Data analytics: HR should learn from sports

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Finding the future role, moving to predictive analytics, and creating transparency are key lessons

HR should learn from elite, high-performing sports teams on data analytics, according to Bernard Marr, CEO of the Advanced Performance Institute.

Speaking at People Analytics World 2018, Marr said that there are nine key lessons HR should take away from the sports world’s approach to data and analytics, including finding the future role of HR, moving from past reporting to predictive analytics, and creating trust and transparency around data.

“We need to think about what the future role of HR will be in light of analytics,” he said.

Marr pointed to his experience working with the Team GB rowing team and their efforts to develop a data-driven strategy to go faster and win medals.

“They said that data analytics are not native to sports and are not at the heart of what they do. The same is true of HR – we are not natives to data,” he said. “So HR’s role and responsibilities should perhaps be split into one team that focuses on people and the softer elements like wellbeing and culture, and then another team that focuses on analytics and data.”

Football teams also provide lessons for HR, Marr went on.

“In the past reports on matches were manual and coaches would wait days for information from human analysts. Now there are cameras across a stadium capturing 10 data points per second in real time, with data sent to coaches on the sidelines while the match is going on – including how many calories a player has left so whether they need a break,” he said. “And there is now a shift to using this to predict their future abilities.”

Marr advised HR to follow this same model to move from retrospective reporting of the past to real-time algorithms of the present and predictive analytics of the future. For example, analytics should be used to “predict which talent is most likely to leave based on data points”, to determine which candidates to recruit, and “using similar techniques to the football coaches to outline where employees may need breaks or be fatigued”.

One of the other key lessons was that HR leaders need to create trust and transparency around data and analytics. Sports people are happy to share their personal data because they know it will be used to help their performance, Marr said. But employees are uncomfortable with their employers accessing their data.

Marr called on HR to “get the message out there to employees that having this data can help their performance in the same way as in sports teams”. “By being transparent people will be more comfortable,” he added.

Other lessons from the world of sport included building a data-driven strategy by linking it to the organisation’s strategic goals, ensuring data is secure, and automating the administrative processes.

However, Marr highlighted the problems of rolling out HR analytics. He told HR magazine he sees two main challenges for people analytics.

“One is linked to competencies and capabilities – so partnering with specialist organisations is very important – as people are very interested in HR analytics but in a lot of smaller or medium-sized businesses people aren’t interested,” said Marr.

“The second is getting the balance right between a big brother approach to HR analytics to an approach that truly addresses value.”

Regulation and ethics were concerns also broached by CIPD CEO Peter Cheese, who was also speaking at the event: “If we look at the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica issue the question is: what technology can we trust?" he said. "And then: what does that mean to our employees and whether they trust us with their information?”

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