Got Talent? Tap Big Data to Keep It

Big data analytics can serve as an early warning system for when people may be tempted to head for the exits, enabling HR to better target retention efforts and save on recruiting costs.

Monday, October 26, 2015
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Talent is a valuable asset for growing businesses, especially in tight markets such as Silicon Valley, where the wars over hard-to-fill positions are fierce. Between the endless parade of startups and powerful lure of big names including Google, Facebook and Twitter, companies currently face tough competition from both above and below for a limited pool of talent. It's no surprise that, from Tesla vs. Apple to Uber's raid on Carnegie Mellon's Robotics talent, poaching is again making headlines.

There's even an app for it.

In sales, we know that it's cheaper to retain a customer than acquire a new one. People are no different, and watching out for flight risk is a major pre-occupation for HR leaders. Fortunately, big data analytics can serve as an early warning system for when people may be tempted to head for the exits, enabling HR to better target retention efforts and save on recruiting costs. Here are a few key considerations:

Get serious about talent analytics.

A recent column published in the Wall Street Journal by JoAnne Kruse of American Express Global Business addressed a blind spot for many organizations: sophisticated, HR-specific analytics. "While finance, marketing and other departments within a company receive customized data and analytics systems, human resources is still left with big data hand-me-downs," she writes. ". . . it is often revenue-driving departments that receive customized tools, leaving human resources to make use of infrastructure that simply doesn't fit."

Kruse has articulated a common problem in the HR domain. Technology budgets are often funneled toward sales, marketing and product development. But ignoring innovation on the HR side is a mistake because quality talent fuels growth. The best business plan in the world is not going to amount to much, after all, if a company doesn't have the right people in place to execute it. It wouldn't make sense to try and retrofit sales analytics technology for the finance department, so why do this for HR? Businesses need data tools specifically designed to provide HR with insights on hiring trends, talent supply and demand and other factors that might potentially disrupt their workforce.   

Competitive market data is often the missing link.

Market demand is the strongest indicator of an employee's flight risk - the more options people have, the less sure a businesses can be of their loyalty. Yet too often many businesses make the mistake of focusing on internal HR statistics only, tracking raises, reviews and promotions to identify employees who may need a more attention. This information is useful, but it can also be misleading if analyzed in a vacuum. External stats on who's hiring, where and for what types of positions and salaries adds valuable competitive context to talent management decisions. For example, the employee who hasn't been promoted in three years may be ready to jump ship, but is he or she worth keeping? If the hiring market for the position isn't that competitive, perhaps it's better to let the person move on - especially if there's a good reason the employee hasn't advanced. If, on the other hand, it's a tough position to fill, a raise and investment in training may be a better approach. External market intelligence, both historical and real-time, allows HR managers to take the nuances of the wider competitive talent market into consideration. The truth is usually "out there."  

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Get ahead of the market.

To protect their top talent from being poached, organizations need to become adept at engaging analytics in a predictive way. Winning a recruitment battle doesn't mean the talent war is over. Workforces are fickle, especially when it comes to the most productive talent whose skills are suddenly "hot." It's important to understand when competitive trends and fluctuations in supply and demand for specific positions might put MVPs at risk. Real-time market data can help serve as an early warning system for when employees may be tempted away by higher pay or a better title elsewhere.

For example, data scientists with machine learning and A.I. expertise are currently in high demand. Organizations with these experts on staff will want to hold on to this talent. Predictive HR analytics can help drive strategies related to compensation, benefits and promotions, and even inform decisions regarding employee relocation or the opening of new offices. The right analytics will empower an organization to get (and stay) ahead of the market to protect valuable assets.

Getting stuck in a never-ending recruiting merry-go-round is costly for businesses, as they continually spend more money on hiring and training. Losing talent also impedes an organization's ability to push forward new projects and maintain continuity. In a world where "human" capital is both currency and a critical competitive advantage, using market intelligence data (i.e., really big data) to predict flight risk and retain talent will translate to cost savings and business growth.

Meredith Amdur is CEO of WANTED Technologies, based in Toronto.

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