Talent Management and The Long Road to Big Data

May 15, 2012 by Wally Bock

Big Data” is the latest buzzphrase about the future of HR and talent management. Bersin’s recent report suggests that we should see “Big Data in HR as Huge Opportunity.” Josh Bersin’s blog post presents five basic findings taken from his firm’s report.

The report outlines “a 3-5 year maturity model to building a world-class analytics solution.” Bersin divides the process into four “levels,” starting with “reporting” and culminating in “predictive analytics.

I think the view and sequence are right, but the time frame is suspect. After decades of making forecasting mistakes, I subscribe to futurist Paul Saffo’s sage advice: “never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”

To exploit Big Data, you need to upgrade your technology, but you also have to think differently. There is art as well as science involved when you search through mountains of data for nuggets of insight. Most of the folks who fill top HR positions have not learned to think this way. It could easily take a generation to change that.

Let’s take a look at how it all happened on the marketing side at Target. Read Charles Duhigg’s NY Times article, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets” to get a sense of why Target is often held up as the very model for the kind of results that Big Data can generate. Then think about how they got to where they are today.

Retailers have been gathering data about their customers for a couple of decades now and Target has been a leader. They’ve gone through a progression that is similar to what Bersin outlines in their report. But Target has been working on Bersin’s “Level 4,” including predictive analytics for about a decade.

One challenge was to gather everything that was important and put it where it could all be analyzed in helpful ways. For Target that meant connecting everything to their Guest ID, but that was no easy task. Target needed to think through how to get the data and develop tools to obtain it and consolidate it.

This has to happen in talent management, too. My guess is that it will be handled quite well by the combination of software vendors now bringing HR-specific packages on stream and leading edge companies who work with them to refine the packages. At that point, things get tougher.

Big Data will not give up its secrets to technology alone. You need two kinds of people to wring out the real value.

There must be people with a deep knowledge of talent management who can identify key issues for analysis. They need to be conversant and comfortable with technology.

And you need people with the deep technical skills necessary to use the technology. That means statisticians and analysts who have deep knowledge of how to pull insight out of the data and who are conversant and comfortable with talent management issues.

That world is coming, but it won’t be either easy or quick.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Talent Management

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