What does it take to be a people scientist?

We look at data, analytics, and other skills required to be a people science leader

If you picture the HR department in a typical business, you’re unlikely to imagine a data scientist sitting among the team. Perhaps that’s because the data handled by a traditional HR department doesn’t require expert interpretation.

But what if you were to add in data from CRM, payroll, internal communication systems like intranet and social networking, exit interviews and talent acquisition software? And what if your HR department was tasked with creating data-dependent remuneration plans, staffing requirement forecasts and recommendations for iterating and refining business processes?

That’s when you need a people scientist. Just as a data scientist looks for trends, patterns and relationships in finance, customer or operational data that may not be immediately apparent, so a people scientist focuses on similar findings in people data.

People data

There is HR data – and there is people data. HR data is the kind of information Personnel departments have been managing for decades – pay scales, appraisal forms, holiday allowances and reporting lines – information that comes from your HR systems.

People data is all of that, combined with employee or workforce data from other parts of the business and beyond. It’s the level of knowledge required to get a sense of your employees as people, not just numbers. The insight that enables you to provide outstanding experiences that recognizes their values, talents and skills – and so drives engagement and improve retention.

Your organization’s people data can include information from your CRM system detailing sales figures, customer feedback, caseloads and turnaround times. It may tap into your internal social network, picking up peer-to-peer recognition of cumulative day-to-day achievements that might not make it into an appraisal. And, if your employees are comfortable with it, you can even draw in knowledge from social media such as LinkedIn, providing a sense of professional and wider career interests.

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Collecting data and making sure that data is accurate and of high quality is the first step. Next is putting your data to work, analyzing and interpreting the information skilfully to yield business-relevant insights.

Adding data analysis skills to your People function enables you to recognize achievements and reward your best performers based on objective data, rather than issuing a blanket pay award across the business. It gives you the insights to predict potential flight risk, avert skills gaps and recruit ahead of the curve.

A data-focused approach also gives you strategic capability. Armed with actionable insights, you can pinpoint where people improvements can be made, and how different approaches or techniques have succeeded or fallen short. You are better equipped to make the business case for improving people processes, hiring talent in a skills crisis, or paying for performance.

People science

The addition of people scientists to your People team is just one part of the HR profession’s transformative shift towards a broader and more strategic function. The emerging discipline of people science will incorporate new skills from data and analytics, psychology, neuroscience, marketing, design, and communications. It is likely to become an exciting career destination for graduates from a wide range of disciplines, not just those with traditional HR training. A recent survey in the US suggests this shift is already underway, revealing that 40% of current people leaders didn’t come up through traditional HR.

Meet the people behind people science

We’re celebrating the arrival of people science in a publication dedicated to this subject from Hot Topics, the tech business media platform. Meet some of the people scientists leading the curve in our HR Tech 100.

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