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Posted by on Jun 18, 2014

Lost in Translation: Building Effective HR Partnerships with IT

lost-in-translation-bill-murrayA few weeks back I was participating in a discussion on LinkedIn’s HR & Learning Technologies Forum where the question was raised about whether HR is ready for big data and if it is even relevant for the function. The question sparked an interesting and wide-ranging discussion about the role of “big data” in the HR space. Posts ran the gamut from pointing out organizational successes with HR analytics to assertions that HR isn’t ready to be data driven, and even that data isn’t all that important, since after all people are the main concern.

Following the discussion, I began to wonder if some of the reason HR professionals might be struggling to realize the potential of data driven decision-making and predictive analytics is that too much gets lost in translation. I suspect that many HR analytics efforts struggle to launch because of ineffective partnerships between HR professionals and other functional areas, like engineering and information technology.

Having worked as an I/O psychologist in the world of computer simulation and design engineering for more than a decade, I have first-hand experience with the challenges of cross-functional partnerships between the “soft” and “hard” science communities and have learned a few lessons that can help smooth out the partnership. Here are a few tips that can help your HR analytics efforts succeed by improving partnerships with other stakeholders:

  1. Take time upfront to establish a common vocabulary
    A few years ago I worked on project that included a group of academics doing research in human performance and a group of software developers working to code the research findings into predictive computer simulations. As tension mounted around requests for “tools”, it turned out that the research team used the term “tool” generically to mean anything – from a checklist to a complex algorithm embedded in a predictive simulation – while the developer team thought of “tools” only as something to be coded. Setting aside time upfront to agree on the terms everyone will use would have prevented a lot of churn.
  2. Keep the focus on people, not resources
    Even those of us in human resources and human capital roles can fall into the trap of talking about people in the organization as resources. When introducing analytics to the process, it can be even easier to focus too much on the numbers, data, resource levels, etc. If you want other functional partners to remember the end goal of bringing analytics to HR, you’ll need to keep that goal – improving decisions about people in the organization – front in center, starting with the words you use.
  3.  Know who to ask for help when you need it

A recent survey by SolarWinds  found that only 32.6% of technology professionals were consulted all the time about strategic decisions on emerging technologies. HR analytics is a rapidly growing and fast moving technology area that can be difficult for HR professionals to keep pace with. Find a partner in the IT group to ask for help when making decisions about what technologies you can and should use to support analytic decision-making.

  1. Let systems thinkers think about the whole system
    IT professionals and engineers tend to think in terms of systems and the implications changes in one element can have on other parts of the system. HR analytics are intended to make changes about important personnel decisions and the collection, analysis, and reporting on new metrics can have wide-ranging impacts to the organization. Enlist the help of the natural systems thinkers from the IT and engineering groups to think through the larger implications of new decision methods.

What gets lost in translation between your human capital staff and technical organizations? Do your HR and IT teams understand the value each brings? How can HR and IT work together more effectively?

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