The best HR & People Analytics articles of December 2018


Yes, I know that there are still a few days left before December closes and a New Year begins, but given I start my Christmas holiday tomorrow I wanted to publish the ‘Best Articles’ for December before I submerge myself in mince pies.

I had expected December to be a quiet month for articles – save those looking back on 2018 and the usual glut of articles predicting what will occur in 2019. But, I was wrong. The selections that follow are especially strong and reinforce how 2018 has been a pivotal year for people analytics and data-driven HR.

If I had to pick out two of the selections that point the way forward, it is those penned first by Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau. Every business leader, CHRO and Head of People Analytics should read their article on the Future of Work. The strategic questions laid out are ones that every organisation will have to answer if it is to thrive moving forward. The second must-read article comes from Al Adamsen on the unique role HR needs to play in designing appropriate strategies to contend with how work gets done in the future and the workforce composition required to deliver it.    

I have also included a selection of predictions for 2019 towards the end of this article – including my own ‘The Human Touch’. Together they show that whilst HR is undoubtedly being disrupted like never before, it is also one of the most exciting areas of the business in which to work and the opportunities to increase our impact through better understanding the business as well as being more data-driven and employee centric are enormous.

Before we get on with this month’s selections, I just wanted to wish readers a Merry Christmas, happy holidays as well as a happy and successful 2019. 

Right, on we go…  


RAVIN JESUTHASAN AND JOHN BOUDREAU - The Future of Work: Can you Answer These Strategic Questions?

Will the inexorable rise of technology render humans obsolete in the workplace or instead will the work humans do be continually reinvented? These are the two scenarios considered by the authors in this taster to their landmark book Reinventing Jobs. As the title of the book suggests, Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau believe the second scenario will prevail and as this transformation takes hold, humans will actually become more valuable in ways that would not be possible without automation. The frameworks outlined in the article (see example in FIG 1) are provided to help leaders consider how work should be ‘deconstructed’. A powerful example is provided analysing the job of pilots and flight attendants. The issue of Workforce Solutions Review in which this article appears is also recommended - see here - as it also contains a number of other interesting analytics themed reads from Roy Altman (on using analytics to support organisational agility), Helen Friedman & Anna Marley (on whether HR Business Partners are helping or hindering efforts to become more evidence based) and Jeff Higgins.

FIG 1: A framework for optimising human and automated work (Source: Reinventing Jobs, Jesuthasan and Boudreau, Harvard Business Press, 2018)

FIG 1: A framework for optimising human and automated work (Source: Reinventing Jobs, Jesuthasan and Boudreau, Harvard Business Press, 2018)

AL ADAMSEN - The Workforce of the Future: HR’s Role in Managing the Amoeba

Following up his brilliant People Analytics 3.0 article from last year, Al Adamsen examines the workforce composition of the future and introduces his Work Framework model to outline the value and changing make-up of the workforce (employees, contractors, consultants, outsource partners, machines etc). Al also outlines a model for Employee Experience Design (see FIG 2) and highlights that in tandem with a positive culture how this can lead to improvements in engagement, retention, productivity, innovation and ultimately financial performance. As Al outlines, this challenge represents a unique opportunity for HR and People Analytics to lead the way and ensure that not only the organisation benefits, but employees do too. If you want to see Al speaking about how HR manages the amoeba, check out the section later on the People Analytics & Future of Work conference in San Francisco on 31st January and 1st February.

FIG 2: Employee Experience Design (Source: Al Adamsen)

FIG 2: Employee Experience Design (Source: Al Adamsen)


DAVE ULRICH – Agility: The New Response To Dynamic Change

Agility is described by Dave Ulrich in his article on as the key organisational capability of our time. He goes on to explain that in our world of unrelenting change agility matters at four levels: strategic, organisational, individual and last but not least HR. Ulrich’s persuasive argument that “HR practices around people, performance, information, and work can be crafted to foster strategic, organisation, and individual agility” is both convincing and inspiring.

