Speaker Interview Series: Martin Oest

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Since our interview with Martin just before Tucana Global’s Human Resources Change and Transformation conference held in London (Oct 2015), Martin has gained a People Analytics 2016 Individual Achievement Award at Tucana Global’s People Analytics conference held in London as well (April 2016).

Our audience must like what he has to say as this interview ranks #1 in The HRIS World Speaker Interview Series!

Our congratulations to Martin on all his achievements — you can share his achievement on twitter by clicking the image!

Martin Oest, Head of Workforce Planning & Analytics at The Metropolitan Police (U.K.), spoke at the HR Change & Transformation 2015 in London last October.

During his presentation, he shared how he set up Workforce Planning and Analytics at the Met Police and provided his expert advice on how you can do the same at your company, on a limited budget and capability, and how to overcome the many hurdles along the way…


You can view Martin’s profile here…

Martin Oest Profile: How to Deliver Effective HR Analytics with a Limited Budget and Capability

Martin Oest – Head of Strategic Workforce Planning & HR Analytics, Metropolitan Police

met-police-243x300[1]Martin Oest is a workforce planning and transformation expert, and an accredited strategic workforce planner with experience from more than 50 organisations.

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He has 15+ years’ experience as a consultant, project manager and operational manager with strong UK and international experience in change projects, workforce planning, HR analytics and operational support.

Martin’s focus is on operational and strategic workforce planning (including statistical modelling for forecasting), and HR analytics in interim roles, predominantly for large organisations.

Following a business degree in HR management and finance, Martin trained and worked for a market-leading workforce management system supplier before going on to work in both consultancies and large corporate operations, holding roles in organisations including Barclays and The Metropolitan Police.

He has a broad and in-depth experience, ranging from small companies of less than 100 employees to large and global organisations with  50,000+ FTE.

He has planned for more than 14 different business groups covering 40+ global locations and has undertaken planning and analytics for workforce budgets in the billions of pounds.

Martin has worked in both the private and public sector, and across most industries, but with a particular focus on financial institutions and telecoms.

In his current interim engagement, Martin has accountability for strategic workforce planning for the Metropolitan Police’s 50,000 FTE.

He has designed and implemented effective workforce planning, delivering over 3,000 new hires in a year, forecasting attrition and planning for hires within 0.4% deviation.

In addition, through HR analytics, he has revolutionised data into insight.

His topic for HRCT15?

How far has HR Analytics come, what are the challenges and opportunities, and what can HR do right now to move in the right direction?

Before his presentation at #HRCT15, we had the privilege of speaking with Martin Oest…

What weaknesses do you believe HR had with analytics in the past that you believe are now their strengths?

In the past, HR was more focused on people and less on numbers, and in my experience this was HR’s fundamental weakness.

I think, historically, HR suffered from a failure to appreciate the powerful impact that HR analytics could have for their organisations as a whole, outside of the HR function. HR was very much focused on supporting organisations with legislation, regulation and processes designed to help manage employees more effectively. There was a limited need to quantify the organisation in terms of key HR metrics, and any link to financial return was largely missing altogether.

Now perceptions have changed. In recent times HR has come to appreciate and embrace the essential role HR analytics can play not just in most effectively managing employees but in the management of the organisation as a whole.

HR analytics is now being recognised as a key lever for an organisation and its senior management, and used appropriately it can be a virtual gold mine.

What and where do you believe HR analytics weaknesses are right now?

With HR analytics, we sit on this ‘gold mine’ and yet, in many cases, HR leaders and organisations still don’t know how to fully harvest the benefits to organisations.

I believe this slow uptake has been caused by two limiting factors: firstly, the speed with which HR professionals can assimilate these new ‘hard’ analytical skills whilst maintaining their softer skills, and secondly, the speed with which the relatively new discipline of HR analytics can catch up with more established analytics functions, like those in finance or marketing.

HR analytics is still evolving and developing as a discipline. For example, too often in HR analytics the link between the employee, or resource, in an organisation and their overall output and performance is not as strong as it could be, especially when we try to quantify the benefit to the organisation. Finance, on the other hand, dealing largely with non-human capital, seems to have no such issue.

E.g. Machine A has a lifespan of 4 years without service and 15 years with service. Productivity is reduced at different rates depending on its level of service and its usage. The benefit of servicing vs. not servicing, and at what time the machine should be replaced to optimise the company output, is easily calculated. This can be broken down into the numerical factors and a definite answer can be found.

I’m not suggesting we see employees as machines, but the comparison is useful in illustrating the point. It is easy to see similarities in costings of:

  • purchasing a machine vs. hiring an employee
  • servicing a machine or training an employee

However, when HR tries to consider quantifying the benefit of an employee to the organisation, rather than the cost, it becomes much more difficult as we are taking into account the “human” factor.

In HR analytics, we are lacking the skill and the habit of quantifying the benefits, whilst finance are much clearer in providing clear business cases, budget, forecasts. HR, on the other hand, is often too weak on delivering a clear, fully costed, value-adding proposal.

In short, analytical capability – combined with the ability to tell the whole story in a compelling way – enables quick, accurate decision-making. HR leaders and the HR analytics discipline are still finding their feet fully in achieving this, but we are most definitely moving in the right direction – marrying their softer skills with hard analytics to give the most complete picture.




