By David Turetsky
It seems HR leaders are consumed with Big Data these days—how to gather it, organize it, and effectively use it to contribute to an organization’s success. There’s no doubt that there’s immense pressure on CHROs to glean meaningful insight from the reams of HR data they deal with daily. But in their zeal to extract big-HR-picture trends, they may be overlooking the value of smaller data that’s right in front of them.
It’s like opening the lid of a treasure chest and being so awed by the collective wealth before you that you’re blinded to the individual beauty of each jewel inside. Small data is the separate, discreet jewels that comprise the HR Big Data treasure.
All companies manage an ocean of information, which often gets created as pockets of independent data sets. Small data is that Excel spreadsheet of competitive pricing analysis saved on an employee’s desktop, or that Word document containing an individual’s performance review. Both of these work products contain invaluable data and takeaways that, when centrally aggregated and analyzed, can provide actionable business insights. Those insights can be on almost anything: The state of a company’s workforce conditions, productivity, talent management, retention levels, and even potential flight risks.
Ultimately, small data represents individual work products or processes that employees or groups create to do their jobs better. It’s imperative to make these disparate work products or processes accessible on a shared drive or through a project management system in a secure environment. That way, they can be leveraged across multiple users and enable business leaders to deliver value to a broader community of users.
Better access to data and analytics can help executives and their HR teams address bubbling issues and implement organizational changes. But to begin this process, senior leaders need to understand where the data exists, establish a standard process for collecting the information, and have an end-goal in mind so there’s structured progress.
Organizations need to ask questions like: What is HR trying to achieve by using analytics? What are the short-term and long-term goals for its use? Is the company trying to find ways to reduce overhead costs, or improve recruiting and hiring practices?
The fundamental goal is to bring all of the information together in a central inventory and use it to derive key insights and plan strategies to tackle specific business challenges. Four ways senior leaders and HR practitioners can do this are:
1. Build awareness. Work with other senior leaders to build awareness of the importance and value of your company’s small data sources. Find all of the pockets of small data so they can be saved in a central repository, analyzed and shared. Consider launching an internal communications campaign to increase awareness among employees about the importance of finding and leveraging small data to make more informed business decisions and improve outcomes.
2. Standardize data collection. Given the independent nature of small data, it’s crucial to establish best practices for gathering and saving data so it eventually can be used in an apples-to-apples comparison among data sets. Simply offering better access to data doesn’t lead to better outcomes; the right tools and a structured system and protocol are necessary to enable employees to mine small data for successful outcomes.
3. Clarify goals. Whether you’re searching for cost savings or striving to improve your company’s talent management process, set clear goals—short-term and long-term—to establish benchmarks for your small data analytics program. Identify those “low-hanging-fruit” goals first. This will help your organization achieve a few early wins and encourage momentum as you tackle larger, more complex projects requiring more time and patience.
4. Create a data culture. Whether the focus is on small data or Big Data, your organization’s primary goal should be to build data acumen, intelligence and, over time, confidence among senior leadership and your entire staff. Help employees who are typically not involved in using HR data analytics see their role in creating and capturing small data sets in their day-to-day activities.
The future of data analytics will include personalized, understandable insights that allow workers to do their jobs and, ultimately, live their lives better—and, of course, insights that contribute to business success! So don’t neglect the smaller jewels in your HR data treasure chest. Those assets can help drive insights into business decisions large and small.