Yes, it’s a slightly grandiose title: it might make a few people smile; it’ll probably make many more sigh. Some may even consider it Lincolnesque(!), but the People Analytics & Future of Work (PAFOW) conference that took place on 1-2 February in San Francisco definitely deserves such a lavish title.
In my three years first attending and now co-chairing PAFOW, the conference has always stood out from the crowd as being the richest for content, shared learning and participative collaboration amongst delegates. That is down to the environment of trust and curiosity that has been created by Al Adamsen and the PAFOW team. The latest edition of PAFOW was the best yet, and every delegate I spoke to during and after the event concurred with that sentiment.
As ever, Al created a panel of speakers that represented a veritable who’s who of the people analytics space and an agenda that ably demonstrated how the field is both broadening and deepening its reach. Whereas in prior years, the focus of people analytics has very much been on creating business value, PAFOW confirmed that the emphasis is now almost as equally on creating value for the employee (hence the ostentatious title of this article!).
It is an exciting time to work in the people analytics space. Interest levels have never been so high, and with Josh Bersin revealing in his speech that 69% of large organisations now have a people analytics team, growth may finally be set to become exponential. As the perfect storm of technology, rising employee expectations and digitisation converge, so the opportunities (and challenges) facing people analytics teams become more substantial.
69% of large organisations now have a people analytics team
Figure 1 below represents my synopsis of the main opportunities and challenges that were discussed at PAFOW. This is not an exclusive list as many other opportunities and challenges exist in our space, but it does represent a healthy proportion and provides a basis for summarising the key themes that emerged at PAFOW.
Let’s look at each side of the model, starting with the opportunities:
1. DRIVE BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION, INNOVATION & STRATEGY
A big takeaway from PAFOW was the scale of ambition many speakers voiced on the magnitude of impact people analytics can or will have on business. Josh Bersin described how people analytics is increasingly being viewed by CEOs as offering their organisations competitive advantage. Similarly, RJ Milnor’s opening keynote set the scene perfectly as he advocated for people analytics moving beyond the traditional uses of methodologies such as employee listening and workforce planning to truly strategic aims that drive business transformation (see Figure 2). Heather Whiteman followed RJ to the podium, and provided a compelling case study of how analytics informed the talent strategy that took GE Digital from 200 to 26,000 employees over a five-year period. Michael Arena’s account of how Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) has helped change business practice and drive innovation at GM was especially compelling. The 4D model he outlined: Discovery, Development, Diffusion and Disruption and the consequent identification of energisers, brokers and connectors in the GM network has helped create disruptive products like Maven and Book by Cadiliac. It is one of the best examples I’ve seen of the huge potential business benefit offered by ONA. This excellent MIT SMR article ‘How to catalyse innovation in your organisation’ provides a detailed account of the GM case study, as will Michael’s forthcoming book Adaptive Space.
2. SHAPE THE FUTURE ORGANISATION
Josh Bersin presented his new organisation model (see Figure 3) and highlighted that the extent of this shift is driving rapid change in HR technology and widening the focus of people analytics teams. The future of work is here with the majority of organisations almost in a perpetual state of transformation and continually having to reinvent themselves. With the workforce becoming more liquid, the challenge for people analytics teams is to extend its traditional focus on full-time and prospective employees to the wider ecosystem of work. This ‘opportunity’ was a significant part of RJ Milnor’s presentation. Coupled with Strategic Workforce Analytics, RJ described how people analytics can help organisations assess the feasibility of business strategy through scenario planning and probability analysis. Being involved at the heart of business strategy in this way will certainly elevate the impact of people analytics and potentially lead to the function becoming more closely aligned with Corporate Strategy than HR. This is an area I will come back to later in this article.
3. DESIGN & ENHANCE EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE
The aforementioned (and very much welcome) shift in emphasis of people analytics teams to create value for the employee (as well as the business) was much in evidence at PAFOW. Charlotte Nagy’s presentation explained the importance of employee centred design to analytics, which in this case related to the creation of an employee listening program at USAA. There was much to admire about the approach Charlotte outlined, not least how employee experience has been elevated to the same level as member experience, how the program evolved through pilots and test and learn methodology, how trust is prioritised and through the value provided to leaders, managers and employees. After two years, 70% of USAA’s employees have opted in, which is testament to the employee centred approach that lies at the heart of the program. Ultimately, I believe that the focus and desire of people analytics teams to design and enhance the employee experience will drive the growth of the discipline, increase employee trust and buy-in and lead to the development of data-driven cultures.
4. CREATE ANALYTICS BASED PRODUCTS
In his opening address, Al Adamsen presented his People Analytics 3.0 model, which describes how people analytics teams are increasingly taking on the challenge of developing analytically based products for their organisations. These products cover tools to drive career development, employee listening, team productivity, wellbeing and workforce planning. This was the centrepiece of Jeremy Welland’s terrific presentation on the work of his team at PayPal, which he has given the moniker ‘Portraits of Innovation’ (see Figure 4). The five examples provided are nicely split between providing benefit to employees (e.g. insights to navigate their careers) and the business (e.g. retaining key talent and driving improved productivity). Gianpaolo Barozzi demonstrated an ONA-type tool that has been created by Cisco to improve team productivity and collaboration as well as helping employees with insights to develop their networks. Expect to see more people analytics teams broadening the scope of their work to product development in the coming years.
