The 10 Essentials to Generating Actionable Workforce Insight

I’m often asked by business and HR leaders, as well as analytics and planning professionals, “What does it take to create truly meaningful workforce insight on an ongoing basis?” While there are many clichéd responses to such a question – “Start small”, “Get some quick wins”, “It’s a journey” — there’s much more to it. There’s a reality that must be appreciated; a complexity that must be addressed.
Now, I’m all for simplification, particularly when it comes to analytics, as the ultimate story and prospective actions need to be feasible. They need to be clearly understood and actionable, often to a broad audience (e.g., the executive leadership team). That said, when it comes to the underlying processes that need to be in place to generate and communicate such insight, there are several non-negotiables. These are essential, as without them any analytics effort will fail over time. With them, an analytics efforts cannot deliver on the value proposition that’s long been promised. As I often say, “It’s not about boiling the ocean. It’s just about launching a boat that won’t sink.” Build a process that’s water-tight. Here’s how:

The 10 Essentials to Generating Actionable Workforce Insight

Executive Involvement

Leaders, both inside and outside of HR, not only need to sponsor workforce planning and analytics efforts, they need to be involved in them. They are the principal customers, the decision-makers. As such, they need to clearly state their needs, own the research agenda, as well as take action on the in­sights produced.

Dedicated Professionals

It’s not fair to ask a report writer or technologist to “tell the story” of what the data means. Trained researchers do this, and analysis and problem-solving needs to be their focus. Analytics is not a part-time job. It’s a full-time job requiring specialised skills.  In larger organisations, a team is often required.


A lot of analyses can be done, yet priorities need to be set. This is the research agenda. A lot of things must happen to produce relevant measures and enable appropriate analytics.  Process and budget decisions are thus called for. A common language, multi-disciplinary alignment, and data dictionary are also essential. Executives owthe process. Analysts facilitate it.

Research Agenda

Not all internal customers and analytical projects should be weighted equally, as not all insight will be as easy to produce or have the same impact. Some projects will be more time-consuming, while others might not produce actionable insight given available data (or lack thereof). Listing projects clarifies what’s being done as well as what could be done with additional resources.

Analytical Diversity

Most research questions have an array of analytical techniques that can be applied to answer them. Choices have to be made, and skilled analysts understand the menu of statistical options. It’s not a one analytical technique fits all.

Measurement Strategy

What happens when executives want a question answered and the available data is simply inappropriate? Too many jump into analysis without calling this out. Find and/or create the data that’s required to answer important business questions.

Systems Strategy

To collect appropriate data requires appropriate systems. Talent technologies are most often selected to improve processes, not gen­erate actionable workforce insight. Use foresight and make it an “and” – improve processes and provide appropriate data.

Analytical Tools

Even with appropriate data and systems, spe­cific analytical tools are required to do certain types of analyses. From data staging, visualisation, statistical analysis, modelling, scenario planning, data mining, machine learning, etc., appropriate tools need to be consciously selected.

Ample Budget

Workforce insight is not free. It doesn’t come with process-based technologies. It’s a focused effort requiring people, processes, technologies, and governance. It’s takes time and money. It’s an investment, however, that can reap massive returns financially, culturally, and humanisticly. What is “ample” will depend largely on the needs and desires of internal customers, namely executives.

Unwavering Commitment

Analysts, processes, and data improve over time, as do leaders’ abilities to prioritise and take action. It takes time. It takes a long-term view. It’s not a quick fix. It requires the willingness and capacity to learn. Everyone involved must understand this and commit to the improvement journey.
Images: Shutterstock

This article was first published on LinkedIn

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