As a blogger, I’ve been fortunate to participate in events that I would not normally have attended when I was an HR Generalist. Examples are the Ultimate Software Connections Conference, KronosWorks Conference, and the SilkRoad Connections Conference. During those events, I learn about the companies, the products and services they provide, and how they meet the needs of human resources professionals.
Since I’ve been attending user conferences, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet HR analysts from around the world. Frankly, this is a new group of people I never had access to during my corporate career. The more time I spend with them, the more I learn and realize how valuable they would have been to me when I worked “in the trenches”.
So, I asked a few analysts if they would share insights about what they do and how their role intersects with everyday human resources departments. Christa Degnan Manning is senior vice president of global workforce and talent strategies at HfS Research, a leading analyst authority and global network for IT and business services. Trish McFarlane is vice president of human resource practice and principal analyst at Brandon Hall Group, a preeminent research and analyst firm. Holger Mueller is vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, a next generation independent research firm.
What is an HR analyst?
[Holger] Constellation Research provides research, workshops, and advisory services to help companies best leverage technology. In my analyst role, I write about software, specifically HR software. My job consists of attending industry events, talking with practitioners and vendors, then writing research/informational pieces related to human resources software.
This is an interesting time to be an analyst. The lines of distinction between analysts, journalists, and bloggers are becoming very blurry. We all write and offer insights. The difference is the depth of the research, the speed of content delivery and where the author’s compensation ultimately comes from.
[Christa] Readers may be familiar with financial analysts who study public companies to make predictions of how investments in their stocks are going to perform, but industry analysts such as myself study how companies’ products and/or services themselves are going to perform in the marketplace. Early on in my career I expected these two areas would be very closely correlated, but after more than 20 years in business I am sorry to say that too often that is not the case.
[Trish] For me, the HR analyst of today is a multi-dimensional role that requires a wide variety of skills. Analysts conduct research studies used to identify movement and trends in an industry. They then take the data from their research use it to provide an educated analysis about what the data means. It’s not just about gathering the data or being able to tell an audience the results. It’s the added step of understanding what it means and how that impacts the industry at hand.
In the human capital management (HCM) industry, we’re starting to see a shift in the analyst role. It is not only important to have experience understanding the complexities of the architecture behind HR technologies, it is also important to have end-user experience in both buying and implementing technology as well as running HR. And it is just as important to have had real-world experience in HCM so you can truly understand the impact of technology on the HCM functions and the organization as a whole. A multi-faceted approach to this understanding leads to stronger analysis that can be of real value to current HR leaders.
What types of work do analysts conduct?
[Christa] Good industry analysts do primary qualitative and quantitative research on the industries they cover, talking to and surveying solution buyers (and increasingly end-users as more applications are designed for employee self-service). We discuss their business challenges, experiences both good and bad with existing approaches, and likely future needs and wants from providers.
Most analysts are IT industry analysts, which really gave rise to the profession. Technology changes so rapidly, IT professionals needed specialist resources to keep current on all of the new products, partnerships, and merger and acquisitions happening in IT all the time.
[Trish] The type of work an analyst does can vary. Many analysts spend a majority of time creating studies, analyzing data and writing both short-form and long reports that vendors and corporations can use to make business decisions. In addition, analysts are approached by clients (both vendors and corporations) to answer questions and guide them on all aspects of human capital management. Being an analyst is also a bit of a balancing act in terms of gathering industry information. Analysts hold briefings with vendors to get information about the latest products and solutions. They also meet regularly with HR leaders to determine what the market needs. Being an analyst can also include publicly sharing your findings though writing, speaking engagements and workshops, to name a few.
It wasn’t until I started reading analyst blogs that I understood the topics they cover. Can you give readers an example of a specific topic you’ve written about?
[Holger] One topic I’ve spent significant time researching is talent management and how it evolves going forward. An example is transers, onboarding and offboarding. Instead of referring to them as three different things, let’s talk about them together – as in transboarding.
You can also read the Constellation blog for industry insights. Many of our analysts have their own blogs and share information from user conferences, etc. My blog is called Enterprise Software Musings.
[Christa] I am currently researching the realm of services in HCM SaaS because I think too much attention is being paid to the cloud itself being the latest and greatest thing when it is just another delivery model. I tend to follow particular themes instead of doing one-off projects because our primary business model is annual subscription, although we do make many research publications and webinars available for free. HfS believes that the analyst’s role is evolving not to just churn out content that is behind a subscriber firewall, but to facilitate industry discussion and collaboration to reach mutually beneficial states for both buyers and providers (and even users) of solutions. That to me is true thought-leadership.
Should HR professionals pay attention to analysts? Why or why not?
[Trish] YES! Before I worked at Brandon Hall Group, I was an HR leader. Looking back, I wish I had known that analysts can supplement your knowledge and experience on your HR team by acting as a sounding board and guide. I also wish I had realized and been able to articulate the value of having real-time, current data as I was advising C-Suite leaders. Analysts are your unbiased partners and I would recommend to any organization.
[Holger] Yes, for the bigger picture. Companies want help making technology decisions but they don’t have time to research all the details. That’s where we come in. We help provide the lay of land in the market, combine industry trends and best practices. We are lucky to have more time than our colleagues the journalists to offer this work. And typically also more time than the bloggers, who mostly produce short single topic themed blog posts (we do the same when we put out blogger hats on).
What do you see as the top issue facing human resources in 2015?
[Christa] I believe the top issue is workforce strategy and planning. Really aligning with the business to understand staffing challenges and needs looking out not just 12 to 18 months but 3 to 5 years out to understand where the business and customers will be and where the talent is and how to engage with them. There is a lot of talk about workforce analytics and big data but I think you have to do this strategy and planning work first and some of the data you need for this is just not that complex and hidden. It just takes hard work and internal alignment.
[Trish] I see real workforce planning and management strategy as the top issue facing HR leaders in 2015. For far too long, not just HR leaders, but all business leaders have not put proper workforce planning and management strategies in place. The approach has been more reactive and this leads to recruiting practices that continually do not quite meet the mark. I predict that the HR leader’s ability to drive workforce planning and management strategy will be what truly enables the rest of the organization to see him or her as a business partner and not someone only focused on tactics or compliance.
[Holger] We often talk about recruiting and retaining talent being the top challenge for HR. But the ticking time bomb is the retirement issue. 10,000 Boomers are retiring every day. Unless your organization has an average age of 28/years old, the aging and retiring workforce is a concern. And HR professionals cannot use their compliance obligation as an excuse for not developing a strategic answer to this issue.
My thanks to Holger, Trish and Christa for sharing their time and expertise with us. As we start the year, it’s important to know all the resources available to us. HR analysts can help us understand what’s happening in our industry and trends for the future. I hope you’ll take time to check out their blogs and follow them on Twitter.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby