Steer Into the Future: 4 Ways Analytics Will Change HR in 2020

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While HR has evolved considerably in the last decade, it continues to lag behind in several critical areas. However, complacency is no longer an option. To stake out a place as key strategists in the organization, HR must be prepared to take hold of the reins and steer into the future.

In 2020, forward-thinking HR leaders will be turning to analytics to address these changes head-on. Here are four big changes we can expect see in the year ahead:

1. Paving the Path to a Better Employee Experience

No single definition of the employee experience exists, but it is essentially about making the talent journey as enriching as possible. It has its roots in employee engagement, which is typically managed through top-down surveys delivered through web apps. Many HR leaders have begun to instigate more regular touch points with employees through pulse surveys. At the same time, organizations have embraced collaboration tools and started adopting nudge engines as ways to improve the work lives of their employees.

In 2020, organizations will focus on the employee experience more holistically, encompassing everything from broad cultural shifts to helping employees take charge of their own well-being and mental health. This new focus will require more data sources and analytics for everyone, not just top-level decision makers. Analytics will help HR leaders better understand engagement among diverse employees, and leaders will be able to monitor the impact engagement has on turnover, exit patterns, and inclusion. Rolling out analytics broadly (while respecting and adhering to data privacy regulations) across the organization will help create grassroots initiatives.

Taking it one step further, organizations will also use data and analytics to help workers take charge of their own financial planning, wellness, personal development, and career paths. This is especially important for digital natives like millennials and Generation Z, who demand and are engaged by transparent access to their data. With every new people analytics initiative, organizations will be helping employees answer the question: “What’s in it for me?”

2. Supporting Reskilling Initiatives

According to McKinsey, 62 percent of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workers by 2023. The sheer scale of this reskilling effort will force organizations to transform learning if they haven’t already.

Learning will no longer be a periodic, one-and-done process, but a seamless part of everyone’s job — managers included. Span of control will be broader, because fewer managers will be needed with the rise of automation. As a result, critical manager skill sets will also change. Nobody will be immune from reskilling demands.

The number of tools on the market that facilitate in-the-moment learning will continue to increase, but HR leaders will still be under pressure to determine whether the business is getting the ROI it needs from its learning initiatives. More learning leaders will turn to unified analytics platforms that connect learning to all aspects of the employee life cycle. The business data generated from these platforms will enable the C-suite to instantly see the impact of learning programs on business results.

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Organizations will use data collection and analytics to capture leadership experience and skills, levels of experience, and degrees and certifications. With this information, they will be able to deploy teams to projects more rapidly, as well as get a handle on where they are at risk of experiencing skills shortages. Organizations will also dig into people data to determine whether participants from specific reskilling programs are experiencing more internal movement, flowing from low-demand positions to high-demand positions.

3. Improving Collaboration With Organizational Network Analysis

An entirely new type of organizational structure — one that relies on strong interpersonal relationships to thrive — is emerging. With more organizations placing a premium on innovation, networks of teams are eclipsing hierarchical, command-and-control structures. This rise in team and remote work has prompted organizations to embrace collaboration tools, enabling virtual relationships to form in more spontaneous, organic ways.

In 2020, organizations will take this one step further, analyzing the byproduct data from these collaboration platforms to perform what’s called “organizational network analysis” (ONA). By providing what Babson College business professor Rob Cross describes as an “x-ray into the inner workings of an organization,” ONA helps leaders see the informal networks that do not get captured on the traditional org chart. In the coming years, new kinds of machine learning models will emerge that better predict what makes individual employees and teams successful. These insights can then be fed to rank-and-file workers as real-time suggestions through nudge engines.

4. Measuring Up With Benchmarking

Benchmarking has become HR’s core tool for measuring processes, practices, and results against competitors. In recent years, HR went beyond cost and headcount to seek out comparison data that informed decisions around compensation, employee performance, overtime, absenteeism, diversity and inclusion, and more. The biggest challenge was ensuring the validity of the data — often based on voluntary surveys directed by third-party organizations — and getting to that data quickly.

With people analytics expected to be even more accessible in 2020, it will become easier for anyone in the organization to test benchmarks against internal workforce data and find the right standards for them. Companies like Merck KGaA are already doing this. Merck used people analytics to challenge the global span-of-control benchmark of 8-10 reports per manager; its analysis revealed sales teams perform better when they have a smaller team size than the global benchmark.

The volume of workforce data continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. All this new information can lead to better HR decisions, but merely having data does not mean that organizations have valuable insights.

By using analytics to cultivate the employee experience, improve collaboration, support critical reskilling initiatives, and help HR organizations see how they measure up against their competitors, HR teams will get more than the valuable information they need to build an HR function of the future — they will gain the credibility to lead the change in 2020 and beyond.

Ian Cook heads the workforce domain for Visier.

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Ian Cook heads the workforce domain for Visier, which develops cloud-based applications that enable HR professionals to answer workforce strategy questions. Ian has been involved in driving forward the datafication of HR and is a speaker and blogger on the subject. Prior to Visier, Ian built Canada's leading source of HR benchmark data. His expertise has also been developed through years of international experience solving strategic HR problems for brands in the Fortune 500 and FTSE 100.