The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

How One HR Organization Is Using Data to Drive People Strategies

data-analysis“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” – Jim Barksdale, former Netscape CEO

And therein lies the problem of NOT using sound data to drive decision-making in business — everyone has an opinion, and everyone thinks his or hers is the right one. While many organizations are moving more and more toward using metrics and data to make decisions and inform strategies, many more are stuck in the “let’s just keep doing what we’ve always done” mentality — and that’s a dangerous way to operate. After all, how can an organization possibly know what’s working and what’s not if nothing’s being measured?

A Success Story in People Data
According to a 2013 survey cited on (now

  • More than three quarters of HR professionals are unable to determine how their workforce’s potential is affecting the bottom line.
  • Less than half use objective data to guide decisions.
  • More than two thirds of companies are misidentifying their high-potential employees, jeopardizing long-term performance.

University of Missouri System’s HR organization is a great case study in how human resources can use people data to identify workforce trends, identify and address challenges, and help university leaders and managers make sound workforce-related decisions. We spoke with Erik Smetana, assistant vice president for human resources and people strategies group leader at the University of Missouri System, to learn more about how UM System is using data to drive its people strategies.

Q: What exactly is people data?
A: For us, it includes the who, what, when, where, how and why of our faculty and staff — Who works for us? To whom do they report? What do they do? When did they start? How long have they been here? Where do they want to go? How many employees are in a department? How, and how well, do they do their jobs? Why do they work for us? Why were they selected over other candidates? What does the future hold for these jobs?

Q: What does UM System’s people data team do?
A: The people data team creates reports and dashboards and does analysis that helps university leaders and managers make decisions. Some examples of areas they focus on include workforce analysis (retirement projections, internal labor movement, span of control, etc.), compensation and salary information, talent management (turnover, time to fill, applicant target area), and items that link back to our strategic goals. We also work closely with other UM System functions to try and achieve harmonized data across spaces like finance, HR, academic affairs and IT.

Q: Why was there a need for such a team at UM System?
A: We had an array of different people sitting in different areas of HR doing similar work around data. Through combining these resources, we were able to leverage existing talent at no additional cost, create efficiencies and move toward more innovative data work.

Q: What are some advantages of approaching HR in this way (using data to drive decisions as well as being the provider of that data to institutional leaders)?
A: We’re able to make smarter decisions and recommendations, we’ve become less reliant on anecdotes, we’re able to make faster decisions, and our recommendations and answers have stronger footing and are taken more seriously than those based in “we used to” or “we’ve always” or “I think” positions.

Q: What are some of the outcomes you’ve seen as a result of HR taking on this function/role?
A: We’re seeing better collaboration within HR and across functions outside of HR; HR is being brought into certain discussions sooner than what we might have been otherwise; and we’re being seen as a partner and a peer to those in finance and other areas that have built strong reputations around their analysis capabilities.

To learn more about how University of Missouri System human resources is using data to drive strategic decision-making, register for the free October 26 webinar, “How to Use Metrics to Position HR as a Strategic Partner” (presented by PeopleAdmin in partnership with CUPA-HR).

To learn how UM System HR is using CUPA-HR’s DataOnDemand tool in addition to its homegrown tools to plan retirement programs, formulate compensation structures and keep academic leaders informed of progress at each campus and across the system, read the CUPA-HR Research Snapshot (this is the first in a series of Snapshots that will feature “data heroes” and institutions that use DataOnDemand to benchmark and address strategic questions).

To learn more about CUPA-HR salary surveys, including what’s new for this year’s data collection and reporting and how you can participate, attend the “What’s New and Improved in CUPA-HR Salary Surveys” webinar on October 20.