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Phillie Phanalytics

I was driving to campus recently listening to Philly sports radio lamenting how poorly all of the Philadelphia professional sports teams were doing, particularly the Phillies. There were high hopes for the Phillies at the beginning of this pandemic shortened season. However, the team failed to make the playoffs which stung more than normal because this year 16 teams qualified rather than the typical 10. The Phillies finished the season with a losing record dropping their final three games.

Photo Credit: Pontla

Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mitch Williams was on the radio program and commented that too many managers have their heads down looking at sheets of paper telling them what to do and not having their heads up and observing all of what is taking place at this moment in the game. He believes that they are not using their expertise acquired by years of personal experience to make the right call.

Mitch’s complaint was that there is an over-reliance on data and analytics leading to the loss of managerial judgment.

While the use of analytics by professional sports teams may be crowding out alternative valuable decision-making methods, that’s not the case inside most organizations. Too often, organizations are unable to use analytics because they don’t have the data, the resources, or take the time needed. Jack Phillips, CEO and co-founder of International Institute for Analytics, reports that he has located only one company, Amazon, that has achieved near perfection as a data-driven company. The majority of companies have not advanced beyond the lowest stages of analytic maturity which he labels Analytically Impaired, Localized Analytics, and Analytical Aspirations.


Too often, organizations are unable to use analytics because they don’t have the data, the resources, or take the time needed.


Sports teams have the advantage of having great data and well-developed performance indicators. It’s no wonder that they are leading the way. And while sports teams may face criticism on potential overuse of, and too much reliance on, analytics, the rest of us have a long way to go before we reach that point.

Remember when SHRM, founded in 1948 was the American Society of Personnel Administration? It didn’t become the Society of Human Resources until 1989.

And, how about the Association for Talent Development? Well, they have had that name only since 2014. From 2014 and all the way back to 1964, they were known as the American Society for Training and Development. They were created by the American Petroleum Institute in 1943 as the American Society for Training Directors.

Just as these organizations have adopted new names as the times have changed and their mission has evolved, we at Villanova have renamed our course and certificate program to “People Analytics.” It’s an evolution that dates to over 40 years ago when Villanova University began its program to develop HR professionals. At Villanova, we have always recognized the need to include a firm understanding of data and its use to improve organizational performance and life. At its inception, our students were required to take Probability and Statistics. Later on, the course incorporated work from John Boudreau and Wayne Cascio that elevated the use of HR data and was renamed HR Metrics; then changed to HR Analytics.

This past summer I worked with Fiona Jamison, CEO of Spring International, a nearby consulting firm whose mission is to create “people insights that drive performance,” to redesign our course under a new name, People Analytics. This has not simply been a name change. We have redesigned the course to reflect its new focus. The students continue to get a strong foundation in applied statistics and HR metrics. However, the new design has them working in analytic teams to examine real world data and business questions related to people issues.

Calling our certificate People Analytics recognizes that HR professionals must be capable of helping their organizations examine how people data can be used to not only inform the HR function, but the larger mission of the enterprise. This is what we mean by evidence-based HR!

I look forward to the day when HR professionals face criticism of being too analytically-driven.


Gerry Brandon, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is the Director of the Graduate Programs in Human Resource Development at Villanova and an Associate Professor. Connect with him on LinkedIn and learn more about him here!

To here Gerry discuss more on evidence-based HR, check out his episode on our podcast, HR Tea!

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