Our latest white paper, Workforce Horizons, highlighted that big data is seen as a powerful means of shaping decisions. But, as often as it's discussed, barriers including a lack of analytics skills and an overabundance of data, prevent analytics initiatives from getting off the ground.

It's not the science of analytics that is lacking. As we all know, HR analytics and systems are developing at breakneck speed. What about the art of applying analytical knowledge to real life talent strategies? It is people, talent and their skills that are driving innovation and creativity so we can be sure the art is there too.

So why are so many otherwise progressive organisations still struggling with HR analytics, and in particular, the predictive analytics of strategic workforce planning?

Because the art and science need to come together: where the two collide is where the magic happens.

Art and science

The vast amount of data to which HR has access, has the potential to be worthless if not interrogated correctly, or dangerous if interrogated incorrectly; which is where the art comes in. Art is the ‘expression or application of human creative skill and imagination’ and in the context of HR analytics, the art is HR understanding the people-related implications of workforce capability and capacity.

There is also a real art in translating these implications into a cohesive, flexible and actionable plan that will build a sustainable workforce for the future. The art of analytics means working with business leaders to establish the specific longer-term organisational challenges and risks that can be mitigated through strategic workforce planning.

While technology does not offer the magic wand that will solve all conundrums, now more than ever before, the science is enabling the great leaps forward that strategic workforce planners have been looking for. Science, ‘a systematically organised body of knowledge’, is the enabler of strategic workforce planning.

Where will big data feature in future? 

Creative science

HR analytics has been called a creative science; where the science in the form of technology, meets art in the form of those who can really put the data to work. So how do you combine art and science in your own strategic workforce planning?

    • Define the purpose: there is an overwhelming amount of data out there. In fact 30% of companies tell us they have too much data. Decide on your brief and stay focused, ensure your purpose is aligned to business needs. As we are doing with some of our customers, consider starting small and simple through introducing a pilot that is focused on key roles to help you to achieve ‘proof of concept’. This may help you to secure any further investment needed for expansion of the programme
    • Collaborate with and engage stakeholders: before venturing into the data, engage with senior business leaders outside HR to get them on board, and also because some of the data you need will be held elsewhere in the business
    • Create your team: finance and project management skills can be especially useful. We’re often asked whether it’s best to teach HR specialists how to operate analytics or get deep-dive analytics experts to provide the analysis. It depends on your goals but do capitalise on the skills of colleagues outside HR.
    • Leverage the science: This includes internal and external market intelligence. Information on market movements and the talent landscape will inform any changes to the strategic workforce plan, and is particularly vital given the constantly changing environment in which we operate.


Strategic workforce planning requires us to identify the people and organisational capability needs, often beyond a visible time horizon. We need to be able to align people to an amorphous plan where business volumes, market changes and the competitive environment are not set in concrete.

Enabled by the science, people can take this data and anchor it to a flexible talent plan that provides the organisation with the agility to respond quickly to changing economic and market conditions. Technology can power this but it’s people who put the right number of people with the right skills in the right place at the right time to deliver: it’s where art and science collide.