Collecting and measuring data for human capital can be fraught with debate about the process as well as how to read the results. I caught up with Boyce Byerly, Ph.D., Cofounder and Chief Scientist of Capital Analytics, on this subject:
What is your number one hurdle you have to jump when collecting data from various outlets?
Politics, far and away, is always the largest and least tractable problem. Political problems have ways of dragging out for weeks, and can delay everything else. The whole goal is to get the data analyst on your team talking to the data analyst where the information lives – those people are super great at what they do, and any problems can be solved pretty quickly, even thorny technical ones. Solving the political problems up front is a real art of setting up stakeholder workshops that get everyone excited about the common goals; we have people who are phenomenal at that working with us, and it makes everything easier.
What is your number one argument to the Correlation/Causation debate?
I don’t think you can ever say with absolute certainty that one thing causes another. Science and history are full of examples of mistaken beliefs that were upheld by lots of brilliant people for centuries until a new insight or new way of looking at a problem came along and changed everything. What you can do is marshal credible evidence, rule out as much as possible, to convince a reasonable person. Of the factors you need to consider for proof, prior performance is the most important factor to consider. How people were performing in the past is the best predictor of how they’re going to perform in the future, regardless of how good a particular training program might be, and it’s very likely there are performance differences that will affect what you’re trying to measure.
What is your one piece of advice for young professionals looking to enter the field of human capital analytics, specifically as a statistician or data analyst?
Remember the old piece of advice that “when you have a hammer, all your problems look like nails.” You will need a variety of tools, from advanced statistics, to customer surveys, to human resources data. Most problems can, and should, be solved in more than one way. You’ll not only understand the problem better if you go after it in more than one way, but you will also have more ways to communicate with your intended audience.
Boyce Byerly, Ph.D., is Cofounder and Chief Scientist of Capital Analytics. He is the co-author of Human Capital Analytics: How to Harness the Potential of Your Organization’s Greatest Asset (John Wiley & Sons, 2013).