If you've been in a boardroom in the past few years, you've probably heard the phrase "data-driven" more than a few times. We've seen big data proliferate across departments: Marketing teams have evolved from the "Mad Men" days to a "prove everything" approach that demands true ROI from every dollar spent. Sales departments are focused on metrics like lead scoring, close rates and churn reduction. Finance departments are using big data to make smarter investments and maximize their returns.

One department that has been a bit slower to adopt a data-driven philosophy, despite the fact that it focuses on arguably the most important resource within an organization, is Human Resources. People are widely regarded as the "most important resource" by executives in every single sector. And yet, there's seemingly more gut instinct going on in HR departments, while data influences change throughout the rest of the organization.

If people are truly your most important resource, wouldn't you want to know how they're feeling more regularly than say, annually, through a static (and largely boring) employee survey?

Or worse... an exit interview after it's too late?

I can't imagine a company gauging any other resource with this mentality.

All of that said, the old-school mindset is finally starting to change. Today, people analytics platforms are revolutionizing the way that organizations develop and maintain a positive workplace culture. They're empowering HR with the information and tools they need to be successful, in an area that was largely anecdotal before the advent of big data. Gone are the days of the annual survey. Employees are moving faster than ever. Organizations need to have their fingers on the pulse of employee engagement with much more regularity.

Peakon (a Likeable client), is one such example of a technology platform that brings employee feedback to the forefront, integrating with HR departments to run anonymous email surveys that assess employee health across more than a dozen categories. The insights they uncover can be quite fascinating: It might be that employees are unhappy with the lack of meeting space in a particular office, or that workload is becoming an issue in a specific region.

For some, it's not just research-- it's a competitive advantage that can go a long way toward describing business health. Perhaps the best example of this is EasyJet, who is now publishing their Peakon score in their annual reports and earnings releases.

Big data can also provide macro-level insight on certain topics. Given employee surveys, Peakon has amassed over 37 million responses from employees in 125 countries as of May 2019. Their most recent study, dubbed The 9-Month Warning: Identifying Quitters Before It's Too Late, tackles the topic of attrition and examines leading factors that drive a person to quit. At a high level, the study found that:

  1. Employees leave unchallenging work, not a heavy workload

  2. People leave when they can't discuss pay, not because they feel under-rewarded

  3. People leave managers, not colleagues, culture or company

  4. People leave when they don't see a path for personal development

Given that minimizing attrition and churn are key goals in every HR department I've known, I can see why this type of data is really starting to make its way into the organizational toolset. This level of analysis is only possible because HR departments are abandoning the annual survey, becoming more proactive in how they're engaging their most valuable resource.

In many ways, HR feels the last frontier in adopting the data-driven mindset. We're just now on the cusp of true data integration in HR, and there's a clear opportunity right now for organizations to lean in and leverage it to their advantage, before everyone else catches up.