From a Class-I gazetted officer with the government of India to the CHRO of India’s largest business house, the journey has not been a cakewalk for Prabir Jha, president & group CHRO, Reliance Industries.
Jha started his career as an assistant works manager at the Dehu Road Ordnance Factory, Pune, in 1990. However, after completing nine years in a secured government job, he decided to test new waters. He took two years’ leave to pursue a full-time course in HR from XLRI, Jamshedpur, which marked the beginning of his corporate life. Jha has diverse experience across industries—from engineering and information technology to pharmaceutical and automotive— and now even a business conglomeration. His personal goal is to support people to become better professionals and more importantly, complete individuals.
He speaks to HR Katha on a subject that plagues the HR industry today — the use of data in human resources. Excerpts…
Are we moving in the right direction relying too much on data for making HR decisions? Don’t you think we are killing human intervention and gut feeling?
I believe that whether you practise medicine or business, interventions are best when they are based on evidence.
Today, we have created something called ‘real time organisations’ by using the computing firepower. The volume, variety and velocity at which we can blend HR data with multiple variables in an organisation, analyse trends as well as store, search and use data for predictive modelling when required have led organisations to adopt evidence-based management as a way of life.
In some parts of the HR organisation, the ‘data literacy’ rates are poor or are still evolving.
Unfortunately, in some parts of the HR organisation, the ‘data literacy’ rates are poor or are still evolving. Data analytics gives a lot of insight and shows the correlations and possible causality. Armed with this, HR decisions can then be taken, but without ignoring other experiences and ‘gut feel’. This will make decisions sharper and less dependent on pure serendipity and hope.
What are the three biggest challenges that companies consistently face, when moving to data-led decision-making?
First, many organisations do not know where to start. The chaos of managing data and investigating different areas can lead to paralysis.
Second, if pressed for a quick decision without relevant data, most executives will confidently apply judgment to bridge any data gap.
Third, organisations moving to evidence-based management often hire analytics professionals and believe that their skills will automatically percolate down to all. It is all about the culture.
Ongoing coaching, to create an enabling ecosystem in which employees and managers get the help they need, is an essential ingredient. If the analytics team can partner in projects, bring in cross-functional insights and help coach every stakeholder to understand and sensibly use the data, the organisation will truly march towards being evidence-based in its thinking.
When human resources truly make evidence-based decisions, what are the three golden insights that can be gained?
An intelligent company is in a perpetual state of learning, adapting, moving forward and seeking feedback, closing loops. Such organisations are never completely satisfied with what they know, how they uncover that knowledge or how they apply it. They are constantly seeking smaller nuggets of knowledge with highly refined approaches to data collection.
The chaos of managing data and investigating different areas can lead to paralysis.
With the advent of the Internet of Things, wearable devices and the power of Big Data in blending HR data with other functions or organisational niche areas, the potential can be immense. From developing insights around true levers of retention and hiring through evidence-based interviews, to building ‘A’ playing teams, extrapolating current skill base and identifying skill gaps for a future workforce through complex variables, which can affect the business, the insights can be very powerful— either corroborating the gut or repudiating it.
Do you think the term Big Data is being overused, particularly in HR? HR has always been using data in some or the other way. What difference has Big Data made?
The challenge with data in HR is not that we are not capturing, analysing and using data in our decision-making. Big Data is also not about the size of the data sets. In effect, it is the process of comprehending multiple permutations and combinations, the insights coming out from the same and their application.
The size of data sets is also increasing fast and with the Internet of Things, imagine the data that we will create in the next two to three years. Capturing and analysing all the people data can lead to focussed insights and interventions, with significant business implications.
How can HR lead the cultural change to a more data-led decision-making culture?
I may sound clichéd but the cultural change can happen by effectively playing the role of an advisor, a business partner and an enabler. There is a problem if an organisation subscribes to too many customised tools. To support a broad cross-section of executives at a reasonable cost, it is best if an organisation maintains three to five ‘enterprise tools’, used by the majority.
There is a problem if an organisation subscribes to too many customised tools.
Functional teams may still require support from a number of ‘specialty tools’. In effect, our advice to business can be eliminating dozens of unnecessary tools while ensuring that knowledge workers have the ones they need, both now and when there is a need for business analysis or when tools change. In many ways, we will have to ensure that we build a culture of collaboration, coaching and cross-functional teaming. HR can enable a new data-centred culture, by recognising data-led decision-making, appreciating those who do so, and by ensuring these requirements get due weightage in performance systems.