By Tarryn Swemmer, HR Executive at Decision Inc

Human Resources (HR) directors and talent management teams have an integral role to play in helping to lead the digital businesses of today. Part of this includes analysing the data at their disposal in more innovative and strategic ways, as companies look to maximise the value contained within their talented workforce.

The rapid evolution of technology and the growing accessibility to data is forcing many organisations to realise the value that can be extracted, and insights gleaned from taking a data-driven approach to all facets of the business. This includes how companies attract, develop, and retain their people. Business requires HR, and other professionals, to start using this to their advantage.

Talent is the most valuable asset organisations have today, particularly in the professional services arena where people and their expertise form the core of the business offering and ultimately define their competitive advantage. Research shows that 76% of hiring decision-makers say attracting quality candidates is currently their greatest challenge.

The 2019 PwC CEO Survey found that “availability of key skills” rose to the third most critical threat on the minds of CEOs, with 34% flagged as being “extremely concerned”. Moreover, the number one impact noted by 55% of respondents is the “inability to innovate effectively”, followed closely by “higher than expected people costs”.

So, while HR and talent management professionals are in the privileged position where they have been entrusted with this most precious asset and positioned as the perfect strategic partners to the CEO, it is not without its challenges.

The top HR professionals from around the globe ponder issues like how to be the employer of choice for top candidates; how to reward and create opportunities for the highest performers; and how to build leaders out of its people.

Breaking the mould

Despite the strategic importance talent holds for an organisation, the traditional image of talent management and HR functions is marred by several stereotypical perceptions. These include images of bureaucratic, reactive administrators stuck in the details of process and policy. Another stereotype is that HR is too focused on the soft and fluffy, rather than the business goals, hard numbers, and aligning to the greater business strategy.

This results in HR not having a seat at the table in strategic conversations and, even worse, business leaders feeling that they need to conceal new ideas from HR until they have worked out the details and launched the initiative.

To overcome this, HR leaders are required to embark on an ongoing process to break the cycle and position themselves as business leaders, trusted advisors, and counsellors to fellow business leaders, as well as and valued strategic thought-partners to share the heavy load placed on the CEO.

Knowledge partners

This process entails balancing these roles with the more traditional expectation of people functions being reliable supporters and enablers for the business.

Given the wealth of data the HR and talent team has access to, they can be pro-active in analysing the business and identifying the gaps that exist. So often, HR is a reporting centre of excellence, but this is approached in a “get the work done” way with limited attention paid to interpreting the information and data.

They therefore need to push themselves to embrace the data and implications of it, using this access as a tool to have their finger on the pulse, pre-empting the needs and opportunities in the business, being prepared and knowledgeable on the business, and not being afraid to ask leaders the tough, detailed questions.

Strategic function

Part of this more pro-active view on data analysis involves examining what shapes the people initiatives inside the organisation and how it aligns to the overall business goals and outcomes. HR and talent professionals need to think of their efforts in terms of what they solve and achieve in long-term value for the business rather than merely a list of functions and services that they offer the business.

Potentially, this can go to the level of setting key performance indicators for talent management teams designed to drive value rather than getting things done. For example, “achieving a 15% uptick in client ratings based on the quality of the consultants,” rather than merely “implementing a performance management process for consultants”.

With this strategic value-driven mindset in place, there is an element of comfort with calculated risk-taking that HR and talent management leaders must embrace. This is especially true when there is real upside for a potentially risky business approach. This requires asking the question “how can it be done?”, problem-solving this with the business, and only then working out what should be done to mitigate potential risks.

A data and information-driven approach to people and talent is at the centre of more effectively elevating HR and talent management leaders to being knowledgeable advisors and strategic partners to business leaders.

Some companies are less data-driven than others in this area, but this must change if they are to remain competitive. HR must be integrated into all facets of the business if it is to grow in an environment where talent is the key to driving innovation.

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