Do Not Allow Your People Analytics Tactics to Become “The Noise Before Defeat”

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
- Sun Tzu

Complex people analytics (PA) projects risk losing sight of what is profoundly important as they endeavor to fulfill all aspirational requirements. Identifying and delivering business insight is their purpose, not simply fulfilling a stakeholder’s tactical wish list of presentation-layer features.

However, far too often PA initiatives are launched with requirements dominated by this tactical wish list without a true appreciation for the value of the metrics contained within each report. The funding and focus involved clearly classify these initiatives as Strategic HR projects. Instead of blindly focusing on what presentation tactics will be used, consider first a strategy for building better insights.

These strategic conversations should begin with the number (metric/measure) in question. This number is critical and is the cornerstone for all other discussions. This number should be accurate and meaningful. Everything else within a PA initiative is the tactical positioning of that strategic number.


Without accurate numbers, a reporting effort is wasted. Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Is the number derived from trusted, validated source data?
  2. Is the source data modeled specifically for your organization?
  3. Does your definition of that number align with what will be provided?

These questions are more than simplistic check boxes. Consider Headcount, which is the most basic HR measure. Is it based on the Start of the Period, End of the Period, or Average Daily Headcount? Are retroactive changes accommodated? What will happen when introducing additional data sources such as Engagement or Performance? Are you forced to work with templated data and a rigid data model?

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Not all numbers are equal or valuable. When considering specific metrics, consider these questions.

  1. Is this number important on its own, or does it merely provide context?
  2. Is it actionable?

Considering the above, an easy analogy would be the numbers a physician uses during a patient’s annual physical examination. Those numbers include things like age, height, weight, blood pressure, etc. Age and height are uncontrollable and immune to any action. However, these numbers still provide valuable context for other numbers. Weight and blood pressure would be considered actionable and the focal point for discussion.

Once actionable numbers are identified, ask yourself “So What.” Will this insight drive any internal decisions? If not, it is best to focus elsewhere. These questions will determine meaningfulness. 

Presentation of Numbers

After accurate and meaningful numbers are established, a conversation on presentation tactics can occur. Awareness of internal culture and data consumer preferences is critical in this step.

Most PA initiatives serve a broad spectrum of data consumers that may involve:

  • HR Business Partners
  • Analysts
  • Center of Excellence
  • Data Scientists
  • Line of Business Managers
  • Self-Service capabilities
  • Senior Executives

Each group is best served by providing varying amounts of support, flexibility, and handholding. Common differences for each group would include the decision to provide a summary or detailed data, the amount of context provided, or the amount of supporting documentation required to establish metric validity.


It is understandable that PA professionals become fascinated with whiz-bang features contained within presentation capabilities. Ease of data consumption is important, but please realize that it trails behind generating accurate, meaningful numbers. Storytelling your way through People Analytics without substance supporting you is risky.


For examples of impactful HR projects, or information on how One Model approaches this topic, please connect with us.


Written By

Joe brings 15+ years of HR analytics experience to One Model’s customers. Joe helps users leverage their data to generate the context and perspective required for addressing today’s critical business issues. As a trusted advisor, Joe can provide guidance in defining a variety of data-consumption models suitable for each customer's unique culture.

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