How to Use Analytics When You’re Not Google

Google has done a great job in setting an example of using analytics and evidence to make HR decisions (see Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock and the Rework site). However, there is a drawback to having Google as a role model. Most HR functions look at Google and think that they don’t have the money, time, technology or analytics talent to do that kind of work. If Google’s high standards discourage other people from trying, then that doesn’t do the profession any good.

First let’s admit that most HR functions can’t achieve the same analytics sophistication Google demonstrates. However, there is good news. In Work Rules! Bock takes pains to point out that a lot of what Google’s “People Operations” team does isn’t so sophisticated that the average company can’t also do it. To put it simply, a decision informed by some thoughtfully collected data is usually better than a decision based only on opinion.

Let’s consider an example.

An employee is caught stealing equipment so a senior manager argues for putting in video monitoring. As an HR professional you have good reasons to suspect monitoring will hurt engagement. Rather than argue with the manager, HR could start by at least gathering data on how much theft has occurred over the past five years. That data will help lead to a better informed decision as to whether the benefits of surveillance will outweigh the harms. Add in some research showing the downside of surveillance, and you can lead the manager toward a decision grounded in data.

The second lesson from Google is that we’ll never have the resources to do all the research we’d like on effective practices; so we’ll have to get over managers’ reluctance to accept evidence from academic studies. If well-done academic studies show goal setting has certain outcomes, then it probably does not make sense to invest scarce dollars in reproducing those results in your own organization. Take the lessons from academia (or Google’s Rework site) and seriously consider them as one piece of evidence when making decisions.

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The biggest lesson from Google is that it is possible to bring more rigor to HR decisions and that we should do so, drawing both on the available evidence we can gather ourselves and on evidence collected by reputable groups outside the organization.

Special thanks to our community of practice for these insights. The community is a group of leading organizations that meets monthly to discuss analytics and evidence-based decision making in the real world.

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, is a globally recognized thinker on people analytics and talent management. Some of his more interesting projects included:

  • Conducted workshops around the world on the practical aspects of people analytics
  • Took business leaders from Japan’s Recruit Co. on a tour of US tech companies (Recruit eventually bought Indeed.com for $1 billion)
  • Studied the relationship between Boards and HR (won Walker Award)
  • Spoke at the World Bank in Paris on HR reporting
  • Co-authored Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. The book was endorsed by the CHROs of IBM, LinkedIn and Starbucks.
  • Worked with Dr. Wanda Wallace on “Leading when you are not the expert” which topped the “Most Popular List” on the Harvard Business Review’s blog.
  • Worked with Dr. Henry Mintzberg on peer coaching, David’s learning modules are among the most popular topics.

Currently David is helping organizations to get on-track with people analytics.

This work led to him being made a Fellow for the Centre of Evidence-based Management (Netherlands) for his contributions to the field.

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