Q&A: Hessa Al Ghurair: “HR data is turning decision-making into a science”

Author: Criselda Diala-McBride | Date: 3 Aug 2016

CBI’s chief human resource officer on how organisations are waking up to the potential of workforce analytics

Hessa Al GhurairThe old-fashioned role of HR professionals was largely administrative, or as Hessa Al Ghurair, chief human resource officer at Dubai-based Commercial Bank International (CBI), describes it: “Enforcers of paper-pushing processes and corporate policies”. But this type of HR no longer has a place in today’s corporate world. The former HR director of Tanfeeth, who moved to her new role in June, tells People Management how big data, innovative technology, globalised structures and millennial workforces have influenced a shift in HR culture and mindset.
 
How important is data analysis to HR decision-making processes today?
Modern HR has stepped away from the function of ‘service provider’ and has become a strategic advisor to the organisation. This evolution is greatly due to the emergence of big data and the adoption of work-force analytics.
 
There is still a general lack of statistics and reliable data within the Gulf region, but organisations are quickly recognising the value of translating data into insight. This transformation is most visible among HR teams that have embraced advanced technology and developed more sophisticated measurements and workforce analytics, which provide real-time insights on human capital and organisational goals. HR data is turning decision-making into a science and allowing organisations to take a more calculated approach to strategy.
 
What do you see as the major challenges in the implementation of workforce analytics in the region?
Workforce analytics remains a relatively new topic and major challenges include: lagging infrastructure, larger investment, talent capability and business mindset. While governments continue to invest in national infrastructure, organisations must make larger investments in technology and digitisation. Moreover, we lack the qualified talent pipeline to tackle big data and workforce analytics. There continues to be a disconnect between education and market needs. For example, HR programmes in the Gulf do not teach statistics, analytics, maths or technical skills, which are the new desired skill sets for HR professionals.
 
And moving away from legacy systems in itself is a major challenge – people can be their biggest obstacle because of the misconception that old ways are tried and true. There has to be a shift in business mindset within the region and genuine commitment towards implementing best practices.
 
What types of problems do workforce analytics help organisations solve?
Before workforce analytics, decisions were made on partial understanding, perception or by ‘gut instinct’. Now, workforce analytics allow organisations to make decisions using real-time intelligence and data-based information. It enables organisations to identify top talent based on practical measurements; to tackle attrition problems by ensuring they are keeping the right kind of talent or by helping them plan for turnover.
 
Workforce analytics offers a scientific approach to an organisation’s strategy by providing a consistent analytical reference point. This data allows the organisation to capture new potential or uncover trends that can help them become more predictive of organisational needs, in terms of human capital and resources.