadmap for Evidence-Based Implementation

“Evidenced-based HR” and “HR analytics” are not synonymous terms. Evidence-based HR is really about changing how HR addresses – using data, metrics, analytics, and insights – decision making regarding critical business issues affecting people. HR analytics – on the other hand – is a discipline within HR (and an important one within organizations that aspire to embrace evidence-based HR practices) that helps to support evidence-based HR practices. “Evidence-based HR” – in the truest sense – is the collective effort of leaders in HR organizations to transform how HR makes decisions, focusing more on data, analytics, and facts than feelings, beliefs, and intuition. How do you begin the journey? Here are some practical considerations.

As I noted, no two organizations will – necessarily – follow the same steps in the process of implementing evidence-based HR, but here are some of the steps I undertook (with lots of running, walking, and crawling through the process):

  1. Prepare a compelling story, relevant to the business in which you operate. Paint a panoramic picture of what “success” will look like – as well as what the more immediate, short-term “wins” will be.
  2. Get senior leadership sponsorship…or don’t move forward. Recognize that – initially – “support” does not equal full comprehension.
  3. Don’t neglect the critical, foundational issues – customers, data, technology, and acumen. Due diligence must be done to ensure that you understand your customer
  4. Solve for the immediate needs of the organization. It’s great to be aspirational – but don’t allow your failure to focus on the immediate opportunities cause you to be perceived as delusional.
  5. Minimize major investments in consultants or technology. Yes, consultants are smart and the technologies are cool, but you don’t need them to succeed short-term (and they may – in fact – adversely affect your success).
  6. Leverage good will from solving for the immediate needs to expand the work being undertaken. Addressing pressing issues that are easy to solve will be “equity” for your practice and good will with your stakeholders you can use to “fund” future work.
  7. Look for opportunities where others have feared to tread. Don’t be afraid of going after something that has derailed others. Just be careful how you do it. It might derail you as well.
  8. Recognize that there are no “islands of excellence” in an “ocean of incapability”. Workforce analytics “centers of expertise” are cool, but you’ll never drive significant, sustainable organizational change if you don’t engage the broader “network of expertise” – others in HR who “get it”.
  9. Continue to tell the story – and stories – of how evidence-based decision making drives relevance and results in HR. Your role is not only as a purveyor of workforce analytics, but as the “PT Barnum” of analytics. Learn to approach this as the business approaches product marketing – leverage the capabilities of your marketing folks to build your team’s brand equity.
  10. Grow as you go. What’s important is not a PhD in I/O, statistics or mathematics – it’s about passion, purpose, and perspective. You don’t need to be a master of workforce analytics or planning to begin to build your practice. You simply need to be one step ahead of your smartest customer.

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