KPMG: Leadership must embrace evidence-based HR

12 May 2015

With the wide variety of data, C-level and HR leaders should embrace evidence-based HR to prove their decisions can be backed up, KPMG emphasises in a new report. The firm highlights that progress in adopting this approach is still in its pioneering stage, with more than half of respondents still sceptical about the potential of Big Data for HR and the lack of credibility in the HR function seen as the biggest obstacle.

KPMG recently released its research into evidence-based HR* in a report titled ‘Evidence-Based HR: The Bridge Between your People and Delivering Business Strategy’. The report, which is based on the results of a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of KPMG, highlights the need for C-level and HR leaders to embrace evidence-based HR or risk losing ground.

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The research shows that while the vast majority (85%) of respondents recognises the importance of its HR function when it comes to meeting the organisation's strategic goals,not all (62%) organisations have applied Big Data tools to improve the efficiency of its HR function and the majority (55%) is actually sceptical about the potential of Big Data and advanced analytics to make a real difference to the HR function. However, this is might change as 70% say their organisation will start using or increase the use of Big Data and advanced analytics to inform HR decisions in the next three years.

HR strategies

According to Mark Spears, KPMG Global Head of People & Change and a Partner in the UK firm, C-level and HR leaders should embrace the evidence-based HR as it offers great potential for the HR function: “We’ve never before had such a rich variety of data available for the HR practitioner to prove without a doubt that their decisions can be backed up, as opposed to relying on instinct and best practice. For the first time in my 30 years’ experience in this space, HR can demonstrate that their activities and processes have a direct impact on the delivery of business objectives.”

One considerable bump in the road towards widespread acceptance of the evidence-based HR approach is the lack of credibility of the HR function, with 51% of non-HR executives saying their HR leaders are not able to demonstrate tangible correlations between people management initiatives and business outcomes. According to KPMG, this means that the scepticism is not about big data but about HR practitioners’ ability to use it effectively. Other reasons cited as major obstacles to the use of evidence in people management are corporate culture, cited by 32%, lack of skills and resources (30%) and the quality of the data (29%).

Biggest obstacles to the use of evidence in people management

Spears concludes: “Becoming evidence-based requires an effort of will and a sufficiently changed mental model. Many successful organisations are the ones where C-level executives invest and work alongside HR to connect a company’s people strategy to positively impact business performance. While this approach is not yet widespread, with the right skills and support, it is just a matter of time. Companies and HR practitioners must respond urgently to avoid losing ground and stay ahead of the competition.”

* In its report, KPMG identifies evidence-based HR as HR that “uses data, analysis and research to understand the connection between people management practices and business outcomes such as profitability, customer satisfaction and quality.”


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.