CAHRS Partner Members Discuss the Latest in Analytics

Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies partner companies BAE Systems and IBM are highlight in Human Resource Executive's April 2017 issue in "HR Analytics Trailblazers."

BAE Systems Inc., a Mt. Laurel, N.J., defense contractor, has in the last several years become increasingly focused on infusing data analytics into its workforce-planning processes. It currently has a dedicated workforce-intelligence team leading the effort, according to Carol Darling, vice president of workforce analytics and HR compliance, talent acquisition ops and global workforce planning.

Darling says the BAE Systems team uses employee data to track critical roles in each of the company's business areas, and delivers comprehensive data on hiring, attrition, retention and demographics -- all of which help business teams assess specific talent strengths and weaknesses.

"Our dashboard is incredibly robust with drill downs and just about anything you can imagine," she says. "That helps our business lines manage their workforces. For instance, we can tell them generationally what our workforce looks like and how it will change over the next few years."

BAE's Darling says her company's HR predictive-analytics effort grew out of its compliance team, because compliance data is, by its nature, very "clean" (read accurate), so it's a logical starting point. BAE formed a core group of HR people who were very familiar with the data.

"At that point, the analytics space kind of expanded within the HR industry and we were asked to start tackling more complex issues," Darling says. BAE expanded its core team and then upgraded some of the team's skill sets over time.

We have a couple of Ph.D. statisticians on board, along with some business-intelligence professionals," she says. "In a really short period of time we were able to start delivering products to our user community, tools that they could gain insights from and make better decisions with." For example, BAE Systems uses predictive analytics to determine flight risk in the employee population, creating flight-risk profiles. With that, one group was able to decrease attrition by 20 percent using tactics based on the analysis the HR team provided.

BAE started off with a relatively simple dashboard and then built up from there using a combination of Alteryx, a self-service analytics platform, and Tableaux, a visual analytics platform -- a successful combination.

"Our team is often asked to give briefings at the Tableaux conference or the Alteryx conference [based on] what they've done with the data," she says. BAE has even won awards at both user conferences.

Being in the defense industry means BAE has an aging workforce compared to other sectors (due to the nature of the skill sets among its workforce), so HR analytics are used to forecast what its workforce might look like five years out.

"We triangulate the data to figure out the average retirement ages for our employees. Next, we develop heat maps to identify what areas might be at most risk," she says. "We also added programs to encourage people to stay with us longer."

Darling's department is focused on helping BAE businesses with respect to segmentation of their critical workforce skills. It can identify what is already in the talent pipeline and what their organization could potentially look like in the future if it does nothing differently. It also overlays data with a macroeconomic analysis, checking into the demographics of specific geographic locations, as well as skill sets available in those locations and the predicted future availability of such skill sets.

"It helps inform if they need to 'buy or build' [their] way out of potential gaps or holes related to talent," she says. "We also are getting a better grip on the cost of attrition. We have a variety of different types of people doing different types of work, whether that means engineers inventing things or service people who work on-site with our government customers.

"One ultimate goal is to eliminate guessing when it comes to talent planning," she says.

It's no surprise that IBM is also among the elite in using predictive analytics within its talent-management strategy, according to Elissa Tucker, research program manager for human capital management at American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), a member-based nonprofit HR research firm in Houston. Tucker collaborated with Talent Analytics on a research report, Getting Started with Predictive Workforce Analytics, which focused on five employers, including Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, in their efforts to creatively take advantage of predictive analytics.

"IBM is doing a number of innovative things," Tucker says.

IBM's HR function includes a dedicated predictive social-analytics team. One of the team's first projects was to use social media to get a real-time understanding of employee engagement. As part of its report, APQC interviewed N. Sadat Shami, manager of IBM's Center for Engagement and Social Analytics.

IBM's social-analytics team found that it could account for 48 percent of the variability in employee-engagement scores by analyzing social-media-data use among employees. Shami told APQC that the number represented a "really strong effect," so this result gave IBM confidence that there is significant internal social-media data related to employee engagement.

The IBM team also created an analytics tool called Social Pulse, which uses IBM employees' "social-media sentiment" to predict if engagement is increasing or decreasing as a result of IBM HR initiatives.

 "To get action, we try to make our analytics as consumable as possible. One way we do this is by communicating analytics results visually," Shami said in the interview. "We realize that, if business leaders can quickly understand analytics, then it helps them drive action. Behind our visuals are a lot of advanced analytics, but these don't need to get displayed and maybe don't even need to be mentioned."

One small but meaningful Social Pulse success story singled out in the APQC report resulted in changing an unpopular IBM HR policy. Driven by concern for safety and reduced insurance risk, IBM would not reimburse employers for use of popular ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Unhappy with the policy, IBM employees posted a petition to change it on Connections, the company's internal social-media platform.

Within 24 hours, the petition received more than 100 "likes" and 50 comments, and the Social Pulse tool alerted the analytics team, which then notified the company's chief HR officer. IBM's CHRO convened a meeting of relevant people who decided that IBM would reverse the policy and reimburse employees using ride-sharing services -- again, fairly inconsequential, but proof that accurate data in any form can affect an HR policy or address a challenge quickly.

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