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How We Used Student Talent To Build Out HR Analytics Program

By Chris Hanna, Director of Human Resources Metrics and Data Analytics, Michigan State University

Chris Hanna, Director of Human Resources Metrics and Data Analytics, Michigan State University

When I was asked to write an article for HR Tech Outlook and share my knowledge and insights regarding HR analytics, I thought to myself, what can I provide that hasn’t already been published. I struggled for a while to come up with something new and unique. After pondering it for a while, one night woke up knowing what to write about. I hope you find it interesting.

Michigan State University Human Resources (MSUHR) has had some form of HR data metrics team for almost 20 years. Due to budget constraints, the team has varied in size from 1 to 3 staff members who were primarily focused on monitoring and analyzing health care plan costs. Providing data and information for making strategic decisions to help control future growth in health care costs. The results of these efforts have been extremely positive.

Seeing these positive results, there was recognition of the need to apply similar analysis focused on human capital issues. The decision was made to develop a comprehensive data analytics program that could provide strategic, predictive, and actionable human capital data to the key decision-makers of the university.

I was charged with developing this program and was very excited to be assigned to this project. We subsequently did some staff reorganization to provide more resources to the project, and we began to research how to best approach this project.

Before we were able to make progress on our project, we had some staff attrition. Simultaneously HR’s budget tightened, and there was a need in other areas of the HR office for staffing resources. These vacant positions were assigned elsewhere. The net effect was a loss of three members of my team. The remaining four team members had to absorb the work of the members lost, which meant we had no capacity beyond the day-to-day activities for developing our data analytics program. Knowing we had a limited resource issue, this was very unlikely to change.

“MSUHR has had some form of HR data metrics team for almost 20 years. Due to budget constraints, the team has varied in size from 1 to 3 staff members who were primarily focused on monitoring and analyzing health care plan costs”

I began to think about other ways to accomplish what I had been asked to do. I struggled with this for some time, contacting other universities and organizations that had analytics programs asking for their advice. The bottom-line conclusion after each contact was: you need some level of dedicated resources and certain skills to get a comprehensive analytics program off the ground.

At this point, I had neither available and was struggling for answers but wasn’t willing to give up. And then this thought occurred to me: We’re a very large university with many academic programs, and maybe I can find a resource on campus that HR could partner with where we could provide some real-world learning opportunities for students, and in turn, they could help us build our data analytics program.

I immediately contacted our Business College and struck gold! Our Business College offers a Master’s in Business Analytics. I learned that this master’s program is one of the top-rated programs in the country of its type. They have a required class where they break the class up into 2-3 members teams that are assigned a project for the fall semester where they can utilize the analytical skills and tools they have learned in the master’s program. 

The projects come directly from businesses and corporations that submit a project proposal for a problem that they want to solve. The proposals are reviewed and approved by the master’s program coordinator and assigned to the various teams based on the best match of team skill set and type of problem to be solved.

This was better than anything I anticipated when I initially thought of contacting various academic programs around campus. I submitted a proposal right away, it was accepted, and the outcome of the first project was a success. We are starting our fourth project this Fall.

It’s been a true win-win partnership between MSUHR and the Master’s in Business Analytics program—providing meaningful opportunities for students to utilize the skills they have learned while providing our HR office a budget-neutral means of developing a comprehensive HR analytics program.

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