How is data helping you make better decisions?

There are striking parallels between how global governments are responding to the coronavirus pandemic using data and how organisations can be more effective. Governments have to make tough choices about how their countries progress through and exit from the crisis and they are using imperfect data to help guide them. Companies always have difficult choices to make and data is often available but not used.


There are other similarities too; very little accepted wisdom on what are the 'right' choices to make and the implication of those decisions are profound. For leaders to rely so heavily on data to inform decision making is unusual in politics. Typically, philosophy determines policy and data analysis is used to justify a position rather than to help inform one. That can be true in business too; some functions are data-centric yet experience and intuition is often the dominant force.


It doesn't stop there:

  • Everyone is in a unique position - countries have their own set of demographics, population density, geography, economic dynamics, social conventions, strength of social and healthcare systems. They can't solely base plans on what others do. Businesses too have a unique set of circumstances.

  • There are complicated dynamics at play and often mutually exclusive priorities: in this instance minimising the health and economic impacts.

  • There is pressure to benchmark yourself against others. No-one wants to be the negative outlier. Few are bold enough to try something different in case they happen to miscalculate. However, comparisons are not always helpful.

  • There aren't clear measures of success. Economies, health and company performance are not finite projects so it is hard to judge if you have been a ‘winner’.

In such a complex world, there is rarely a right or wrong answer when using data. That is equally true in a business context and especially in HR, where using data to inform decision making is an emerging practice. HR is still learning how to use analytics to guide action. So much so that stakeholders have generally not expected this function to take a rigorous approach to their business.


That is no longer acceptable.


If HR ever had its chance to cement a place at the heart of business, now is the time. HR should be navigating organisations through this situation. It's an opportunity that must not be missed.

To do that there are some principles about using data that can help. The first thing to understand is that data alone won't solve the problem! It needs analysis, interpretation and action planning before implementing a plan. To do this, you need a ‘human in the loop’. Until such time as Artificial Intelligence can do these things unaided, a mixture of data, analysis and human intervention are required. Even the world’s greatest software platforms can't give you the answer as they can't judge context, they don't have personal impact and influence, and they can't actually make anything happen.


You are likely to be working out some critical issues right now:

  • How can I best look after employees’ health and well-being?

  • What staffing levels do we need and how should it be configured?

  • Do we renew an office premises lease or go to remote working?

  • How do we configure our work spaces?

  • What impact will new ways of working have on culture?

  • What impact are staff having on customers and our overall performance?

Tackling these issues doesn’t need to be daunting, and the best time to start is now.

To do that, here are a simple set of questions to answer:

  1. What is the ultimate problem you are trying to solve?

  2. Is everyone agreed on the priorities?

  3. Do you know what data you need to answer this question? How do you get this data, and is it usable?

  4. Who are the right people to do it and who is providing the critical thinking?

  5. Who is making the recommendations?

  6. How are you going to come to a decision?

  7. How committed are you to acting on the agreed recommendation?

  8. Who is going to implement the plan?

  9. How are you going to monitor whether it is having the desired outcomes?

Using this process may help you avoid some pitfalls as it fails without the following:

  • Good quality execution of a plan.

  • Excellent communication throughout the process.

  • Measuring success on your agreed terms.

  • An understanding that you never really 'win' or 'lose'. You may succeed to a greater or lesser extent, but most things worth doing tend to have long term outcomes.

In our quest for data-led and automated solutions, we must not forget that this is still fundamentally a human endeavour. Keeping people at the centre of this process and data as an enabler has to be the course of action, and one every HR team can take.

If you want to find out how your data can help solve problems, get in touch: hello@yourhumanfactors.com