We* just finished reporting our third full year of human resources data. It is a momentous occasion and in many ways marks just the beginning.
This got me thinking: three years to get to the start of something! That is a long game. For many in the HR function, every day is a series of reactions and responses to events. The experience of work is the constant juggle of urgent demands to hire people, sort out employment issues, deal with grievances or conflicts, resolve pay demands or other requests. All of these activities are important and urgent and place an immediate demand on our attention and action. This experience creates a habit, where new information is reviewed with a bias to action or crisis. If there is nothing urgent or important here then the information can be ignored—there is nothing to do.
We see this behavioural dynamic played out when new organizations get their first benchmarking report. The tendency is to first look for what is wrong and then immediately jump to try and fix it. As part of our service to support organizations in using HR data effectively, we walk people through their reports and can caution against this tendency. For one thing, the organization only has one set of data to act upon. Organizations ebb and flow over time, vacancies, absence and more vary with the seasons. Therefore, acting upon one set of data may lead to ineffective or misplaced action. Our advice is to wait until a pattern has repeated two or three times (six to nine months) before determining that you have a “problem” to be fixed.
Compared to the daily juggle, this makes numbers and the use of data feel like a slow process. However, this is what makes it a valuable process. Being strategic with your use of resources and ensuring that you focus your activities not just on what is urgent, but also on what will bring the most value for your organization, requires you to slow down, play the long game and understand at a deeper level how your organization builds and sustains success.
Playing the long game with three years of data means we are now in a position to make predictions. I set out a personal prediction for the Canada-wide absence rates in Q4 2011. The prediction was correct to within five percent. This quarter we are looking at making predictions for vacancies, and resignation rates as well as absences. Once we know how well our models work in these areas we are in a position to shape HR strategy and action ahead of demand as opposed to our current reactionary approach. This is a goal worth working toward, a goal that moves HR further into the realm of strategic organizational impact and it is a goal that can only be achieved by changing our habits and playing the long game.
*Author’s Note: Over the last four years the HR Metrics Service has gone from an idea to being one of Canada’s most accurate, relevant and timely sources of HR data. In a recent validation test our data matched the Conference Board of Canada, Statistics Can and Stats BC. In some instances our sample size is bigger and in all instances our data is available sooner.
Ian J. Cook