Workforce Visibility: If They Knew, What Would They Do?

If business leaders knew the characteristics of high performers, would they make better staffing decisions? If they knew the factors that lead to costly voluntary turnover, would they change their retention strategies? And if they knew the true cost of getting work done, would they make better decisions on what regions to hire from or whether to use contractors? Of course they would.

Workforce intelligence is the foundation for sound management decisions. In spite of this universal acknowledgement, most HR organizations can’t provide even the most basic workforce information to business leaders. It’s not as if HR is holding the good stuff back—given the current state of their HR infrastructure, they simply can’t get to it.

I often wonder why, given the importance of talent, more business leaders aren’t kicking and screaming for better intelligence. For many other facets of business, they get timely, consistent, and valid data. They expect immediate access to rich information experiences for viewing cash balance, inventory, and the sales pipeline. Yet why is it acceptable that people data is spread out in multiple disparate systems, or that it takes days and even weeks to generate (an already out-of-date) global headcount report?

Fortunately, more business leaders are recognizing that they don’t know enough about their workforce. In fact, the criticality of talent surfaces again and again in executive surveys. Take Deloitte’s Talent Edge 2020 report, which observes:

“…as companies worldwide struggle to move beyond the great recession, many executives recognize the need to develop talent strategies to meet the demands of the ‘new normal’. With trends such as globalization and the aging workforce gaining traction during the recession, global talent leaders are now focused on finding the right balance between economic realities and investment requirements as they position their companies for success in the next decade.”

2011 Critical Initiatives

Today’s business leaders must be adept at identifying and mobilizing talent across business units and geographies to support growth. They must become experts at re-skilling talent to support business model changes, and have a solid strategy for retaining their best workers.

They also need to recognize that the definition of “workforce” is outmoded if it focuses only on employees. Large, important parts of the workforce are now transitory workers in the form of contractors and invoiced services. Workforce intelligence needs to include the whole workforce, not just part of it.

What’s more, leaders need to be adept at identifying their best—and worst—managers for hiring, developing and retaining talent. Each manager’s body-of-work for talent development should be available and a key part of decision making in respect to promotions for those who report to these managers. This is especially important for determining whether a “fast tracker” who climbed the corporate ladder left in his path a pool of great talent—or addled yes-men.

Many HR organizations today are “thinking about” or actively developing workforce/talent dashboards for their business users. This is good and important work, but doesn’t go far enough, because the data presented is often disconnected and out of context of the workflow. To deliver high-impact performance support, HR should also provide business users with workforce intelligence in the natural course of business. Analytics should be deeply embedded in business processes such as a staffing changes, compensation review, performance review, talent assessment, and workforce planning.

For example, during a merit compensation review, wouldn’t it be valuable to know if an employee is a retention risk? Or is paid below market and hasn’t had a promotion in two years, yet is a rising star who consistently exceeds performance expectations? Or is a key player in one of the CEO’s top five initiatives?

Such insight—in context—would be enormously beneficial for decisions about merit pay, bonuses, equity, and promotions. It would also be valuable to know who among your top performers is reporting to managers with a poor or average track record for developing talent (many surveys show that employees work for their managers as much they work for their companies).

By embedding workforce intelligence within all people processes, HR professionals are much closer to being true business partners. With a modern HCM solution, HR can connect the dots and present the most relevant, up-to-date information to help business leaders make mission-critical and even game-changing decisions. Unifying talent with the core HR system-of-record produces a richer context for workforce intelligence, and puts it in the hands of your most effective managers. As importantly, you’ll get workforce intelligence that takes your best talent, and the decision to hire and develop talent, out of the hands of managers who stink at it.