I recently attended the Bersin by Deloitte Impact conference in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. We’ve been following Bersin for quite a few years and have used Bersin research with client engagements in the past. I chose to attend this particular conference because of its concentration on HR and data analytics in predictive ways. There were four tracks: Manage, Develop, Attract and Retain, and Predict and Plan. I spent almost all of my time looking through the Predict and Plan lens since that is where the use of analytics are most prevalent. My comments here will reflect that perspective.

In many ways the topics at this conference are the same topics people in both L&D and HR spaces have been talking about for ten years:

  • How do we get people to be better?
  • How do we get “a seat at the table?”
  • How do we show return on investment?

But who asks the question (and the way the questions are answered) is undergoing a monumental shift.

Instead of asking, “How can my department have a greater impact on my little segment of the business?” we are now asking holistically, on behalf of the entire enterprise, “How can we reach and affect the fundamental ways we do business?” with the full realization we are talking about people. We still call them cryptic names, like talent assets and human capital, but as a whole we understand more what those terms actually mean.

For the world’s best companies, looking holistically at people means looking globally and trying to understand what it takes to operate our people-fuelled and dependent enterprises across cultures. This global theme was pervasive throughout the conference and started off with Josh Bersin’s The World is Local: A New Model for Human Resources article that was released just prior to the kickoff keynote. It’s an excellent paper that I encourage you to read. My favorite snippet from the article:

So while companies spend a lot of time focused on reducing HR costs and improving service delivery efficiency, the big value occurs when the HR team directly engages with managers and leaders to help the business run better.

Directly engaging with line of business becomes immediately evident when you start talking about analytics that matter. The business rarely cares about the measures that HR uses to measure itself. The numbers that really matter are the ones that directly link to the business.

Jonathan Ferrar from IBM presented a session on “Big Data in HR” that addressed making connections between business data and HR Strategies. The data maturity model from the book Competing on Analytics was explained, as was how it fit into IBM’s five pillar data source model which consists of Social, External, Internal, Predictive, and Enterprise-wide. IBM used a predictive model to project $9M in savings by strategically reducing attrition by 2.7%. This represents a significant shift in how the enterprise leverages HR and how HR can respond by transforming from a retrospective reporting model and showing real value in a predictive sense.

The theme of using predictive analysis was carried into the next session with representatives from Pfizer. In this case, Pfizer analyzed attrition from a socio economic lens and the predictive models were able to project factors that correlated with high attrition. One of the clearest indicators, rehire status, confirmed a long held cultural belief – if they left you once, they’ll do it again. However, as someone in the crowd aptly recognized, correlation is not the same thing as causation. Predictive data gives us insight, but not absolute truth. We need to be diligent and careful with its application.

Despite some excellent examples of how predictive HR analytics have been used at IBM and Pfizer, both of those companies cited that their analytics capabilities were very much early stage efforts that they were trying to expand and grow. On the theme of building capability, there was an excellent panel with representatives from Alliance Data, eBay, and Aleris. As these three companies have taken a head first approach to embracing analytics, it’s important to note that two of the three panelists did not come from HR roles within their companies, and none of them started their efforts by sitting down and asking what HR needed. They all started by sitting down with business leaders (engaged directly with the business) and digging into ways of measuring things that mattered.

Myank Jain from eBay said to start with the basics, Revenue per FTE. But I have to add, don’t underestimate what it will take to get that data. With multiple systems and varying definitions of roles within the business, it might be a bit of a process to define FTE, revenue, or even a definite headcount for the enterprise as a whole until your data maturity gets to a point where you have reliable data. However, it’s worth it, and as Jeff Buchmiller from Alliance Data put it, “The big wins are not usually exclusive to HR data.”

As important as analytics are becoming in the HR landscape, these efforts are not being driven up through the organization. They are intentional top-down efforts led by a new breed of C-level HR executives that are fully engaged with the business that they lead – not the “business” of HR. Another panel at the conference was called “the bold new CHRO,” but I found it interesting to note that only one of the four actually had the job title CHRO. The market is moving so fast, and this new HR is so important, that there is no time to wait for job titles to catch up. The panelists were:

  • Bruce Boucher, Extra Space Storage, CHRO
  • Richard Hughes, United Health, SVP
  • Garry Randall, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive HR, SVP
  • Steven Rice, Juniper Networks, EVP HR

What these gentlemen all had in common (other than being white males, but that’s another story) is that they all had bold new visions for HR. In their vision, HR is a partner to its business, an enabler of strategy, and a driver of business performance. All four speakers were highly engaged, charismatic, and knew that they were on a long path that would require continuous improvement. While all spoke with passion on their organizations, Steven Rice from Juniper Networks is someone to watch. His plain language approach to making things work and work right is highly admirable and will lead to great things in our industry.

Read my recap of day 2.