There’s No Such Thing as Big Data in HR

An important thing we have to remember when we throw around the term “big data” is that there is nothing inherently special about it—it is just our colorful way of saying, “We have a lot of numbers.” Particular caution should be exercised with big data in HR. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Peter Cappelli dispels notions that big data will solve all of HR’s problems and outlines some more practical considerations for improving HR.

A Simple Truth

Cappelli goes so far as to say that big data for HR does not literally exist in many cases, in that businesses do not typically employ millions of people, and data is not captured on a regular-enough basis. Thus, the standard big data software tools are an impractical fit for HR. Cappelli elaborates with this:

For most companies, the challenge in HR is simply to use data at all — the reason being that the data associated with different tasks[,] such as hiring and performance management, often reside in different databases. Unless we can get the data in those two databases to be compatible, there is no way to ask even the most basic questions, such as which applicant attributes predict who will be a good performer. In short, most companies — and that includes a lot of big ones — don’t need fancy data scientists. They need database managers to clean up the data. And they need simple software — sometimes even Excel spreadsheets can do the analyses that most HR departments need.

He continues to note that the features that determine a good hire have been studied and remained relatively stable for around a century, meaning it is unlikely that big data targeted at HR will yield a massive new insight in the way it has for other aspects of business. So if you want to improve employee retention and quality of hires, just keep working with the sensible basics. For instance, seek out turnover spikes and their potential catalysts, or listen for if there are consistent complaints about work. Cappelli also notes that pulse surveys—“short, very quick, sometimes daily surveys”—are a good way to know how employees truly feel about work on the whole.

You can view the original article here:

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