Taking HR to the Next Level With People Analytics

By the SMU Social Media Team

Human resource management has traditionally involved personal relationships tapping previous experience and assessment capabilities to make decisions from hiring to managing. At its most basic level, it may even include some reliance on “gut feel’’.

But People Analytics is changing all that with the use of data in today’s HR. Statistics and technology are now vital to gaining the most from the recruitment process, as well as ensuring the performance and retention of those hired.

We ask Ridwan Ismeer, a data scientist for people analytics at The Kraft Heinz Company and SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business alumnus, about the impact of People Analytics.

Ridwan Ismeer

Q: Can you share with us what advantages there are in people analytics?

Ridwan: First and foremost, it is important to understand what People Analytics is and the organisational forces that have created the need for it.

Today, industries and organisations are being disrupted at an unprecedented rate. Competition is at an all-time high. Customers are more volatile than ever. Talent is more mobile. And managers are demanding as much information as they can possibly get their hands on to “run the business”.

In today’s VUCA world, data is king (VUCA refers to Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). We have seen the rise of analytics in other functions that epitomise this: digital analytics transforming marketing, operational analytics revolutionising supply chain, and so on.

What’s different about people analytics is that it aims to serve the entire organisation. It is the use of employee and organisational data to help managers make better decisions. It does not solely serve HR functions—rather it ties up overall organisational performance with employee behaviour. It is a function that does not exist in a silo and that’s what makes it so strong.


(Source: TrustSphere)


Q: What is an example of a People Analytics model?

Ridwan: At my previous organisation, TrustSphere, we were helping a firm who had a higher-than-average regrettable turnover rate of around 40 per cent. Senior management had little visibility to the sub-functions and had no idea what was going on.

Upon analysis, we discovered three key trends that showed prominently among employees who were leaving:

  • Employees who could regularly be seen working outside of work hours were 43 per cent more likely to quit.
  • Employees who had little face time with skip-level managers within their departments were 38 per cent more likely to quit than an employee who regularly met skip-level managers.
  • Employees who maintained social relationships with their colleagues were less likely to quit. In fact, Gallup has done some extensive research around the benefits of having best friends at work to retention and engagement. Using these insights, senior management devised targeted initiatives to increase employee retention.

If you are interested in more People Analytics success stories, read David Green’s blog on his favorite picks here.


Q: How has it disrupted HR management?

Ridwan: People Analytics is the last hope for HR functions to move from being a supporting function to a key driver of the business. Organisations that have adopted People Analytics are seeing HR functions being democratised—all of sudden, business leaders are looking to them for answers to hard questions. It is a disruption that is making them relevant.

And that is exciting!


Q: Do you think data-driven HR will result in information overload?

Ridwan: I think we have a long way to go before we worry about an overload of information. Right now, most organisations rely on a manager’s “gut feel” to make people-related decisions: whom to hire, whom to fire, whom to promote, and whom to transfer for an overseas stint. These decisions are usually made solely at a manager’s discretion.

Here’s the thing—People Analytics (PA) is not about replacing managerial decision making. Rather, it aims to equip them with the right information to augment their decision making.

Usually when I meet a cynic of People Analytics, I ask them, “Would you rather your manager decide your future based purely on his or her judgments of you, or would you rather have additional data to back you up?”


Q: Is there a danger that HR will be dehumanised?

Ridwan: Yes. There is that risk.

In all honesty, PA is not at a stage that is sophisticated and intelligent enough to replace managers. That’s why I always insist: PA is about augmenting decision making that is ultimately up to a manager. It is not about replacing them.

Most data scientists in PA are transparent and fully disclose what their model has done and its limitations: the alternate hypotheses they have not considered, the confounding variables that have not been accounted for, the limitations of correlational studies, etc.

There is a danger in acting purely on gut feel and there is a danger in acting purely on data. It’s the intersection of the two that will work best.


Q: What will the next generation of HR professionals look like?

Ridwan: The next generation of HR professionals will, at the very least, be Tableau-wielding, Excel-proficient geeks.

At the most, they will understand complex statistical modelling techniques to mine employee data and know how to tell compelling stories with the use of data. They will be organisational rock stars!


Those interested in a career in People Analytics can email Ridwan Ismeer at ismeerridwan@gmail.com.