To quote Albert Einstein: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”… Do you believe HR is making this mistake with analytics?

I don’t believe there is a mistake being made, as such; I see it more as a stage in the evolution of the function, but I think not realising that an adjusted skill-set is required for HR analytics is probably the biggest hurdle HR needs to overcome.

HR needs to invest time and effort, and often financially as well, in order to acquire these new skills. If you don’t invest, the benefits will be slow to be realised. Only relying on existing HR staff is the least likely way to be able to reinvent the function to the level required. The challenge, I think, is to bring about a transformation using the right balance of HR professionals and change experts, and this all needs to be supported by the HR Director.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before, HR would benefit hugely by always considering the financial impacts of any activity, and clearly quantifying its benefits and costs in monetary terms.

And for departments outside of HR, what do you see as being the main challenges when attempting to implement and/or use HR analytics?

It’s a fine balance, and you can implement HR analytics from outside of HR. In fact, if you are very immature in your HR analytics, then some benefit can be gained from just starting to do it at all. Of course, the other department most likely won’t be getting anywhere near the most out of it; there is a risk too that if they don’t invest in the discipline, or understand the processes or what’s required, then they subsequently face not getting crucial buy-in from HR. If you don’t get any buy-in then it’s very unlikely they will implement a successful HR analytics function outside of HR. Support is required to make the journey easier, such as having the board and the HR Director backing the efforts and being willing to share this with the organisation.

Every change has a pivot point where everyone ‘gets it’, or has a transformation process where the majority are finally on-board… What do you believe will need to happen so HR fully believes analytics can make a full impact on business?

In a nutshell, I think that when HR fully embraces the mindset that the HR function is not just about people but is also about seeing those people in terms of delivering a financial business value, then they can start to really appreciate the impact HR analytics can have on the business as a whole. We always work for the company and money ultimately is how performance is rated, so money needs to be part of the language we speak in HR.

In my experience, there can be resistance further down the hierarchy and a worry that HR is no longer thinking about its people (data vs. feelings) but as I’ve said before, it’s not about HR throwing out those softer skills that are so embedded, but rather adding additional skills to their toolkit to evolve the function. HR analytics allows HR to step up to rightfully play a more central role in the management of the whole organisation – with 50-80% of the total budget being staff costs, having a capable workforce is probably the strongest lever organisations have available to them in competitive markets.

When the function of HR analytics delivers real value – through insights and recommendations that either save money, increase revenue or improve the operational output – that is when an organisation’s most senior people will also “get it” and they too will reach their pivot point.

Then what do you believe will need to happen in order for HR Analytics to realise its full potential?

There are a number of factors that need to come together in order for the full potential of HR analytics to be realised in organisations. Firstly, and perhaps unsurprisingly given my earlier comments, genuine board-level commitment and sponsorship is critical. The power of HR analytics stands a much greater chance of being harnessed and fully exploited if the discipline is understood and supported at the most senior levels. The discipline is still in relatively infancy – its use is new to many organisations – and investment in developing it, and ensuring the necessary new skills become embedded, is key to getting the most out of HR analytics. I would also suggest that HR leaders see this as a transformation project that needs to be undertaken – and treat it as such – ensuring a team is in place which has all the necessary HR, analytical and change components from which to draw expertise and guidance.

If all these things can come together, then I for one can imagine a day when we can predict the future return of individuals based on their current and historical performance, whilst still very much seeing them as we always have – as people too.

Do you believe HR is doing anything unconsciously, that is hindering the development of HR Analytics?

I think HR is still recruiting HR analysts with a purely HR background because that’s what they’ve always done. A great analyst can produce extraordinary HR analytics but a great HR professional can’t always do the same. Clearly HR analytics is a discipline firmly rooted in the HR function and, as the name suggests, is a marriage of both HR and analytics. However, the key to being really successful rests primarily in the analytical understanding – it is not as critical to have HR knowledge – yet we advertise for HR analytics experts in HR only channels.

With all the changes that are forecast to take place in the global workforce regarding technology and skills, what advice do you have for decision-makers in HR?

My advice for decision-makers in HR varies depending on whether they currently really “get” HR analytics as things stand now. If they don’t, it may be possible for them to survive but I do believe this would be to their employer’s detriment and a lost opportunity for the organisation. However, for those senior HR leaders that have embraced the need for HR analytics (and I have direct experience that they do exist), then my advice is clear: focus resources on enhancing HR analytics as soon as possible, and as effectively as possible – that way their job will be both more rewarding and more secure.

Too much of the focus is still on the traditional HR questions, when it should be more about corporate strategy – for example: “Can the company survive with the existing workforce at the current skill level?” (Mostly this would be answered with an emphatic “No”.) Then, “what do we need in terms of future skills and abilities to outperform our competitors?” HR analytics has the potential to contribute to the formation and evolution of organisational strategy, and it is not until these kind of questions are being asked that the discipline of HR Analytics will really be able to realise its potential.

With that, we want to thank Martin Oest very much for taking time out of his VERY busy schedule to share with us and you, our audience!

Martin on Social Media

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Next week we will be have an interview with Karonlina Lewandowska, Change and Transformation Manager at Google U.K.

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