The dash for dashboards – good news for HR?

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Add a few metrics vaguely to do with what HR really do, add a few charts, organize them in some fancy way and hey presto – actionable insights!

HR Technology show in Las Vegas – the biggest in the world. Judging by the expo area, it certainly looked like the tallest.

Some vendors promoted their brand with massive multi-storey stands topped with impressive 20 foot diameter circular “hats” suspended from the convention center’s rafters with logo proudly displayed and declarations of how they can “help” or “change” or “empower” HR to be even better. A few vendors with the larger marketing budgets went a little further and chose to spin the whole affair making the hall look like a giant Mexican hat dance. I overheard one attendee muttering that the height of each exhibitor’s stand seemed inversely proportional to the useful content contained within. Maybe in the battle for limited budgets, the marketing department won the fight to the detriment of the much maligned product development geeks (I was pleasantly relieved that activ8 had chosen to limit its spend to a curved monitor, a rather nice looking glass top table and six comfy chairs – ploughing the remaining budget into building a half decent product).

On a more positive note, my spirits were lifted when I realised what I had been banging on about for the past 10 plus years was now being taken seriously by nearly all major HR software vendors – well sort of seriously….Apparently, HR Analytics IS the next big thing hitting HR (or People Analytics or Workforce Analytics or HCM Analytics depending on the level of brand snobbery). Seriously good news.

But software providers have decided with the word “vizualization” ringing in their collective ears to cobble something together and call it Analytics with the majority making the dash for dashboards. I guess the logic is – add a few metrics vaguely to do with what HR do, add a few charts, organize them in some fancy way and hey presto! – you have suddenly transformed your product to have “real actionable insights” – or some similar overused marketing nonsense. A well designed, well thought out dashboard is absolutely a step in the right direction definitely (indeed something that activ8 started with several years ago) but the result is in danger of being pure analytical gorilla dust – same old HR reporting but rebadged with prettier charts.  It’s true that a pretty chart is great to demonstrate during the sales cycle – But Insights? Actionable ? Really?

The problem with solely focussing on the dashboard concept are multiple – they don’t overcome the challenge of aggregating data from different systems in order to get metrics which show a holistic view of the workforce, they don’t overcome data inconsistencies and gaps, they don’t seek out insights for the novice end user who neither has the time nor skills to find them for themselves, they don’t give those same end users tools to test their own hunches and ultimately, for the the large minority of visualization atheists and agnostics, a pretty chart doesn’t paint a thousand words (contrary to the well-known quotation). Meaningful metrics are incredibly powerful in describing an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats but to be useful they must be relevant to a decision or to a strategy. Simple and generic they are not.

Saying all that, during a recent deployment of Mission Control, the HRD was blown away on the discovery he had a growing challenge in retaining corporate knowledge after viewing a simple age by tenure distribution chart. Too many “old timers with all the experience” heading for retirement with only the relatively inexperienced ”kids” left to replace them (and by kids he meant my age which analytically speaking is unfortunately unacceptably inaccurate).

Hardly analytical rocket science, but hey ho… I guess there are always exceptions.