Analytical thinking for HR leaders 

26 April 2022
Interested in improving your analytical thinking skills? It’s a wise move, particularly if your role is within international human resources or global mobility where understanding and finding solutions to complex problems is part of your day to day. By improving your analytical thinking abilities you are also investing in your future employability as the World Economic Forum list analytical thinking as essential to the workplace of the future.  
  1. Chicago State University defines analytical thinking as having the ability to identify and define problems, extract key facts from information presented and use these to develop workable solutions. Typical process for an analytical thinker may look like:
  2. Collects data.
  3. Extracts relevant information.
  4. Critically examine issues by breaking them down.
  5. Further analyse information to determine the most likely cause of the problem.
  6. Uses data to identify the logical and factual outcomes.
  7. Identifies actions to prevent the problem occurring. 

Analytical thinking is particularly important for international HR because many of the problems are complicated and impact multiple levels within an organisation. Global Human Resource or people departments have to find solutions to issues like talent shortages, attrition rates and expat failure. The cause and solutions to these issues are likely to be multifaceted.  

By employing analytical thinking HR professionals reach data based solutions that:

  1. Stand up to scrutiny.
  2. Improve your approach to HR challenges.
  3. Collaborate HR objectives with business objectives. 

Using these skills across your department is likely to enhance the team’s performance and ability to achieve business objectives.

There are a number of activities you can employ to improve your analytical skills and not all are work related:

1. Observe the world around you critically

It’s easy for us to go about day-to-day life at work and home without really thinking about it. Taking the time to really notice and question what is happening around us is a beneficial way to build analytical thinking skills. The first step in analytical thinking is gathering data and cognisance about what is happening around you is beneficial to this. 

In the workplace, notice colleagues on your team. Is there someone who may not be performing. It is easy to take the situation at face value and act accordingly, initiating a performance improvement plan or similar. If you employ critical observation, you may notice patterns in behaviour and with some tactical questions realise there is an underlying issue that is impacting performance like caring responsibilities, ill health or stress. Providing them with more flexibility, some time off or additional support may be all that is required. 


2. Read critically or join a book club

Keep your mind active by reading critically. Question and digest what you are reading. You may wish to highlight passages, predict what might happen or keep a reading journal to stay engaged with reading material. Another great way to analyse as you read is to join a book club. Actively discussing your thoughts and perspectives of a book is useful for the critical examination and analysis elements of analytical thinking.


3. Understand how things work

Understanding processes is vital when it comes to stimulating your analytical skills. As a HR leader, learn how existing processes work. Scrutinising the steps involved in functioning processes will make it easier to analyse them if a problem does occur. 

4. Ask questions to gather data

Contrary to the old adage 'curiosity killed the cat’, science shows curiosity makes us smarter. Psychological studies found curiosity plays a significant role in academic performance. When we look at some of world’s smartest people historically like Einstein and Da Vinci, they were exceptionally curious about the world around them. Improve your data gathering skills by asking questions at work and home.  

5. Play brain games

Did you know doing the crossword on a Sunday morning is more than just a nice way to relax? Brain games like crosswords, sudoku and chess help improve your analytical thinking skills as you work to solve them.

6. Regular exercise

Regular exercise improves cognitive ability but taking an exercise class can also improve your analytical skills. Memorising the next steps or moves keeps your brain active. During the class you are more likely to stay focused on the task at hand while also preparing for what is coming up next.

7. Build mathematical skills

Although it may not be a natural forté, mathematical skills involve taking a step-by-step approach to solve an equation. They are beneficial when it comes to analytical thinking. Practising maths problems can help build logic and problem-solving capabilities. 

8. Practice problem solving

Remember every problem has multiple potential solutions. Try to come up with multiple solutions and where possible, test them to see which offers the best outcome. You will not be able to do this all the time, but it is a good learning experience when you can. 

9. Improve technical and subject matter knowledge

Staying up to date with subject matter around HR and human capital management will ensure you have a range of solutions at your disposal when issues arise. Improve your knowledge both formally and informally through:

  • Professional development courses
  • Joining a mentoring programme
  • Reading books and articles about your speciality
  • Regular sharing sessions with colleagues


Analytical thinking is one of a range of soft skills needed on a day-to-day basis in international HR. 


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