“When HR both advocates for and models agility, they ensure that strategies, organizations, and individuals anticipate and adapt to dynamic change as fast as the change occurs”

FIG 3: The critical organisational capabilities to win have pivoted over time (Source: Dave Ulrich)

FIG 3: The critical organisational capabilities to win have pivoted over time (Source: Dave Ulrich)

KEITH McNULTY - When the Robots Take Over Will You Still Matter?

Keith McNulty points the way forward for the HR function with the bold prediction that as we go deeper into the 21st Century, so the organisations with advanced approaches to recruitment, development and retention of talent will outperform those that lag behind. The two reasons Keith believes are driving this are i) the scale of disruption to work and talent is unprecedented, and ii) the opportunity gap for HR to evolve from a service-provider to a function that takes a strategic lead is significant. Keith then outlines how HR should adapt with a data-driven approach at the core through the “injection of analytically-driven, strategy-minded professionals with a passion for all things talent”.

“With the right vision and investment, HR can take the strategic lead in helping businesses navigate the disruptive chaos we find ourselves in today”


PHILIP ARKCOLL - The Impact of Turnover on Employee Experience

Philip Arkcoll provides an example of how organisational network analysis was used to answer a key question from a business leader: “Is our turnover problem contagious?” In other words, when a key employee goes does this make their peers more vulnerable to leaving too? Based on his study, Philip found that yes it does, with direct peers being two to three times more likely to exit when an employee exits a team. The article also provides findings from a survey conducted with employees to find out why turnover can be contagious.

“When any key employee leaves it's critical that organizations have a process for reacting quickly. Waiting too long leaves the remaining team at serious risk”

FIG 4: Network analysis showing clusters of turnover (Source: Philip Arkcoll)

FIG 4: Network analysis showing clusters of turnover (Source: Philip Arkcoll)

JOCELYNE HELBLING - A Brief Explanation of Social Network Analysis...

An excellent primer from Jocelyne Helbling on the what, why and how of Social Network Analysis. The article covers what networks are, why they matter and how network analysis can help: enhance productivity, accelerate innovation, develop leaders, identify connectors and drive strategy.

FIG 5: What is network analysis? (Source: Jocelyne Helbling)

FIG 5: What is network analysis? (Source: Jocelyne Helbling)


TOMAS CHAMORRO-PREMUZIC, LEWIS GARRAD AND DIDIER ELZINGA - Is Employee Engagement Just a Reflection of Personality?

Much of the research on engagement is traditionally focused on external drivers such as organisational culture, quality of leaders and role characteristics. However, as the authors explain in this fascinating article, a new study suggests that close to 50% of engagement can be predicted through individual personality with four traits highlighted: positive affect, proactivity, conscientiousness, and extroversion. Together, these traits represent some of the core ingredients of emotional intelligence and resilience. A must-read.

“If you want to truly understand engagement in your organization then you need to look at both who your people are and what they think about their work”

ANDREW MARRITT AND DAVID GREEN - Using employee text analytics to drive business outcomes

I was fortunate to recently interview Andrew Marritt about text analytics and how companies can identify insights in their unstructured employee data to help drive business and people outcomes. The interview covers typical uses of text analysis from a people perspective, case studies and recommendations from Andrew on how companies can use employee text to support their people analytics initiatives.

FIG 6: Examples of typical business questions that can be answered using employee text analysis (Source: Andrew Marritt)

FIG 6: Examples of typical business questions that can be answered using employee text analysis (Source: Andrew Marritt)


MICHAEL CARTY - Three principles of effective people analytics

Michael Carty’s write-up of the recent CIPD HR Analytics conference focuses on the three principles of effective people analytics he saw emerge from the conference. The first principle of understanding the business is paramount to having success with people analytics. Michael always provides superb summaries of the key takeaways from conferences, and this is one of his best yet. Features insights and case study examples from speakers including: Greig Aitken (RBS), Elaine Mahon and Kim Saunders (both Office of National Statistics), Michael Collins (River Island), Ian Bailie and Andrew Marritt. For more on the key takeaways from this conference you should also checkout Edward Houghton’s write-up here

“Data is only important if you do something with it. Don’t just show the data. Tell the story”

Greig Aitken

CASSIE KOZYRKOV - What Great Data Analysts Do — and Why Every Organization Needs Them

Cassie Kozyrkov has a great job title – Chief Decision Scientist at Google. She was also one of the star turns at the People Analytics and Future of Work conference in Philadelphia. In this article, Cassie explains that the three professions under the data science umbrella (analysts, statistics and machine learning) are actually completely different from each other. She goes on to explain that instead of asking analysts to develop their skills in the other two areas, firms should encourage them to attain heights in their own discipline first. Excellence in one area beats mediocrity in the other two. Cassie then outlines what great analysts do and how analytics can support decision making, machine learning/AI and the dangers in under appreciating analysts. A terrific read.

