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

Mark Berry, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

The right HR leader can play a vital role in enabling workforce analytics initiatives. Effective sponsorship will ensure that an analytics initiative has the support required to succeed, the resources – both people & technology – to be impactful, the support to create & communicate a clear, compelling vision, and the leeway to focus its attention on key business challenges or issues.

Conversely, the wrong HR leader can help to kill a talent analytics initiative before its first breath. With the best of intentions, a misguided leader will – intentionally or not – engage in behaviors that virtually guarantee the failure (or significantly impeded the traction) of future workforce analytics initiatives. In some cases, these errors are committed with the best of intentions. In other cases, good intentions are not the issue, but rather ignorance, naivety, or hubris (or a combination of the three) play a role.

If you – as a HR leader – want to really support your organization’s HR analytics efforts, there are specific things – “sins”, if you will – you should seek to avoid. Granted, “sin” may be a strong word, but – hey – it got your attention and may have influenced your desire to read this! However, these are dynamics that – if you can avoid them – help set up your workforce analytics initiatives for success.

So, in no particular order, here are seven dynamics that can surely make analytics initiatives more difficult (or set the stage for failure at inception):

  1. “Burger King” – Having It Your Way (and Changing “Your Way” at a Whim)
  2. “Teacher’s Pet” – Solving for Your Pet Issue
  3. “Penny Wise and…” – Refusing to Invest Strategically
  4. “Headcount Neutral” – Requiring Cuts in Other Areas to Fund Analytics
  5. “Other Duties as Assigned” – Making Analytics a Leader’s Part-time Role
  6. “Dummying Down” – Assigning Analytics to Report to a “Less Analytically Inclined” Leader
  7. “Know It All” – Believing You are the Person to “Sell” Analytics

“Burger King” – Having It Your Way

This is one of the most common issues – a senior leader decides that analytics is going to support their “vision” – which (unfortunately) is often no more than a better way to see my “dashboard” or “scorecard” or to demonstrate that, “I’m doing what I said I’ve been doing (or – actually – “Others are doing what I said I was doing”). It’s not about measuring the most relevant people-focused business drivers, but rather providing a more technologically sophisticated “veneer” on their “pet” metric, report, scorecard, or dashboard.

Compounding this is the leader who can’t fix on a given objective or set of objectives, but instead change their “order” as one might change what they order from one trip to Burger King to another. They start out with no vision regarding what they want and then – in the absence of any clear vision – their interests shift from one metric to the next ad nauseum. Those who are lovers of the “Burger King” approach to analytics don’t want insights necessarily; as much as anything, they’re good with whatever they have a whim to measure at any given time. Unfortunately, in attempting to simply re-create what they already have, they stifle the ability of their HR analytics’ team to deliver strategically significant insights.

“Teacher’s Pet” – Solving for Your Own Pet Issues

“Teacher’s Pet” is quite similar to the preceding characteristic. The difference – it’s focused on furthering a specific agenda. Most commonly, you see this in the HR leader who supports analytics in order to “prove” or “validate” that their favorite pet project is yielding the promised results.

HR analytics can also be hijacked by the leader who is seeking to show others where there are deficiencies in the organization (rarely or never their own) – or in those of other leaders. In this case, it’s all about “analytics by vendetta” – with the focus being shining the light on a colleague’s people issues, not only providing compelling, enterprise-relevant insights about their people.

Either approach (“proving” the value of ‘pet’ projects or “torpedoing” an adversary’s project) is detrimental to the efforts of your workforce analytics initiative. How? Nothing kills the credibility of workforce analytics faster than it being perceived as an “arm” of a self-promoting leader.

“Penny Wise and…” – Refusing to Invest Strategically

This is most commonly observed with leaders who attempt to initiate analytics programs by requiring that their team use inadequate technology. It’s not that workforce analytics initiatives require necessarily require significant investments. However, there is – in most cases – incremental investments, whether they are people or technology-related.

