The future of HR reporting

A question that we’re frequently asked is where do we see HR analytics developing.  To provide an answer we’ll consider different levels of analysis in turn, starting with where reporting is going.

At the moment most HR teams will be doing some reporting.  Typically it is being done by either central reporting teams who are one-step-removed from the business or by some HR managers, typically those with a basic-decent understanding of numbers.  These reports will focus on ‘what has happened’ and are used to monitor process.

In this situation reports are typically static.  If the report needs further clarification the analyst typically needs to go back to the data and redo work.  The reports will be presented in a static document state – powerpoint slides or pdfs are common.

Where HR reporting is and what users expect, from other walks of life from reports is rapidly dividing.  Media sources such as the Guardian and New York Times are giving users interactive tools to enable the readers to explore the story in greater detail.  Our favourite, the Financial Times Market Data section has a vast number of interactive charts and graphics which present complex data in a clear manner.  It’s even better in the iPad web-app than on the website.

We feel that HR reporting needs to catch-up.  Here is the high-level use case that we see:

An HR generalist is called to a meeting by one of their clients.  Whilst they have an understanding of the overall topic they do not know the exact issue.

The generalist goes to the meeting with their notebook and mobile device (probably in the near future a tablet device like an iPad but it could be a laptop).  On that device they have access to the company’s dashboards.

 The dashboards take a fundamentally different perspective to what you might be used to.  Instead of starting with the data (reports on activity etc) the generalist is guided by the type of question that they wish to answer.  The HR team have identified the most common questions and tasks and developed views for each of these.

Selecting the relevant question they are presented with a high-level summary of the information.  Data is clearly presented and areas of concern / success are highlighted in a way to draw the user’s attention.  

 Working side-by-side with the manager they can explore interactively the data together.  They can see it in context with the firm as a whole, or previous time periods.  Finally they can drill down to the underlying details to understand what is causing the change.

For some questions there might be the option for changing assumptions.  What would be the overall effect on total departmental budget if we changed salaries by x%?  What would be the change if we changed group A by y% and group B by z%?  These sort of questions could be answered as simply as moving a slider and seeing the change.

This is possible now, and is what we’re working to develop with several clients.  What are the key components?

Information is user-friendly

Reports will be designed around the user.  Data will be shown in ways that increases understanding in a reliable and accurate manner.  Users will be able to understand what to do and what is going on without much or any training.

Reports are question focussed, not data focussed

Reporting is designed around decisions that need to be made and are therefore forward looking.  What information would help me make a good decision? What follow-up questions are I likely to have? What details would be needed? The reporting team focuses on understanding and supporting HR activity not just showing past activity

Reporting is mobile

The HR team should have access to data wherever they are, based on current information.  It is no longer good enough to have to go back and find the last slide deck they were sent.  Information needs to be current and available whenever needed.  Reports need to be designed for mobile devices

Reports are interactive

A good report will always lead to further questions.  The viewer should be able to go from high-level summary, through context and to detail interactively.  Ideally the reports will be set up so that they draw the users attention to areas that need exploring in greater detail through the effective use of visual highlighting.

As noted, this is all currently possible, and probably at a lower cost than most HR teams imagine.  We believe that interactive reporting at-hand which can be used collaboratively with internal clients will significantly raise the profile and reputation of the HR function.