The Importance of Democratizing People Data

The pace of business moves fast and the amount of data organizations create in the process is staggering. In fact, the World Economic Forum notes that by 2020, there will be “40 times more bytes than there are stars in the observable universe.” With so much information available, savvy organizations are able to figure out better ways to be more competitive. Those that don’t take advantage of their data are at risk of being left behind. making people data and analytics more accessible to your organization is critical. 

Sierra-Cedar’s HR Systems Survey finds that data-driven organizations are the top financial performers, and their characteristics include a “high level of people analytics process maturity, that includes “higher than average use by managers as opposed to just the HR community.” When people managers are empowered with data and analytics, the organization clearly benefits. 

This “democratization” means providing direct access to data and analytics to support workforce decisions. When everyone–not just HR, your leadership, or people managers–capitalizes on the information contained within your data, both the business and its employees can make better decisions every day that lead to stronger people and financial results. With access to actionable data, we can make informed business decisions across the moments that matter in the employee lifecycle: from acquiring employees (and even going back into the candidate relationship), to developing them, to retaining them. 

Says Kathi Enderes, Vice President, Talent and Workforce Research at Deloitte: “While people analytics activities have traditionally been performed by analytical teams, organizations today have an opportunity to extend analysis and action from people data to the workforce, thereby cutting out the middle person and driving action at the point needed.” 

Clearly, the democratization of people data is important–so why isn’t it standard practice at more companies? 

Drowning in data 

Until recently, surfacing meaningful information from a lake’s worth of company data was a job reserved for data scientists and analysts. This is because the focus was on the data rather than the answers the business needed to find. 

In the past, HR relied on operational reporting to try to get meaningful numbers by which to measure themselves. To do any real analysis required projects–data dictionary, data management, data cleansing, data integration and consolidation, and visualization–that were beyond the scope and capabilities of most HR organizations. But without them, HR could not move on to the actual data analysis needed for strategic answers. 

“While people analytics activities have traditionally been performed by analytical teams, organizations today have an opportunity to extend analysis and action from people data to the workforce, thereby cutting out the middle person and driving action at the point needed.” 

To make matters worse, many HR technologies don’t help HR in the realm of analytics. These systems provide backwards-looking data and reports, but not the true analytics that enable organizations to be proactive and make better people decisions themselves. And those who have added analytics, haven’t made it easy for others in the organization to access or use it.

Further, even when organizations have good data, it can be challenging to apply that information to make better decisions. Leaders know the “what” but not the “why.” 

Fortunately, people analytics technology has evolved to better empower individuals at all levels in the company to use data directly to inform their decision-making–and have confidence in their decisions. According to Enderes, “solutions [now] offer several options for augmenting analytics capabilities, affording the opportunity to distribute data processing widely across organizations.”

Many organizations are benefiting from this technology’s ability to not only make it easier to find answers in their data, but also enable anyone to use analytics, no matter their knowledge of–or experience with–data science. 

Providence St. Joseph Health, which operates operates more than 50 hospitals and 800 clinics in the western US, made their people analytics solution available to over 10,000 internal users across the organization.

Through a specialized training curriculum, their Workforce Intelligence team helped their users–especially their HR Business Partners (HRBPs)–become more comfortable with their data, and as a result, more confident in their role as a go-to resource for workforce questions and decision support. In meetings, HRBPs go from talking strategy to diving into tactics without needing to leave the analytics solution. (Read their full story). 

Security is key to successful data democratization

Empowering your workforce to access and use data doesn’t mean providing unfettered access to one another’s personal information. Protecting sensitive information is a non-negotiable responsibility for HR–and their IT partners–and they must act as gatekeepers in determining what information can be shared and with who.

If a person is tasked with making important decisions, they will do whatever it takes–even circumvent data security protocols–in order to get the information they need, especially if it’s business-critical. While it may seem counterintuitive to promote data security by distributing data to more people, doing so systematically and responsibly provides a great deal more security than the alternative. 

“…solutions [now] offer several options for augmenting analytics capabilities, affording the opportunity to distribute data processing widely across organizations.”

By using people analytics solutions that provide a single source of data and customizable role-based permissions, organizations can distribute the right data to the right people, and understand and control who has access to personal identifying information. 

The alternative to this is multiple versions and copies of spreadsheets, which can often end up outside of company firewalls. Business intelligence tools aren’t much better as they often require a great deal of effort in bringing together silos of data which in the process of integration introduce errors. 

Interpreting data shouldn’t require a data science degree

Data democratization doesn’t mean simply putting metrics on a dashboard and giving everyone the link to it. No matter how beautifully designed (and let’s be honest, most of them can not be described as beautiful), a dashboard filled with disconnected metrics that can’t easily be interpreted for the problem or opportunity they represent will actually make the data more inaccessible. 

Ultimately, the data provided needs to be rich with context, telling a story that the business user can add to their understanding of the many factors they need to consider when making decisions. Using people analytics, you’ll gain the ability to spot relationships and patterns. Then, you can empower people to take action and solve business problems. As meaningful actions become more frequent, organizations see the impact in more positive business and workforce outcomes.

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Lexy Martin |
Lexy Martin is a respected thought leader on HR technology adoption and value achieved. Known as the originator of the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, she now works at Visier with customers to support them in their HR transformation to become data-driven organizations. Lexy is Principal, Research and Customer Value at Visier.