This is often most apparent in organizations where a senior HR leader will not support any incremental investments, requiring the workforce analytics leader to beg, borrow, or – God forbid – steal the resources necessary. Bottom line: they don’t have confidence in the value of the initiative and hence don’t want to risk any of their own financial – or political – capital.

“Headcount Neutral” – Requiring Cuts in Other Areas to Fund Analytics

This is very similar to “Penny Wise”; the primary difference being that leaders who embrace “headcount neutrality” – deliberately or otherwise – put analytics in a “no win” situation, competing for limited resources (people, dollars, technology, etc.) with their peers (who are – like HR analytics – competing for limited resources & their own survival).

These leaders place their HR analytics initiatives in sort of a “Hobson’s choice”. Named after Thomas Hobson (a 16th century British livery stable owner known for his practice of offering customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door – as a means of rotating the use of the horse – or none at all), a “Hobson’s choice” is a free choice in which only one option is offered. As a person may refuse to take that option, the choice is therefore between taking the option or not. In plain English, it’s a form of “take it or leave it”.

Leaders who use this approach may – erroneously – believe that they are being good stewards of their organization’s budget. However, what they are – in fact – doing is pitting their HR analytics initiative against all others seeking the same source of funding.

“Other Duties as Assigned” – Making Analytics a Leader’s Part-time Role

In many cases, this is also related to a dynamic described above – the leader doesn’t appreciate the potential value of their analytics investment (and are – in effect – looking to get something for nothing). The problem – in a nutshell – is that what they often get is just that – nothing. Or they get very little in the way of progress because they’re not willing to allow a team member to focus their efforts on the opportunity.

Granted, this isn’t always bad, per se. In some cases, this approach can be a great way to start – in part, because it makes the ROI so attractive. Also, for the part-time analytics leader, he/she has very little pressure to produce – because the expectation to deliver is so low.

However, for those leaders truly committed to HR analytics and desirous of timely, impactful results, this is rarely the best way to go – but many will still choose to do so.

“Dummying Down” – Assigning Analytics to Report to a “Less Analytically Inclined” Leader

Most commonly in these cases, HR analytics is assigned to report to a vice president of talent, organizational effectiveness, or some other function. In theory, it makes sense on some level; the assumption is that HR analytics is a “centers of expertise”, as is staffing, compensation, benefits, and other functions.

Unfortunately, the assumption that HR analytics is just another “CoE” is flawed. It is a capability possessed by very few HR organizations (unlike staffing, compensation, benefits, etc) and with good reason – it requires a specialized set of knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Trust me – it is a rare “less analytically inclined” HR leader who can effectively advocate for & support a HR analytics initiative of any size, scale, or complexity. I’ve tried it. I’d never do it again. Life is too short. I’ll leave it at that.

“Know It All” – Believing You are the Person to “Sell” Analytics

An extension of the preceding “sin”, “know it all” HR leaders (who are often also “less analytically inclined”) take upon themselves the role of “selling” HR analytics to others within the HR organization and the company as a whole. Unfortunately, lacking a background in analytics, scientific methodology, or research methods, it is the rare non-analytics HR leader who is equipped to do so.

When this is paired with a “less analytically inclined” leader who also is insecure in allowing members of the HR analytics team to represent the work done by the analytics team to other leaders, these issues only become more apparent – and put the efforts of the analytics team at risk, as they are being voiced by someone who can’t begin to form complete sentences with respect to the work being done, not to mention explaining the nuances of the projects undertaken.


Hopefully, I’ve been able to shine a light on some of the “sins” prevalent in the field of HR analytics. If – in looking in the mirror – you see a “sinner” staring back at you, there is only one true option: Repent! Recognize the error of your ways, seek to make right your wrongs, and put your feet on the path leading to what is good and proper. HR analytics initiatives – not plagued by these “sins” – can provide strategically significant, sustainable competitive advantage. Don’t allow yourself to become (or continue to be) ensnared in the errors of these sins.

Now, go forth and sin no more.

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