Data and Metrics in Today’s HR World — Interview with Isaac Dixon, PhD.

Isaac E. Dixon, PhD., SPHR-SCP is the Associate Vice President for Human Resources at Portland State University. PSU is anIsaac E. Dixon, PhD. institution of 27,000 students and 6,400 faculty, staff and student employees with six collective bargaining units. Isaac has also worked in the private sector for organizations such as NIKE, GE Capital and Providence Health and Services.

Isaac will be presenting at the HR Specialist Summit in Las Vegas in September.

Jathan Janove: Isaac, we have both heard the often-cited stories about the lack of HR savvy with data. What drives that?

Isaac Dixon: In many organizations, HR departments do not have enough definitive information on employee engagement to really add much to the conversation. The process of developing scalable metrics is one that takes time, dedication and the involvement of key stakeholders. Being able to tell leaders across your organization not only what is happening but why and what else may occur is important in growing your credibility as an HR professional.

Jathan: Are there factors outside of data collection that impact how HR is perceived as a data source?

Isaac: The types of systems in use can play an important role in the ability of HR teams to get the data they need/want. Yet fundamental changes must be made in work processes, data gathering and retrieval in order for HR to climb out of the transactional straight jacket we often find ourselves in organizationally. Here is an example of what I mean.

The HR team at a medium-sized hotel company is asked to provide data to the CEO on employee turnover. In reviewing data for the executive team, the CHRO realizes that the data she has from reports that her team runs do not drill down by department, division and constructive versus non-constructive turnover. She also asks her team for reports on what impact turnover has on managerial careers. The answer she receives is: “We do not ask the manager losing the employee about this nor do we query division heads about this.” My first rule of data gathering and analysis is this: In order to get the right answers, you must ask the right questions. Look beyond the superficial numbers to determine if the premise you are attempting to support or prove is accurate.

Jathan: With all of this focus on data, what happens to the human in human resources?

Isaac: Jathan, that is a good question that comes up in discussions that I have with HR professionals. In my experience, HR departments that drive their activities, products, services and process design based on data analysis actually “purchase back” more time for problem solving. In my own shop for example, we have greatly increased our capacity to bring HR-related process improvements to fruition by training our entire staff on how to run a project and how to analyze workflows. This training has accompanied organizational change efforts that make people less concerned about taking calculated risks. Perhaps as important as anything that we have done thus far is providing the team a template for communication strategies that helps them craft the right message at the right time for the wide variety of stakeholders our products and services impact. During the course of this year we will also offer change management training to our entire team. This is critical to ensuring that we can execute change implementation within our department and across the university.