Analytics programs are one of the most powerful tools available to modern managers and HR professionals. Analysis shows that companies making good use of analytics and the big data pools now available to them can make improvements in productivity of five to six percent over their competitors. And that’s a gain that they’ll keep on making year after year as long as they’re using these techniques and the opposition aren’t.

In HR, analytics has huge potential. It can refine and direct your hiring processes, make performance management more direct and well evidenced, and support better employee engagement by driving better customer engagement.

As analytics increasingly proves its worth it’s becoming a standard approach across organizations and sectors. But as with strategic planning, analytics needs to be implemented systematically in order to bring the greatest benefit for your organization. You need a plan to implement it.

So what sort of benefits can you gain from applying analytics in HR, and how can you plan to make the most of it?

Recruitment

Good recruitment starts with understanding what you want in an employee. This means not just understanding what goals you will want them to achieve, but what skills will best support them in achieving this.

You might think that this is the easy part of the process. After all, you’ve spent years recruiting people to these positions. You’ve read books and blogs all about the sort of skills that apply to your area. You know what’s needed, right?

Maybe, maybe not. A case described by Kathleen Kruse on Talent Culture makes a powerful point about this. A company was setting out to recruit sales representatives. They thought that they knew what skills made for the best sales – they’d probably been recruiting for those same skills for years. But when they analyzed their workforce they found that a different set of skills were the best ones.

If this company hadn’t used analytics they would still be recruiting the wrong sort of people. You too have the opportunity to use analytics to recruit the right staff. So how do you plan for it?

The best way is to engage with team managers from the start. Involve them in the analysis to identify the skills that they need. That way they will feel ownership of the new skill list and be comfortable using it to recruit their teams. It will also give them insight into how to manage the performance of existing staff, which brings us to…

Performance

Giving managers the right tools will help them to get better performance out of their teams, and so to perform better themselves. That sort of thinking is fundamental to any training program – teach and equip people to do their job better. And that means giving managers access to and training in analytics.

With the right analytics, including the right information being recorded and going into the reports, managers can look more closely at both team and individual performance, and so make more informed decisions. They can keep track of both individual and team performance, relate the two to each other, and identify areas of strength and weakness.

This doesn’t just give managers a more accurate idea of what to praise and reward, as well as who needs training or perhaps even performance measures. It also gives them the evidence to back it up. A performance review is more effective if there’s less room for doubt, if the figures are there to point at and you can be sure that you’re being objective.

Evidence is a powerful tool, and analytics is a great source of evidence.

Engagement

Analytics can give you insight into the effectiveness of your employee engagement programs. But it can also allow you to go deeper with employee engagement, to get at the core of what makes a job satisfying or frustrating.

Almost everyone wants to do their job well. It’s human nature – if you’re spending all day on something then you become invested in it. For those on the front lines this means satisfying the customers they deal with. If they can do that then they’ll be happy and engaged. If they can’t then they’ll become frustrated against the policies, objectives and products that they have to work with and that are standing in their way.

This is where social media analytics comes in. Through analyzing your web and social media data you can get great insight into what your customers want. Building your products, procedures and objectives around this will obviously improve customer satisfaction, but it will also improve employee satisfaction and engagement. No more angry phone calls. No more banging their heads against corporate brick walls. You’ll have built an organization that lets them achieve what they want – doing their jobs well.

The challenge of analytics

It’s easy to say all of this in theory, but more difficult to put it into practice. Being driven by analytics means focusing on patterns of behavior rather than on fixing problems. You’ll be looking at the data, looking at what behavior it represents, and working out how you want to change that. It involves a different mindset for both HR and managers. It also means some difficult conversations, as not everybody is willing to change.

But with data guiding you to hire the right people, providing you with the evidence for performance decisions, and focusing you in on what customers really want, you can be sure of better results.