Finding the right People Analytics Leader for your organization

Finding the right People Analytics Leader for your organization

Must-Have Skills to Elevate Your Workforce Insights

By Annett Zippel, Executive Search & Consulting Partner at KennedyFitch

At KennedyFitch, we have built a strong reputation for providing Executive Search services tailored to finding top-tier talent across various industries. With our deep understanding of clients’ organizational cultures, goals, and unique requirements, we leverage our extensive network and expertise in executive search to deliver candidates who possess the necessary skills, experience, and leadership qualities to drive business success.

With Patrick Coolen recently joining KennedyFitch as Partner and practice lead for People Analytics, we at KennedyFitch are further equipped to offer added value in today’s data-centric business environment. By specializing in the niche of people analytics, KennedyFitch assists organizations in identifying and recruiting top talent with expertise in this field, promoting evidence-based HR practices and enhancing overall organizational performance.

I recently had a conversation with my colleague Patrick Coolen about how we can help organizations build a People Analytics practice and how we can assist in finding the right People Analytics leader.

Can you provide an overview of your experience and expertise in People Analytics?

Patrick: My interest in people analytics started when I was part of the HR management team at ABN AMRO. In our management team, we needed to decide on many different things, such as whether or not to invest in expensive leadership or learning programs or a new HR technology platform and how our workforce should look like three years from now. I became curious and hungry for facts and insights that could support us in our decision-making. Without the right data and analyses, it becomes less certain that you are making the right decisions.

We decided to create a people analytics department to become more mature as an HR function in creating, using, and interpreting data in our strategic decision-making. So, in the last 10 years, before joining KennedFitch, my team and I established people analytics as an accepted and embraced practice within ABN AMRO. For the first few months, I worked on my own, building a blueprint and roadmap for the department. Since then, the team has grown to fifteen people when I left. We delivered various evidence-based HR services, such as reporting, advanced analytics (using inferential statistics and machine learning), survey management, strategic workforce management, advisory and upskilling.

I also had the privilege to meet and learn from many of my analytical peers worldwide. Speaking at conferences, providing guest lectures, and participating in books and interviews have inspired me greatly. Additionally, by reaching out, I have gotten to know the global people analytics talent pool over the years.

Looking back, I am proud to say the ABN AMRO people analytics team is recognised as one of the leading global people analytics teams. I am even more proud to see the team still doing great, which means we have truly institutionalised people analytics as a practice.

What is, in your opinion, the value of People Analytics, and when does it have the highest impact as a practice?

Patrick: The value of people analytics is that it allows you to make better decisions related to your workforce in order to enhance organisational performance and employee well-being. Better information will, for example, ensure hiring the needed talent pool, appointing the right leaders, improving collaboration, reducing bureaucracy, increasing sales, or optimising your hybrid working strategy. The financial benefits related to these types of outcomes, often delivered by a single people analytics project, are enough to fund the people analytics department for years. Additionally, the people analytics department can help the CHRO evaluate the effectiveness of other HR activities, such as recruitment, learning, diversity, or leadership development.

The most impact is made when the people analytics projects have a clear relationship with organisational performance and employee well-being. The stronger the alignment with organisational goals, the more financial or cultural value is created. Additionally, if you have the budget and necessary capabilities, an in-house people analytics practice is more efficient and impactful than outsourcing. Understanding and managing the blend of evidence-based services, such as creating reporting, providing advisory, building advanced modelling, designing surveys, and supporting strategic workforce management, will boost maturity and the impact on your organisation.

What and when is the best way to start with people analytics?

Patrick: If you are not doing any evidence-based HR services I mentioned earlier, the best time to start is now. I strongly believe that HR departments can’t afford not to have a people analytics practice anymore. Why wouldn’t you do the utmost as an HR department to understand your employees and how to support your organisation? Also, business cycles are becoming faster, data is more accessible than before, and AI applications such as generative AI are booming. HR has to upskill themselves to play the data and digital game, which will become even more complex in the future. But please do not fear data analytics but embrace it and learn how to apply it.

The best way to start with people analytics is to stay close to the most important business challenges of your organisation. So please, no projects that only excite the HR department. Everything you do must be relevant to your organisation’s performance or employee well-being. If your first people analytics projects immediately impact organisational goals, you are set up for success.

And you can start small! Work with the data, processes, tools and people that you have. There is no need for big investments in, for example, new technology from the start. Assess your current resources, define your future ambition and create a practical step-by-step approach towards people analytics maturity.

What are the key qualifications a people analytics leader needs to have?

Patrick: To avoid disappointments on both the organisation and candidate side when searching for a people analytics leader, you must be as specific as possible regarding responsibilities and the context of the position. For example, which evidence-based HR services are in scope? Is there room to create new or grow existing analytical services? Is the people analytics leader part of the HR management team? Is there senior management support outside HR to collaborate on strategically relevant projects? Can the people analytics leader influence, or even better manage, the HR data infrastructure? Can the team grow, and are the right skills available? These are just a few examples you need to consider before engaging with experienced people analytics leaders.

Related to your question on qualifications, based on my experience, a people analytics leader should excel in the following capabilities: Business acumen, influencing skills, strategic thinking, critical and analytical thinking, understanding the HR system landscape, understanding the possibilities of analytical services, project management, and last but not least, people management (as all leaders should). This combination of data and digital knowledge, the required soft skills, and the desired experience are a difficult mix of capabilities to find in the marketplace.

The result of having all these capabilities is that a people analytics leader, together with the people analytics team, is a trusted advisor to senior management, understands the most pressing issues within an organisation, can effectively manage the HR data pipeline, and can build new analytical services to enhance decision-making and ultimately drive organisational performance and employee well-being.

How can you best assess these skills?

It is recommended to seek support from people who possess people analytics domain knowledge and high-quality search capabilities to assess if there is a match between your organisation and a candidate. An executive search firm like ours can support your organisation throughout this search process.

First, our unique capabilities bring deep knowledge and experience in people analytics. For these niche types of roles, having a meaningful conversation with a top candidate is very hard without understanding what it means to be a people analytics leader. In our case, our experience can also help you think about the set-up of the department and the responsibilities and qualifications of the position in the context of your organisation. Additionally, if desired, we can provide support during the onboarding stage as a sparring partner to the new people analytics leader.

Second, we take pride in not only understanding the motivation, qualifications, and potential of the candidate but also understanding your organisation’s culture, people, and dynamics. A candidate can be extremely qualified, but we know by experience that a match in personality and culture is equally important.

A final question, in summary: what do you advise organisations to do if they want to build a people analytics practice?

(1) The need for high-quality and fast decision-making related to the workforce is not going away. Additionally, new machine-learning-based developments such as generative AI are boosting the interest in people analytics. So, if you are not building a people analytics practice today, start tomorrow.

(2) Don’t sell yourself short; aim for a people analytics practice that integrates evidence-based HR services to maximise the impact on organisational performance and employee well-being. However, it takes time to get there. Therefore, you should create a realistic, practical, step-by-step approach to establish people analytics as an accepted and embraced practice.

(3) Ask for support when you do not have the right people analytics talent in-house. Ensure you have people analytics domain knowledge and experience in the room while searching for your first or next people analytics leader.

Thanks, Patrick, for sharing your insights with us. I recommend that readers of this interview follow you on LinkedIn to stay informed on the latest best practices and developments in People Analytics.

If, based on this interview, you want to explore our services, don’t hesitate to contact us. For people analytics-specific questions, you can also directly email

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