The Future of People Analytics

“The 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress; organizations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace.” —Ray Kurzweil

Welcome to the age of acceleration, where society is redefining how information and goods are consumed, how people communicate, and the very nature of work. Driving this acceleration is technology and data analytics, seeping into every aspect of our lives and challenging organizations to keep up or be left behind.

To remain competitive in today’s shifting landscapes HR leaders are witnessing their job function becoming more demanding and data-centered on a daily basis. But despite their willingness to adopt data analytics, they are largely failing at their new job – here are a few reasons why.

Historically, workplace data was collected on a few broad categories – employee level, job function, cost, and career lifecycle – and information could be collected annually to make long-term strategic improvements, but big data and new communication technologies are changing this fast. HR is being put to the test to use people data to drive smarter business decisions in real-time: Why do people behave certain ways that impact performance, what characteristics and skills should our future leaders have, and what keeps those people engaged and eager to contribute to our culture? To answer these questions with urgency there has been a 5X increase over the last 5 years in the number of organizations placing a serious emphasis on people analytics.

HR is on the hot seat to get it right (or at least close), and organizations that are ahead of the curve are reaping the benefits. Companies that are succeeding with advanced analytics are 3.1X more likely to outperform peers financially and 6.5X more likely to have high bench strength.

Although the benefits are clear, there are some very concerning issues HR teams are facing to leverage employee data effectively to their advantage.

Here's a crazy fact:

Even though analytics has been more widely adopted by HR over the last 5 years, and 70% of HR professionals reported an increase in analytics skills, they’re becoming worse at effectively using it! More companies attempted analytics in 2014 than in 2017 yet their efforts were more likely to fail than succeed.

What’s causing this catch-22?

The expectations that HR professionals are being held to is growing faster than their capabilities and bandwidth can keep up. Imagine the difficulty of maintaining your current job description AND simultaneously becoming a data scientist over the course of 1-2 years!     

Being expected to learn, essentially overnight, how to generate, structure, and utilize mass amounts of data is unrealistic and inefficient. To fill this gap a lot of organizations are relying on 3rd party employee engagement vendors. These companies comb through workforces and gather information on how much employees like or dislike their job, undoubtedly valuable information (and arguably the world’s most expensive google forms). Information comes in on a shiny dashboard, which HR can then use to identify blaring pain-points, and a strategic solution can be designed and implemented over the next 6+ months to address problems. HR teams are finding that this still requires an inordinate amount of work, and at today’s rate of change by the time a solution is ready to be implemented the problem has likely changed completely!

Herein lies the problem, taking employee data on people engagement and development and distilling a 6-month process into a matter of days to keep up in the age of acceleration.     


Using people analytics like marketers: 

A powerful approach, to begin with, is to steal from the book of marketing principles and segment employee into easily identifiable and measurable categories – essentially, to view employees as customers (in an increasingly competitive landscape). This is the art of personas and customer journey mapping, widely used marketing tricks to make quick decisions based on common trends (which can morph over time into predictive models...).

Why it’s useful: To understand and reshape how certain people interact with your company at key moments during their career lifecycle, from onboarding through the exit. This can be useful to map talent growth to business strategies and ensure that the two are aligned.   

The challenging bit: Drawing parallels between employee behaviors and outcomes over time to identify common opportunities and problems that are arising — why are you losing people at this stage, who are your most effective leaders and why, how likely are people to succeed, fail, or leave? How does your company compare to other industry players and are you moving fast enough?   

Benefit: With the right employee data coming in, HR professionals and managers can map out the employee experience to become more predictive and targeted with their approach. They can prepare for historically tumultuous transitions or take advantage to maximize behaviors linked to top performers. Companies can benchmark against industry trends and competition.

How to start:

Step 1: Draw out common employee experience cycles from start to finish. What is the onboarding process like, promotional period, all the way through the exit for key demographics? Here is a useful resource.

Step 2: Match this map against desired outcomes. Where are you seeing poor performances? Where are you losing top talent that hurts your business? Where are you seeing the reverse? Identify trends internally and externally.


Step 3: Create personas to make sense of employee’s behavior at these key junctures, whether they are positive, negative, or neutral. Perhaps employees that communicate a certain way are not good fits for specific roles. It will become clear that people who display certain behavioral traits will be more or less at risk for burnout or success along various stages of employee lifecycles.

Step 4: Once associations have been made, take action at key moments. Specific employees may respond poorly during key transition periods, which can be smoothed out by catering to their desires and drivers — may be an off-site is in store, new business process, or soft skills development to improve communication, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. It’s important to solve these problems quickly, things don’t stay static for long in the 21st-century workplace!  

People analytics is surely the way of the future. To keep up, HR will be pushed into uncomfortable territory and will require new tools that make it possible to act on employee data quickly to drive positive business outcomes. As the world continues to accelerate, and the ‘FAANGs’ continue to disrupt industry after industry, organizations that are able to shift from a see and react HR model to a predict and prevent framework will have a major leg up. The rest will end up in hot water faster than expected.

The facts used in this article are from the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, co-published by DDI, The Conference Board, and EY.

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