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Earlier this year I put my hand up to be part of the AHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute) mentoring program, this program connects HR Practitioners with experienced practitioners. The wins and experiences I’ve had within HR are in no small part attributable to the fantastic managers, peers, and mentors that I’ve had. So I saw this program as a way to ‘pass it forward’. I was matched with a practitioner from the Northern hemisphere, and our first week has been very productive in terms of setting expectations. To ensure a positive experience I asked two questions:

Why are you interested in HR?

What do you expect to gain out of our interactions?

The answer to the first question showed to me that we shared a similar basis for our interest in this area, so I’m very happy to volunteer my time to assist my mentee. The answer to the second question allowed me to propose a way of approaching our relationship, to which the mentee was very agreeable. The idea is that they will send me issues or scenarios that they are either working on currently or have worked on in the past, and I’ll put some different approaches back to them. Now to be clear, I’m not doing their ‘homework’ for them. The differences in culture and the legislative environment will render my answers less useful that they would be within an Australian or New Zealand context. However, the approach or ‘lens’ through which I explore and share approaches, will add value.

Take for example something like leave, leave, or rather an excessive individual leave-taking can be an issue for many organisations. And while some may first advise to read the relevant legislation etc, my approach would typically be to first determine if there is indeed an issue. I was actually talking about this with my wife a couple of nights ago, not leave per se, but rather the often lacking ability in people to find the problem. Finding the answer is easy, there are libraries full of books (and something called ‘Google’) which will tell you the answer to almost every problem you’ll encounter. The issue isn’t the answer, it's being able to find the problem. Often people will go off looking for an answer and have an incorrect idea of what the problem is, and hence the answer they come back with is wrong.

Right, back to leave. The first thing to do is to see if you have an excess leave problem, is there industry information you can access. Is there a Government statistics agency that reports on employee leave, basically you need to find a credible and relevant information source that can help you understand if you do have a problem. Using internal data, is there a way to identify if different groups are taking different levels of leave – for example are there professional or employment groups (permanent, fixed term, or casual employees) who have different rates of taking leave – are there trends, for example is there a particular date or time of year where more people are calling in sick and taking leave than other times – could it coincide with either religious events or perhaps the flu season for example? Away from the data, who is saying there is an excessive leave issue, talk to them and find out why they think this.

So that is the approach I’ve decided to take, every so often I hope to share where permissible, how the mentoring is going. And while I may not discuss exactly what we’re talking about with a view to the privacy of our relationship. I will aim to pass on the flavour of our conversations, and any hiccups or issues we encounter along the way. I hope that you’ll find this interesting, and perhaps it will encourage you to either become a mentor or mentee.

By Brendan Lys

Operating at the intersection of Human Resources and Data Science, I leverage extensive specialist experience within Human Resources, with the methodologies and approaches of Data Science. This focus on the discovery of actionable insights from data, has been applied to areas such as: remuneration & benefits, workforce planning, recruitment, health & safety, diversity, and training. But what does the application of data science to HR challenges and opportunities actually look like. Within an HR framework the data we work with typically comes directly from our HRMIS, an advantage of using data science methodologies is that we can bring in additional data either held within the organization or from external sources - data which is out of reach from a pure HR analytics approach. Consider for example position descriptions, these contain a wealth of data that we typically ignore as its not in a analysis ready format. A side project I'm working on currently (April 2019) is using text mining on job descriptions to provide insights into which job family the position may fit into. The insights of my work have been enjoyed by organizations across a diversity of sectors including: Government (Australia and New Zealand), ASX and NZX listed companies, utilities, not for profit and higher education.