With Halloween upon us, it seems a perfect time for the HR and recruitment industry to face up to one of its biggest fears: The inevitable coming of big data and analytics.The anxiety around this has been building and has now reached a level akin to fear of the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

The hype on analytics in HR and recruiting has been growing to near cacophonous levels, but unlike other business disciplines, adoption and application of true, meaningful analytics — particularly in talent acquisition — has been scarce to non-existent. But it’s coming, have no doubt. We’re still skeptical on the whole zombie thing, but we are most certainly convinced that we are already in the early days of true, data-driven recruiting and HR.

Inarguably, the future of HR and recruitment lies within the data we have and the analytics we derive from it. But recent research from Bersin by Deloitte found that only 4% of large organizations can predict or model their workforce. We must ask why adoption rates in analytics have been so low? If so many agree that HR and recruitment will become a player in the analytics economy, then why has there been so much resistance?

The answer? Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being replaced. Fear of technology. Fear of analytics.

Ironically, this widespread fear of analytics may actually be preventing HR from overcoming one of its other chief fears — that of not being seen as a key contributor and strategic partner in the boardroom. The clearest path to gain that long-coveted, permanent seat at the C-table is through the use of analytics. Hard numbers to back up the strategic assertions made, and to show ultimate contribution to the bottom line.

Diginomica’s Janine Milne tackled this issue last week in an excellent post last week, using some recent comments from Nick Holley, co-director of Henley Centre for HR Excellence, to back her up:

The quick march towards analytics and big data has left some HR professionals worried that they lack the skills and experience to hack it in this new-look HR department. As Holley explains:

“Too many HR people have based their careers on having gut instinct, experience and relationships and they are worried that this will disintermediate them and the profession will be based on things they are not good at.”

Their fears are “total rubbish” maintains Holley. Rather than robbing them of using their chance to use their instincts, he believes it will actually make their intuition more important. Keen instincts are needed to ask the right questions of the data and to interpret it correctly. Far from being a threat, Holley points out that:

“Analysis is the greatest opportunity HR has ever had to be relevant. It’s game changing with enormous potential.”

The Frankenstein Problem


So what is the root cause of our fear of analytics? And more importantly, how can we get over it?

If the anxiety is borne out of hesitancy to adopt and use new technologies, it may very well have to do with previous experience. The HR and recruitment landscape is still littered with legacy applications that more often than not sit at the core of the technology stack. In recent years more and more innovations have been brought to market. Once adopted, those solutions are then pieced together with legacy systems, often times in a less than artful way. So now we have muddle of cobbled together technologies — some old, some new. And more often than not, they don’t play nicely with each other, if at all. In a sense, we have a Frankenstein monster to deal with, and that’s no easy thing.

Practitioners have struggled for years with these technologies that aren’t intuitive or easy to use, often take days or weeks of training, and can be wildly unreliable. That’s why respondents to our recent survey of HR professionals had overwhelmingly negative feelings about the tools available to them today:

  • A majority of professionals reported that the tools they use today are not intuitive (65%), not easy to customize (59%), and don’t save them time (53%) or money (58%).
  • Nearly three in ten (27%) say that the tools they currently have right actually get in the way of their ability to do their jobs instead of making them better at what they do.
  • Almost two in three (64%) express some dissatisfaction with or have plans to replace their current applicant tracking system (ATS).

And data? Forget about it. The Frankenstein problem has created a mess of disconnected data that is near impossible to work with. Not only has harnessing and making sense of data been difficult, the integrity of the data itself has been extremely degraded. Our survey also tapped into recruitment professionals current mindset when it comes to the data they currently work with:

  • 62% said they don’t have access to or can’t easily extract data or metrics from their current systems
  • 67% said they don’t trust the data they do receive
  • 75% reported that it’s difficult to share or explain the data with executives outside of HR

Survey respondents also said they spend, on average, 32 hours a month managing and manipulating data. That’s nearly a full work week which could and should be spent on recruiting rather than wrestling with spreadsheets and messy, unreliable data. Fact is, the legacy systems where much of this data lives simply aren’t attuned for the data-driven world in which live in now.

Afraid of the Dark? Then Don’t Be Afraid of the Data. 


I’ve painted a pretty grim picture so far with this post, a horror story of sorts. But have no fear because we are headed toward a happy ending.

An influx of innovation has hit the market over the last few years, much of which is resulting in solutions that offer integrated, clean and easy-to-consume analytics. Designed with the end user in mind first (rather than the process), these solutions represent the future of data-driven talent acquisition. Adopting analytics no longer requires an army of quants and data scientists.

Earlier this week on ERE, Dr. Charles Handler reported on what he saw from the vendor community at the recent HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas:

Easy-to-use consumer technology is raising the bar for expectations around the user interface and user experience with HR technology products. All of the vendors, from startups to global powerhouses, are working at a very high level of design and experience.

So, what does this have to do with data? A lot. Easy-to-use technology is a Trojan horse for adoption of a data-centric mindset. The easier technology is to use, the easier it is for users to buy into the value of the data it serves up. HR technology is no exception. It is becoming increasingly easier to access and use HR data, providing increased ability to demonstrate the value of people to the business. 

This hopefully helps put to rest any fears when it comes to technology. If your angst over adopting and adapting to new technologies is based on previous (or even current) experience, know that there are solutions available now built on the very idea of dispelling that angst.

The other side of the fear equation, the one that portends that applying data and analytics will somehow suck the soul out of HR, needs to be dispelled as well. Just because we are in an analytics economy now, does not mean that the art behind business functions like recruitment will disappear. Analytics should be thought of as a smart and useful supplement to existing practices and processes. Yes, bringing analytics to talent acquisition does require a shift in culture and mindset, which can be scary. But it should not be thought of as a wholesale replacement a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. 


Recruiting without data is like recruiting in the dark; and people are afraid of the dark for good reason. So be afraid of the dark, but don’t fear the data.

Download the Jibe Executive Brief, “Analytics in Talent Acquisition: The Hype, the Reality and the Future” 

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