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Fracturing the HR Analytics World

There comes a time in all communities when the experts don’t agree. This is the state we have reached in HR Analytics and there are forces at play that will certainly divide us… if they haven’t already.

When the topic of analytics became “hot” in HR, it awakened a set of opportunities for various players. We have consultants like me who help companies understand analytics and who help HR align what they do with the business areas they serve. These business areas are HR’s internal customers.

Next, we have vendors that jumped in to serve the data storage and reporting needs of HR. This also evolved into products that provide basic analytics / reports for HR and niche players that analyze a specialized set of data. Examples of the latter are vendors that can analyze workforce networks or the ability of a team to be successful by analyzing its composition.

As the number of experts grew and people learned to apply analytics to a wide variety of business problems, each expert became shaped by their own experiences and approaches. My experiences come from 25+ years of analytics in engineering, supply chain, operations and HR. That means I will always be a down-to-earth, practical analytical person and approach things from a business point of view. If the analytical project isn’t geared to making the business better through cost savings, efficiencies, or increased safety levels for employees, etc., I would probably recommend that you spend your time analyzing something else. The reality is that we live in a harsh business world where the rapid pace of change makes improving the business, every year, an absolute must. This isn’t academia where you get several years to conduct an experiment. Your CFO wants to know what you will do for him today.

We have reached the point where our community is divided in its opinions. Some people believe in regulating HR metrics and forcing companies to release their data to the public. Given how many “nuances” there always are in HR data, I don’t see how this helps anyone. Should we include interns in our headcount? Temps? Expats? People out on disability? We all choose whether to include / exclude these nuances in our numbers, so in the end, are we really producing an “apples to apples” comparison across companies?

Then there are people that think we should have an HR / People analytics certification. Ok, but who decides what the requirements are? Those that came from psychology backgrounds would want to mandate a psychology component. After 25 years of analytics and only once needing to ask a psychologist a question in HR, would the world deem me unqualified at what I do since I have no formal psychology background? I don’t think so. Those of us that come from varied business backgrounds would likely mandate a high level of business acumen for the certification. With so many opinions, it is unlikely that agreement would be reached on certification qualifications. And not to sound pessimistic, but the history of most certifications is that they start off well-intentioned but are eventually driven by the potential revenue that can be generated.

There is another group out there that believes that unless you have a PHD in statistics and you know the “scientific method,” that you can’t possibly yield value from analytics. We’ve had this discussion before and popular opinion is that there are many disciplines out there with a logical experimental methodology that you can leverage as a sound approach to analytics. This group believes that you’ll never get value out of analytics without statistics. I disagree. Focus and prioritization will get you value.

There are those that keep debating what we call this field of work. Some have attempted to make a distinction between “HR Analytics” and “People Analytics.” Long before the phrase “People Analytics” came along, we all used “HR Analytics” as the name of our field. This included taking HR data and combining it with data outside of HR such as Ops and Finance. That’s the type of work I did when I was a Business Strategist for FedEx, so why did some people change their minds on the naming in the last few years? Globally, the attempt to change the name didn’t stick. “HR Analytics” and “People Analytics” are used interchangeably in North America. The phrase, “People Analytics,” is used more often in the UK. The phrase, “HR Analytics,” is overwhelmingly the name being used in India. It’s a debate that serves no purpose. In the end, we serve our customers, the business areas outside of HR, who could not care less about our naming conventions. They want to know how you can help them solve their issues today.

Value will be found in analytics through focus and prioritization… not in the trivial arguments that divide us. Now, if you want to weigh in on a serious argument, be sure to check out the legal battle between HiQ and LinkedIn!  

Until next time,


Tracey Smith is an internationally recognized business author, speaker and analytics consultant. She is one of the most highly respected voices when it comes to business analytics and HR analytics. She is the author of multiple business books and hundreds of articles in a variety of publications. Tracey has worked with and advised organizations, both well-known and little-known, on how to use data analytics to impact the bottom line. If you would like to talk to Tracey about consulting work or speaking engagements, please visit  or contact Tracey Smith through LinkedIn.

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