“When in doubt, hire analysts before other roles. Appreciate them and reward them. Encourage them to grow to the heights of their chosen career (and not someone else’s)”

PAUL VAN DER LAKEN - Data-Driven Human Resource Management: The rise of people analytics and its application to expatriate management

As interest in and adoption of people analytics continues to rise, so the number of students choosing to research the field grows. Paul van der Laken’s dissertation is one such example and is based in part, on the time Paul spent at Shell where he helped quantify the impact of global mobility as an analyst in the HR Data & Analytics department. The whole dissertation is worth a read, but chapter 1 and chapter 7 are especially recommended. This is where Paul reflects on the past and future of people analytics, discussing machine learning complications, ethical issues, CSR, new avenues, and many more. One of my favourite sections is where Paul outlines his analysis on the monthly Google search interest for several labels describing the field between 2004 and 2018 (see FIG 7).

FIG 7: Monthly Google search interest on “people analytics” and related terms over time. Values are proportional to the maximum value and fit by locally weighted regression lines (Source: Paul van der Laken)

FIG 7: Monthly Google search interest on “people analytics” and related terms over time. Values are proportional to the maximum value and fit by locally weighted regression lines (Source: Paul van der Laken)


BERNARD MARR WITH LEENA NAIR - How Unilever Uses Artificial Intelligence To Recruit & Train Thousands Of Employees 

Unilever is one of the companies leading the way when it comes to incorporating AI into HR. In this piece, Bernard Marr describes how Unilever has partnered with Pymetrics to screen and assess 1.8m job applicants per year. As well as enhancing the candidate experience, Leena Nair (Unilever’s CHRO) confirms that the automated system has saved 70,000 hours previously spent on interviewing and assessing candidates. The article also describes Unabot, a NLP based bot that supports onboarding by providing information to employees when asked and which has already been successfully rolled out in 36 of Unilever’s 190 markets.

“We’ve learned that you have to make anything that interacts with employees or consumers effortless”

Leena Nair, Unilever CHRO

PAUL DAUGHERTY, H. JAMES WILSON AND RUMMAN CHOWDHURY – Using Artificial Intelligence to Promote Diversity  

An insightful read on how technology can be used to promote diversity. The article highlights three focus areas where AI can be used to help overcome biases instead of perpetuating them - with guidance from the humans who design, train, and refine its systems. The three focus areas outlined are: i) Design for inclusion (including details of how Atlassian increased the female proportion of software engineer hires to 57%) ii) Train systems with better data (identifying and removing biased data), and iii) Give bots a variety of voices (do female voices like Alexa perpetuate gender bias?). 

“AI can help us overcome biases instead of perpetuating them, with guidance from the humans who design, train, and refine its systems”

IAN COOK - 3 Ways to Neutralize AI Bias in Recruiting

Taking the recent story about Amazon’s experience with a sexist recruiting engine as his cue, Ian Cook provides three tips on how to use AI to neutralise – rather than perpetuate – bias to support your diversity and recruiting goals. His first tip on pointing the technology at the specific parts of the recruiting process where you are falling short of your diversity goals makes a whole lot of sense. Ian’s overarching message of how AI should serve, not rule, human decision-making is one I fully concur with.

