Are analytical skills enough to excel as an HR analyst? Why and how are storytelling skills used by HR analysts to further their cause? Professors Na Fu, Trinity Business School, Anne Keegan, Smurfit Business School, and Steven McCartney, Maynooth University School of Business, dive deep into the world of HR analysts to understand their skills and challenges.
Storytelling: How and why HR Analysts tell – or not by CoBS Editor Pavan Jambai. Related research: The duality of HR analysts’ storytelling: Showcasing and curbing, Na Fu, Anne Keegan, Steven McCartney, Human Resource Management Journal, Wiley.
Data Analytics has become a part of every facet of our life, whether we want it or not. And when used appropriately, data analytics can be an instrumental tool for businesses. However, sometimes – under the pretense of ‘efficiency’ or ‘learning’ – analytics is used to ‘track’ or ‘monitor’ people, be their clients or employees.
Going deeper, HR analytics is broadly viewed as an analytical practice involving the collection and analysis of data, gaining actionable insights from this, and using technology and tools to solve HR and business challenges. The legitimate advantages of HR analytics aside, firms are also employing it for two other reasons – firstly because it’s a hot topic in the HR world, and secondly because of institutional pressures to align with expectations.
HR Analysts as Storytellers
“A solution is as good as the people who execute it”, could be a good mantra and it applies to every company or department irrespective of the domain. Indeed, as enactors of HR analytics, HR analysts must possess two main skills – analytical and storytelling skills – to reach the objective of taking a data-driven and evidence-based approach for decision to be made. And while the analytical aspect of the profession has been explored in great detail, the storytelling aspect of the HR Analyst’s skillset has remained relatively uncharted.
Raw numbers and data might not always be understood by people. As such, storytelling allows HR analysts to craft and sell their stories to varied stakeholders from the senior management team to a general audience. But apart from conveying the results of their work, HR analysts also use storytelling for an additional end – to advocate and engineer consent for HR analytics to gain resources to develop the analytical capabilities of their organization.
However, while it might be a perfectly reasonable assumption that HR analysts always use storytelling to showcase HR analytics, new research by Profs. Na Fu, Anne Keegan, and Steven McCartney shows that it is not always the case. HR analysts also use storytelling to slow down, delay or hide HR analytics. This counter-intuitive theme suggests that HR analysts walk a fine line between the promotion and protection of HR analytics and between holding back and selling certain projects to stakeholders.
Stories for and against HR Analytics
When using storytelling for showcasing analytics, HR analysts exhibit two types of behaviours: translating and selling. Translating is when they create insights from their analysis and make them intelligible and convincing for the stakeholders. Selling, on the other hand, is when analysts attempt to advocate for HR analytics through its contribution and importance for the organization at a broader level.
Profs. Fu, Keegan, and McCartney successfully identify a number of key reasons why HR analysts use storytelling as a showcasing tool, the most prominent perhaps being HR analysts’ very passion and professional identification with HR analytics itself. Other reasons pinpointed include the analysts’ belief in the necessity of HR analytics to improve decision-making processes, as well as vying for support within their organizations for investing more time, energy, and resources in HR analytics.
But what about the paradox of HR analysts bridling their cause through storytelling? Indeed, this counter-intuitive behaviour was found to be achieved through several indirect ways. Firstly, HR analysts curb enthusiasm for HR analytics by actively slowing things down to get the message across: we need to walk before we can run. Moreover, they also use hiding from the spotlight as a strategy to gain attention. And lastly, refocusing both on the priorities and the objectives of projects is also used to curb enthusiasm as it delays immediate results.
To resort to storytelling as a tool for curbing the enthusiasm for HR analytics, HR analysts do have valid reasons, not least their heavy workload. They usually have one too many systems to work on and, as such, have to prioritize projects that have legitimate needs for HR analytics. Lack of data quality is also a key issue from over-using HR Analytics, since credible data is at the core of it all, as is the lacuna in technical sophistication or data privacy concerns.
Understanding the holistic skillset of HR Analysts
As the world becomes increasingly connected, the role of data analytics can only become more substantial from what it is today. HR analytics has reached the point where policy to adopt analytics appears almost compulsory for self-respecting HR functions. As such, HR analysts, as the enforcers of HR analytics, must be given the necessary technical sophistication and the space to improve their skills – both analytical and storytelling.
Storytelling has always remained a critical yet under-appreciated role of HR analysts and deserves more practical attention. Faced with two seemingly contradictory aspects of storytelling – showcasing and curbing – the bottom line is that HR analysts strive to cope with inadequacies in data quality and systems. Indeed, these aspects can make their work laborious, stressful, and unglamorous – and, to end the story, this might be a possible explanation for the slow progress of HR analytics in the business and academic world.
- Link up with Na Fu, Anne Keegan, Steven McCartney on LinkedIn
- Read a related post: Strategic and responsible HR management
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- Apply for the Trinity MBA or EMBA.
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