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Nine ways to improve talent management with workforce analytics

The workforce represents your company's largest expense, its top differentiator and its greatest risk. Here's how workforce analytics might address major challenges to talent management.

Advanced workforce analytics do more than help employers control payroll costs; they can be used to help proactively manage workforce talent, too. From predicting future top performers and early flight risks to grooming successors for key positions and identifying internal threats before they strike, today's workforce analytics are powerful tools for employers.

There are many ways to use workforce analytics in talent management, although the best uses must be driven by a strategy that requires dedication to skillful execution. After all, there is a lot of data from many different sources to mine, both traditional and new models and algorithms to wield, and the capability to measure anything and everything.

"This is both a boon and a bane. HR frequently is left uncertain where to begin," said Lisa Rowan, research vice president in HR, talent and learning strategies at IDC.

Rowan and others say it is helpful to begin by thinking of various tactics as belonging to one of the three major HR categories.

"Workforce analytics can be used at all three major phases of talent management -- talent acquisition, retention and nurture," said Niranjan Krishnan, head of data science and innovation at Tiger Analytics, a consulting firm.

To help your company select either its beginning projects or to expand existing efforts, here are some of the top ways companies are using workforce analytics to manage talent today, presented in the three phases.

In talent acquisition

1. Acquire the right talent faster. Sophisticated analytics give companies an alternative to applicant tracking systems and their overreliance on keywords. Workforce analytics are meant to search applications and resumes based on much more comprehensive algorithms and far more data.

According to Krishnan, "Analytic solutions can automatically scan applicants' submitted profile; pull in external data, like their social media activity; carry out any background checks; and automatically create a short list for manual review. This can drastically cut down the recruiting lifecycle."

2. Find talent similar to current top talent. Workforce analytics may also support what is already working and aid the hiring decision-making process.

"Job candidates can be matched up against profiles of successful incumbents to help hire the right people," Rowan said.

3. Control recruiting costs. "Tracking best candidate sources [or] channels helps spend recruiting dollars where the payoff is greatest," said Steve Goldberg, research vice president of HR technology and workforce strategies at HfS Research.

Other sophisticated workforce analytics capabilities in managing recruiting and hiring practices include "predicting specific, key employee retention risks; best candidates for certain roles; business area compliance risks; or even gender-biased decision-making," according to Goldberg.

In talent nurturing

4. Predict and harvest potential. Successfully measuring an individual's potential is key to identifying top performers early so companies can groom and reward them accordingly. Weeding out poor performers early to cut costs in training and managing them is important to maintaining a healthy bottom line, too. Workforce analytics can help to provide these insights.

"Large organizations have accumulated rich data on employees' career progressions over a 10- to 15-year period. Statistical models can trace the career journeys of senior managers and use that to identify high-flyers early in their journey," Krishnan said. "By looking at an employee's growth potential with their attrition risk, organizations can carry out highly focused interventions on just those employees."

5. Fix skill gaps. Several studies, such as the "World Happiness Report 2017" recently released at the United Nations, have found that one key element in job satisfaction is the chance to keep learning new job skills.

For employers, fixing skill gaps in otherwise high performing employees typically leads to higher job performance. It's a win-win, especially when it means you don't have to go hire more people to fill the gap and get the job done.

By looking at an employee's growth potential with their attrition risk, organizations can carry out highly focused interventions on just those employees.
Niranjan Krishnanhead of data science and innovation, Tiger Analytics

Workforce analytics can be used to identify skill gaps in employees and to prescribe the correct training needed. Rowan said that workforce analytics can be used to identify skill gaps in employees and to prescribe the correct training needed to advance both the business mission and the individual's job satisfaction.

"For the most part, analytics are deployed to help achieve business objectives through effective management of talent," Rowan said. "Well-defined metrics serve to enhance the employer-employee relationship."

6. Prevent or manage turnover. "If proactive or pre-emptive actions are not taken when key employees are viewed as retention risks, they are likely to be less committed or productive," Goldberg said. "When key or well-connected employees leave, it can easily have a negative multiplier effect."

Goldberg said workforce analytics can help by alerting employers or managers to morale problems, productivity changes in individuals or groups, and indicators that an employee is looking to change jobs.

"Often, people who leave their jobs exhibit certain traits over an extended period of time before they actually take the leap. Statistical models can pick up on those traits and flag such people six-plus months before they actually leave," Krishnan said.

"An early warning system like this allows managers to intervene in a timely fashion and reduce the risk of their direct reports leaving, or [to] plan and prepare for it, as the case may be."

In talent retention

7. Ensuring fair compensation. Workforce analytics can be used to help ensure fair compensation to retain talent and improve morale.

"Analytics can be used to do things such as analyze compensation anomalies where individuals may be being under- or overcompensated based on performance, years of service, etc." Rowan said. "Fixing such anomalies can improve morale by ensuring a level playing field."

8. Gain insight into behavior. The behavioral analytics embedded in many workforce analytics products today are designed to detect behavior patterns that may predict future problematic behavior. These analytics are sometimes used to avoid problem personalities in the hiring process.

Often, preinterview behavioral analysis involves the use of social media, psychological testing and public record data. But prehire analysis is a relatively new use. Experts say that it's more common for behavioral analytics within workforce analytics to analyze the behavior of current employees as part of productivity or security measures.

Vendors, such as Oracle HCM Cloud, say that workforce analytics, also called human capital analytics, can quantify anything, from employee emotions and sentiments to relationships, interactions, transactions, decisions and company culture.

Several vendors are also currently researching whether these analytics can be used in the future to avoid or curb workplace violence.

9. Conduct succession planning. Workforce analytics, specifically those analytics capable of analyzing individual career paths and individual capabilities, can be used to identify, groom and retain potential successors to key personnel in business continuity planning.

"Highlighting an adequate number of successor candidates mapped to each critical role helps ensure continuity of operations should a key executive leave," Goldberg said. But just as importantly, he said, "Highlighting the amount of time between promotions, particularly for key employees, such as high potentials or senior role successor candidates, can prevent losing employees that are earmarked for critical roles or employees the company has invested heavily in."

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