HR has often been seen as a soft field. Unlike other departments, HR cannot produce exact results 100% of the time. That’s the nature of a people-oriented field. But this inability to produce exact results is also why HR is often under-valued within institutions. To combat this anti-HR bias, many are arguing that HR is becoming much more scientific. And this is true–to an extent. The recent introduction of HR analytics is allowing us to make stronger, more accurate predictions than ever before. However, even the best data cannot always account for the behavior of inconsistent humans. For this reason, the best HR strategy will always be part art and part science.
HR Strategy As Science
In the past, HR strategy relied on precedence: what did we do in the past, and how did we do it then? The problem with this model is that changes in business culture, technology, the industry as a whole, and the workforce itself often leave old policies outdated and ineffective. When problems were identified, simple changes were made, but often these changes were made based on assumptions that might or might not be true. Those changes might bring about positive change, or they might make the situation worse. This guesswork approach is why HR is often seen “as providing less strategic value than any other major business function.”
With the introduction of HR analytics, this is changing. Data science is providing powerful insights into productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness of businesses across the country. There are innumerable advantages to this data-driven model. For one thing, problems can be identified and dealt with much more quickly. For another, using multiple metrics to consider problems from different angles helps us draw more accurate conclusions about causes and effects, making our data more actionable.
Many important businesses throughout the U.S. are seeing the value of data-driven HR. Dr. John Sullivan, a leading writer and speaker in the field of HR, talks about the ways that Amazon and Google are leading the call for making HR as scientific as possible. “Amazon’s goal is to ‘Become the most scientific HR organization in the world,’” he explains, “and Google’s goal [for HR] is to become as scientific as their engineering functions by bringing ‘The same level of rigor to people-decisions that we do to engineering decisions.’” He sees the goals of these business giants as forecasting what will come for all businesses, writing, “The remaining 99% of HR functions (including your firm) will soon be forced to adopt this data-driven ‘scientific HR’ approach.” Odds are if you’re reading this, you are already experiencing this shift yourself.
But can HR strategy ever be as clear-cut as other business functions? Does the inclusion of data analytics really remove all guesswork from the field?
HR Strategy As Art
The short answer is no. In their article “Is HR an Art or a Science?” UK-based company The HR Booth writes, “In parts of the business such as logistics, the correlation between a given action and a result is much clearer, with each action leading to a definable and predictable result. In HR, when creating strategies and policies it’s often much more difficult to measure the outcome. Being primarily relating to the actions of individuals, it’s simply not possible to predict what might happen with any accuracy, nor replicate exactly the same results each time.”
When we think about the foundational elements of any science, replicability is at the core. The scientific method requires that for an experiment to be conclusive, we must be able to follow the exact same steps and produce the exact same outcome. So where does this leave HR?
Data is, and will continue to be, essential to good HR strategy. There’s no way around that. But the best strategy will combine data with experience and instinct. People are more than data points, and their needs, drives, and desires are constantly in flux. Your workforce and recruitment pools will continue to evolve and diversify, and you will have to evolve along with them. Part of the art in good HR strategy is knowing how to adapt and go with the flow while maintaining consistency and fairness.
If you’re looking for a better way to bring all of your people metrics into one place, take a look at our HR analytics dashboard. It’s the first step to making your HR strategy more scientific. Click to schedule a demo and learn more.