“AI can help serve, not rule, human decision-making — and where we need the most help, it seems, is in the judgments we make about other people” 


TOM DAVENPORT AND VIVEK KATYAL - Every Leader’s Guide to the Ethics of AI

With technology continuing to outpace regulation, companies forging ahead with AI must establish their own ethical frameworks. Tom Davenport and Vivek Katyal’s article provides a set of recommendations including making ethics a board-level issue, taking a proactive approach to minimising bias, being transparent with customers and employees and recognising that AI works best with - rather than without – humans. Ethics will continue to be one of the most important and challenging aspects of people analytics, and it’s worth highlighting that the approach of establishing an ethical framework is one Insight222 has already undertaken with member companies in its People Analytics Program, as described by Dirk Petersen in 6 steps to ethically sound people analytics.

“Leaders should ask themselves whether the AI applications they use treat all groups equally”


DAVID GREEN – The Human Touch: 10 Predictions for HR in 2019 | TOM HAAK - 10 inspiring HR Trends for 2019  | ROB SCOTT – 9 Exciting Trends and Opportunities in HR in 2019 | KATHI ENDERES - People analytics will augment the workforce and the workplace | BERNARD MARR - 5 Important Artificial Intelligence Predictions (For 2019) | ANITA LETTINK - The Ultimate List of 2019 HR Trends

It’s prediction season so I thought it would be helpful to collect some of the data-themed prophecies. First up, my ten predictions all related to and stress the importance of the ‘Human Touch’. Then Tom Haak provides an inspiring set of trends for 2019, which as he admits makes him as much of a ‘trendwisher’ as a ‘trendwatcher’. I also enjoyed Rob Scott’s list of predictions as well as Kathi Enderes’ prediction that people analytics will augment the workforce and workplace. Bernard Marr makes his second entry on this month’s list with five predictions on where AI is headed in 2019 with #4 “More jobs will be created by AI than will be lost to it” resonating with the earlier article from Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau. Finally, Anita Lettink has performed the monumental task of collecting all of the best HR predictions and trends into one easily digestible repository.


PATRICK COOLEN – The 10 Golden Rules of HR Analytics (Crowd version)

Patrick has been an inspiration to many in our field with his once or twice a year articles centred around the evolution of people analytics and fact-based HR at ABN Amro. One of his most popular articles is Patrick’s 10 Golden Rules, which he first published in 2014, updated in 2015 and then created this ‘crowd’ version in 2016. All of the rules Patrick outlines resonate, but rules #2 (only do business relevant research), #3 (create actionable insights) and #7 (preach and teach to the HR community) are especially important.    

“Creating insights means nothing if your organization will not use them”


JEFFREY PFEFFER AND BOB SUTTON – FRICTION Podcast: Dear Micro-Manager, Control Yourself | STELA LUPUSHOR AND JOHN SUMSER – HR Examiner Radio: Executive Conversations #304

Two must-listen to podcasts to close the year. First, Jeffrey Pfeffer talks to Bob Sutton on the FRICTION Podcast about his superb book ‘Dying for a Paycheck,’ and issues a clarion call that rather than increasing working hours in an attempt to drive productivity growth, firms should instead give employees more autonomy. The second podcast this month features Stela Lupushor in conversation with John Sumser. Stela’s background in people analytics, her current role advising firms about inclusion and the work she does to extend the work horizon for women, makes this a rewarding listen.


BEN WABER – How do you manage data privacy in HR?

Continuing the ethics theme from Tom Davenport and Vivek Katyal’s earlier article, Ben Waber speaks to Ian Bailie in this video on how to manage data privacy when collecting activity data on employees, as well as whether “hype” about artificial intelligence justified.



David is a globally respected writer, speaker, conference chair, and executive consultant on people analytics, data-driven HR and the future of work. He helps HR practitioners and organisations leverage data and analytical thinking to drive positive business outcomes, improved performance, and enhance employee experience. Prior to launching his own consultancy business and taking up board advisor roles at Insight222 and TrustSphere, David was the Global Director of People Analytics Solutions at IBM Watson Talent. As such, David has extensive experience in helping organisations embark upon and accelerate their people analytics journeys. 


David will be chairing and/or speaking about people analytics, data-driven HR and the Nine Dimensions for Excellence in People Analytics model at the following events until the end of March 2019. If you are going to one of these events and would like to meet up with David or you would like to book him to speak at a conference, please contact David by email on