Share story

Much like the way baseball teams crunch numbers to determine which players best fit their teams, companies are embracing the power of data to create a winning workforce.

By mining data, companies from Miami to Silicon Valley are doing everything from sorting through massive pools of candidates for better hires to discovering why people quit and how to get them to stay. Experts think that using analytics to make “people” decisions will revolutionize this process.

“Organizations are collecting more and more data than ever before about employees and perspective employees,” says Dave Weisbeck, chief strategy officer for Visier, a human resources analytics firm. “The next step is looking for patterns to understand their people and make better decisions about their most expensive asset.”

For employees, the trend could mean a greater chance of being successful in the position they’re hired for. When Foot Locker faced high turnover in its retail athletics stores in 2010, the company embraced analytics to predict the profile of retail salespeople who were more likely to stay with the company long term. Using a cloud-based software system, the shoe retailer scans applicants’ online assessments to determine how closely candidates’ behaviors align with a job profile. Once they’re screened, store managers then receive streamlined questions from the analytics-consulting firm to ask candidates based on the assessments. Foot Locker says using “predictive analytics” to hire has helped. The company’s store managers now spend less time on hiring the right candidates and more time selling sneakers.

While it’s easier to find patterns at big companies, Weisbeck says even small businesses can tap data to uncover why someone succeeds in a particular job and what to look for in future hires. “It’s about using data to understand people,” he says.

Gartner, an information technology research firm, predicts that data will grow by 800 percent over the next five years and that competitive businesses will leverage new sophisticated, lower-cost technology to better analyze data and metrics that apply to their workforces.

At a time when workers, particularly young workers, are on the lookout for better opportunities, achieving a “good fit” in hiring has become increasingly critical. It not only can save employers money in turnover costs — it can benefit employees, too: Workers who hold the right job for their skills can minimize burnout.

At Google, where about 2 million résumés flood in each year, all hiring is done by a “people analytics” team that uses data to measure traits such as leadership skills, cognitive ability, humility and ownership. Google also has developed its best-interviewing practices through research. By removing “gut feel” and guesswork from the hiring process, Google claims, its workforce productivity is now off the charts and the time it takes to hire a candidate has been halved.

“Instead of leaving it up to bias or whether someone likes you or not, analytics can predict success in a role and look past the school someone went to or where they worked in the past,” says Greta Roberts, CEO of Talent Analytics in Cambridge, Mass., which uses predictive analytics to help customers with their attrition problems or performance challenges., an online recruiting marketplace, uses analytics to help employers uncover patterns in management ratings to predict a talent exodus or pinpoint the best geographic locations for a recruitment campaign. “It helps an employer make decisions where to put their budget or give them an opportunity to solve problems before they get out of hand,” says Lisa Holden, of Glassdoor.

Beyond hiring, organizations are also using workforce analytics to guide them with scheduling, training, compensation decisions and productivity. Analytics also can uncover traits that would make an employee more valuable. “It gives light to areas of a company where someone would be successful that a manager may never have considered,” Roberts says.

Jeanne Harris, a Columbia University instructor of business analytics management, says HR departments are a latecomer when it comes to getting value out of analytics. Marketing, finance and sales have been using analytics to make decisions for more than a decade. “It’s an exciting time to be an HR executive if you are comfortable with data because you are moving away from putting out fires to address issues that really matter,” Harris says.