The skills needed to build a HR Analytics team

A big question when embarking on an HR Analytics journey is understanding what skills, and therefore people you need to have. At the same time, many firms will want to start small so hiring the number of people and specialist skills the more mature firms have isn’t really an option.

Good analyst teams require a multi-disciplinary skill set. It’s highly unlikely that analysts will have all the needed skills themselves.

The most important skill is domain expertise – deep knowledge of HR and business. Knowing what questions to ask, what research is available, having mental models of how workforces develop and how people drive productivity is essential to realising value from analytics.

These people will need to have an understanding of analytics but they might not necessarily be experts. They’ll be useful for their consultative skills, being able to identify and structure the real questions that answering would drive business value. They’ll also need to be good ambassadors, explaining the benefits of using the young team and building demand.

The second skill that is needed early on is statistics. Statisitical knowledge is vital for knowing how to interpret data. Increasingly statistical techniques will include technology-driven techniques such as machine learning and simulation. Statisticians should know how to collect data, for example by designing complex surveys and how to design experiments. Many are hiring analysts with advanced degrees in mathematics, statistics, economics or psychology to meet these needs.

Modern data analysts spend around 70% of their time in what is often called ‘data munging’. This is transforming, cleaning and manipulating data to get it from the state it is being stored, or was captured, and the state it needs to be in to do the analysis. It requires programming skills – often known as hacking – probably in a language like R (which we use), Python or if you have corporate licences something like SAS.

Finally you need to persuade others to act on the results of the analysis. The most important part of communicating data is the communication, not the data. Data visualization skills are vital for ensuring the correct story is read from the data, and for encouraging people to change. This is probably the easiest of the four skills to train to get team members, especially the statisticians or hackers, up to a reasonable standard. In the longer term it’s probably worth getting an expert to do this task.

Now the bad news

The biggest problem you’ll have building this team is people with these skills are in huge demand. The chart below shows the change in demand in advertised jobs in three groups – for HR, Talent Management and HR Analytics – with the data taken from and converted to index numbers based in Jan 1 2005. The increase in demand for HR analysts has been rapid.


Adding to this the skills are widely applicable and a large number of other functions and businesses are also trying to hire the same type of people. CHROs need to ask themselves why in-demand analysts should and come and work in HR rather than in any number of other areas where opportunities are available.