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HR Doesn't Need Big Data - It Needs Adaptive Design

HR Doesn't Need Big Data - It Needs Adaptive Design

Written by Kevan McBeth - Chief Purpose Officer, Affective Consulting

I have been reading a lot of blogs and articles lately that have been touting the next great thing in HR Strategy- integrating big data into the overall strategic planning process. Many even go as far as to suggest the need for HR professionals to improve their skills in defining and collecting an increased number of data points, as a way for HR departments to better inform the overall decision making process for corporations far and wide. The idea, according to one blog I read this morning, is that HR drives critical initiatives that improve the overall productivity and effectiveness of the organization as a whole. Therefore, as a reliable business partner it needs to provide data to other departments to allow them to work efficiently and smoothly.

And while I agree whole heartedly with the idea that HR is a critical business partner, capable of supporting (and even driving) organizational productivity through a highly engaged, skilled and optimized workforce, let’s pump the brakes on this whole “HR needs Big Data” talk. 

There is a fundamental flaw that organizations have been making for some time now. Organizations today are driven almost entirely by the need for analytics. Whether used to support decision making or appease and impress shareholders, measures that fit nicely into corporate scorecards or dashboards carry considerable weight in the overall decision making process. But trying to boil down your people and HR practices into a series of data points is steering your organization in the wrong direction. 

Stop treating your people like numbers. 

 I get it. In a number of other areas of business, information from a multiple number of data points within your organization is a way to track and predict your overall success. If an area of your organization is under performing, you adjust inputs to create a more improved outcome. Why wouldn't a similar set of measures and standards be successful for HR practices? 
But it doesn’t work that way with people. No indicator you can extract can show you how to make people more productive if the environment that they work in is one that doesn’t inspire them. No number will show you how many of your people are motivated to do their best every day, or work for their organization with purpose because they are buying into their workplace leadership philosophy. 
Big Data- type analytics are nothing new in HR- we’ve been using employee engagement surveys, workforce planning analytics and other “predictive” types of data for years now. So why is it that in the 2014 AON Employee Engagement Survey, only 61% of worldwide workers said they feel engaged at their jobs, and the Conference Board of Canada states that less than half (48.3 percent) of US workers are satisfied with their jobs in 2015. We’ve had data like this for years- so if data allows us to alter the outcomes and predict a higher level of productivity in the outcome, why aren’t the numbers higher? 

Start treating your employees like customers.

What is needed is not greater, or even better data. What's needed in organzations is a shift back to a leadership philosiphy that meets the needs of the next generation of employees. But more often than not, and despite their best of intentions, most leaders haven’t bought in to making the changes that are critical to moving the dial on employee engagement. They have yet to make the shift in organizational philosophy between seeing workers as servants of the company they work for and deserving the same level of attention, diginity, and respect that is traditionally reserved for their highly valued customers. 

"Leaders who are able to create sustainable, high-performance cultures over the long term see their primary purpose as serving the employees on their teams—not just the other way around," said Matt Tenney, author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons From A Prison, A Monastery, And A Boardroom. "These 'servant leaders' realize that when people know we truly care about them—and not just about what we can get out of them—they tend to go the extra mile."

Predictive Design is the next great thing for your customers. And your employees.

So if big data isn’t the right direction for HR, then what is? Good question. One area of business I have started to pay more attention to is marketing, and the trends coming from many of the larger marketing firms across the globe. This is a great way to better understand what they see as up-and-coming consumer trends. It's an opportunity to explore trends for possible cross-over into the HR world. After all, if we as consumers are looking for a certain level of experience as customers from organizations, why would we be expecting anything less from those same companies as employees? 

I came across a fantastic presentation recently from Aaron Shapiro, CEO of HUGE- a global marketing and design collective that works with the big boys like Nike and MTV. Aaron was presenting his take on the next level of market design, which he called anticipatory design at the Acquia Engage Conference in California back in October. 

Aaron’s presentation outlined the need for a number of shifts to occur in the way that we leverage technology, and the need for organizations to begin to better understand their client’s needs. The next generation of marketing is actually not going to be about more choice, but far less. In fact, what Aaron sees is marketing technology that modifies consumer choice down to a few simple choices- based on what organizations know about you and your interests, your needs and even your schedule. In short, when brands better understand you, they will present you their best match for your request rather than giving you a million options for you to sift through, and potentially risk your indecision or neutrality resulting in a lost sale. 




In my mind, there are huge (no pun intended) lessons here for us as HR leaders. By being more in tune with our employees, and fully understanding who they are and what they need to be their best self, we can create opportunities to put our people in the best possible position for success. Organizations need to be adaptive, nimble and open to positioning individuals in places where they can be the most successful. Where they can be most engaged. 

But to do that, we need to gather a different kind of data than what Big Data can provide. We need leaders who engage with their employees – connect with them on a more personal level. Find out what makes them tick, what gets them up in the morning and what energizes them.

These kinds of data won't show up on a spreadsheet, but if you truly want to improve the overall productivity and effectiveness of the organization as a whole- this is the kind of data you should seek to better understand.