Measurement and analysis are key skills for training managers, and their importance is only growing. In fact, the ability to understand, analyze and apply data is essential to roles across training and HR teams. Unfortunately, there is evidence that this skill – known as data literacy – is lacking not just in HR and L&D but across the organization.

Summarizing recent research from DDI, The Conference Board and EY, Evan Sinar, Rebecca L. Ray and Adam L. Canwell concluded, “On average HR leaders lag far behind other professionals in their ability to operate in a highly digital environment and use data to guide business decisions.” Furthermore, research from Qlik found that while organizations with high data literacy “exhibit up to 5% higher enterprise value,” fewer than one in five business decision-makers believes his or her business supports employees’ development of data literacy.

“Data is the new oil and the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution,” says Jordan Morrow, global head of data literacy at Qlik. “With the volumes of data available and being created daily, organizations and employees that make the best use of data will find success. An enhanced level of data literacy enables everyone to be empowered to use data for higher performance.”

The Importance of Data Literacy in HR and Talent Development

While “business executives can see the big picture and intuitively understand that more digital skills covering analytics, AI and machine learning are required to grow the business,” says Jill K. Goldstein, head of the Talent and HR Business Process Services Group at Accenture, “HR is not aligned with that direction.” As more and more business decisions are made based on data, however, talent leaders must also speak that language in order to get the proverbial seat at the table – and a larger “portion of the investment pie.”

Data literacy will also enable talent leaders to align programs with business outcomes, point out Sinar, Ray and Canwell. “By collecting data on employee skills and experience and tying it to business outcomes,” they write, “HR can highlight key areas of risk and opportunity for the company.” These data will also enable the organization to develop a succession plan that’s aligned with its strategic plan.

Recent research by Training Industry, Inc. found that one of the major challenges of learning leaders is evaluating the effectiveness of training. Again, developing data literacy across the L&D team will help learning leaders overcome that challenge, enabling them to evaluate, improve and demonstrate the ROI of their training programs.

Helping L&D and HR Professionals Become More Data-Literate

Your team members should be able to aggregate and curate data, as well as “turn data into insights and then … insight into specific action,” says Goldstein. The talent team must be “not just best-in-class in the HR industry” but best-in-class across business functions. She offers the following recommendations:

  • Start by raising awareness “on the value of using data.”
  • Offer training “that makes it easy and in the self-interest of the employee to use analytics.”
  • Partner with your data teams to “lean on” their technical expertise. For example, Sinar, Ray and Canwell recommend working with the finance team for advice on how blockchain can help manage employee data.
  • Partner with training providers to offer skills development.

Morrow adds that it’s important to assess digital literacy levels to identify where you have gaps and how to either “create foundational data skills or quickly expand on existing skills.” Use a blend of modalities, including online training and in-person training, to reach employees with a broad range of learning preferences. Then, after formal training, provide opportunities for them to practice their new data skills on the job.

Talent leaders are (rightly) focused on developing data literacy among the employees whose learning is entrusted to them. But first, they must develop this competency as well. To truly serve as a strategic business partner, make sure your team is able to understand, manage and apply the data it works with every day.