Talent management by database? Believe it or not, some businesses are already doing it. The results, however, expose plenty of problems when the 'human' gets stripped from human resources.

According to the latest Global Assessment Trends report, a research guide published by human resources industry tracker SHL, some 86% of companies use "talent analytics" to analyze their workforces. Less than half use the data to make informed business decisions.

Employers aren't just tracking skills. SHL's research found that employers are also using behavioural tests to predict how workers might react in certain situations. The goal with these types of talent analytics is to "understand what makes employees tick" and "get the best performance from each individual," SHL chief executive David Leigh said in a recent interview with AskGrapevine HR.

He's no doubt correct. All good manufacturing executives obsess over ways to improve plant output. The question is whether databases and predictive psychology offer the best means for producing results. So far, judging by how few businesses use talent analytics to make better business decisions, the answer appears to be 'no.'

What to do then? Improving talent-tracking technology is one option. A better, cheaper approach might be to embrace traditional hands-on management. Here are five low-tech (and low-cost) strategies for getting more from line workers:

1) Walk around. Get to know who's working on the line! Yes, it sounds simple. And it is. But if you want to understand who does best at certain types of work see for yourself. Top performers always stand out in a crowd. Better still, they attract rookies who need help. These are your future plant managers.

2) Engage! Talk to workers. Host a lunch and strike up conversations. Ask what is working and what isn't. Employees will reveal their passions -- both good and bad -- when you allow them to talk. And as history shows (think of Apple and the Macintosh, or BMW and luxury sedans), matching passion with work can lead to astoundingly good results.

3) Embrace projects. Instead of merely inventorying skills and habits, offer opportunities for employees to stretch themselves. Create six-week projects where those on the assembly line can take a turn in design, or quality assurance, or logistics, and so on. Experimenting in this way may reveal hidden talents of employees hired for entirely different jobs in years past.

4) Measure activity. Employees can say what they want about their skills; take the time to track activity and output. Where are employees really excelling? What activities do they complete faster? Which employees are considered floor experts in certain tasks? More than years of experience or prior jobs, nothing speaks so loudly about the quality of a worker's skills than the admiration of his peers.

5) Reward achievement. Create opportunities to recognize outstanding work, and then recognize frequently. Use announcements, newsletters, awards, small gifts, or even social media to highlight outstanding performances. Celebrate excellence, and then place workers in roles where they are most likely to achieve more of it.

Analytics is a popular term, and for good reason. Great business measure success, study failure, and then optimize for best results. And yet when it comes to recognizing, deploying, and rewarding talent, technology isnt the only answer. Get out and talk to workers. Get to know them. Find their passions and reward great work regularly.

For when it comes to HR, no amount of number crunching can ever replace the need for human resources to be human.

John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a global provider of mployee rewards and recognition programs.