Not just for journos. Poring over data, and a bit of Google’s HR practice.

My regular reader(s) will probably know that I’m a fan of the Guardian newspaper and its on-line efforts.  It does a fine job with data, both in terms of sourcing it and visualizing it. Have a look at the website and data blog here.   I’ve also ranted about the need for more numeracy in HR on a number of occasions. This post will be more of the same.

Leading newspapers are making  effective use of visualization today. As an  example,  the US treasury bond ownership graphic is far more impactful than a simple listing.

It goes deeper than just a nice graph though, at a recent lecture at Leeds Trinity College,  Guardian Data Blog editor Simon Rogers presented with Tim Berners-Lee about data journalism.

Data journalism involves visualising or scrutinising often complex amounts of statistical information.

TBL had this to say.

"Journalists need to be data-savvy. It used to be that you would get stories by chatting to people in bars, and it still might be that you’ll do it that way some times.

"But now it’s also going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyse it and picking out what’s interesting. And keeping it in perspective, helping people out by really seeing where it all fits together, and what’s going on in the country."

It seems to me that most professions could do with a solid dose of data visualization and the accompanying scrutiny. I’m not talking here about expensive tools, but about the love of data, and the joy of finding stuff out, getting stuck into the numbers.

I’ve given a couple of lectures on HR topics, and I’ve been hammering home on the analytics topic, but I think next time, I’ll bring some more data visualization to the party. I strongly believe that we need to see more focus on data visualization across all areas of business, but the HR department needs serious help.

I was pleased to read that Google came up with its 8 rules of management.  At first sight they  seem a typical list that one would find in any airport management book, but they are rooted in an empirical study.  Google has built its business on analysing data, so it is  not surprising that they decided to root around in their own HR data.   I do wish more HR departments would fall in love with data.

I think it is possible to be “people-centric” and “data driven” at the same time. Using numbers  to inform decisions and drive buy in isn’t treasonable.

One thought on “Not just for journos. Poring over data, and a bit of Google’s HR practice.”

  1. Thomas

    I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact I share your vision of a data-driven HR so much that a year ago I left a senior, global, HR position to build a business with HR data visualization as one of the core offerings (the other being employee experience / usability).

    The average HR department has massive amounts of data on who their people are, what they do, increasingly what they think, yet they sit in databases hardly used.

    For me data visualization is part of a broader topic of exploratory data analysis. It’s real power though is its ability to communicate complex information in a manner which the lay-person can understand. What’s more, the visualizations can be (and we do) usability tested in a rigorous manner.

    I can’t think of one topic in HR which can’t be explored and understood with data. You can even take your HRIS log file and automatically create process maps of what the real process maps, and networks are within the organization.

    Since starting the majority of our work has been data visualization, specifically designing reporting. Moving reporting from numbers on a screen to visual guides to inform managers when and where to take action is usually the aim.

    One example that we have shown is using process-timing distributions to highlight the range of times applicants were having to wait during a recruitment process (see here: Since showing them the first visualization the client has halved the process time. We’re now taking it further, using linked surveys so that they can drill-down and see how being in a certain quartile of the distribution changes employment brand perceptions.

    We use a mixture of tools, notably Tableau, though fundamentally it’s not a technology issue. The big issue is the lack of skilled folk in HR and I don’t see this improving. There is a vicious cycle where HR can’t offer great careers for good analysts so good analysts look to other areas such as marketing. The vast majority of folk we work with have backgrounds in marketing or operational research.

    As an aside, it’s interesting that much of our recent demand is coming from non-HR areas such as finance who need to work with HR data.

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