5. EMPOWER USERS THROUGH SELF-SERVICE & DEMOCRATISING DATA
Reporting may be a necessity but it can also prove to be a curse for people analytics team and ultimately stymie their progress. Whilst some speakers (e.g. Jeremy Welland at PayPal and Geetanjali Gamel at Merck) described how responsibility for reporting and analytics had been split into separate teams in their companies, many more face the challenge of managing both. Given that many in the wider HR function are still ignorant of the difference between reporting and analytics this invariably manifests itself in endless requests for reports and consequently less time to focus on analytics. How do you solve for this? The collective advice of speakers was through a combination of self-service, education and ruthless prioritisation. The presentation by David Gainsboro and Scott Walker on how they drove self-service at Dropbox was particularly convincing (see key learnings in Figure 5 below). This involved creating a data warehouse that consolidated data from 15 systems across the talent lifecycle. Tableau was then used to visualise four key focus areas for executives with additional dashboards created as the user group expanded. A curriculum for user enablement was also implemented, which ultimately has helped empower end users, created a data driven culture and freed up the analytics team to focus on other projects. A win-win all round.
6. FOSTER AN ANALYTICAL CULTURE
The recent landmark High-Impact People Analytics Study led by Madhura Chakrabarti for Bersin by Deloitte found that organisations can only reach their full potential in people analytics when data-driven decision making is embedded in their company culture. Many of the speakers at PAFOW outlined how their organisations had tackled this substantial challenge, which in addition to the Dropbox example already provided included:
- Nicky Clement of Unilever described how an initiative to equip HRBPs with a specialist skill had helped drive the establishment of an extended cohort within the business to amplify and extend the reach of the centralised people analytics team
- Geetanjali Gamel outlined the targeted program she has initiated to educate, equip and empower HR and business leaders at Merck with the tools and knowledge to be data and analytics savvy
Each of the above examples and others outlined by speakers at PAFOW shared a number of common characteristics:
- Education helps empower the wider HR and business community and increases their comfort in working with data,
- Communication on the purpose of the team, success stories and knowledge sharing helps drive adoption, advocacy and builds thriving community of practices,
- Technology and Self-Service helps put data in the hands of the people in the business who need it, whilst freeing up the team to focus on the projects that matter most,
- Partnership as opposed to a ‘them versus us’ approach creates the right environment and collaboration between the people analytics team, HRBPs and the business.
7. DEVELOP THE PEOPLE ANALYTICS TEAM
Whilst developing an analytical culture is a prerequisite, this is a element most organisations acknowledge is necessary to drive sustainable success in people analytics. However, the need to also focus on the development of the people analytics team itself is often overlooked. Given the pace of evolution of the discipline and the high-demand for talent in the space, this is an egregious error. It was refreshing therefore that the main focus of Geetanjali Gamel’s presentation was on this very topic. Geetanjali described the program she has initiated at Merck that combines: Capability, Capacity and Connectivity (see Figure 6) to help development in skills, scope of work, relationships and ultimately career opportunities. Look out for more on this in a future article between Geetanjali and me.
8. EVOLVE TEAM STRUCTURE & ALIGNMENT
During his speech, Josh Bersin pondered whether the fact that the vast majority of people analytics teams still being based under the auspices of HR, was a sign of the discipline’s immaturity. Certainly, many organisations have developed business analytics teams that encompass most company functions – minus HR. Moreover, one of the major obstacles impacting people analytics teams is the capability of the wider HR function when it comes to analytics. It will be interesting to see how the ‘alignment’ aspect develops over the coming years. Team structure was an area touched upon by a number of speakers, with many advocating that this needs to evolve in line with organisational maturity – similar to how Arun Chidambaram describes here. Of all the suggestions proffered at PAFOW in this area, I found the one suggested here in Figure 7 by RJ Milnor, which places people analytics at the centre of the enterprise (right) rather than two levels down from the business (left) the most compelling.
9. PUT ETHICS & PRIVACY AT THE CENTRE OF STRATEGY
Ethics is arguably the most important facet of people analytics and based on research conducted by Insight222 that Jonathan Ferrar presented at PAFOW, it also represents the biggest challenge facing the discipline. The study found that 81% of people analytics projects are jeopardised by ethics and privacy concerns. With the increased focus on the employee and emerging data sources such as wearables, email and social media this challenge is only likely to get bigger. Jonathan outlined a number of recommendations such as the need to develop a code of practice, create a governance council and to work closely with the Chief Privacy Officer. He also urged that organisations should be open and transparent with employees, and be clear on what the data will be used for and how it will benefit the employee. Jonathan then outlined a number of case studies including one at IBM, where the creation of an employee listening program - Social Pulse - has had the dual benefit of helping the company develop a detailed understanding of employee sentiment, and for employees several examples where IBM acted on these insights to improve employee experience. For a more detailed Case Study on Social Pulse, please refer to the interview with Sadat Shami on page 12 of the white paper ‘The Grey Area: Ethical Dilemmas in HR Analytics’, which Nigel Guenole, Sheri Feinzig and me published in February 2018. Michelle Deneau closed PAFOW with a powerful example of ethics in practice and how analytics had underpinned the diversity and inclusion strategy at Intuit. The debate of privacy vs. trust is set to be a defining one in the years ahead and it is important that people analytics leaders and practitioners get this right. If we get it wrong, we will set the discipline back – perhaps irretrievably.
10. FUTURE OF WORK: PACE & MAGNITUDE OF CHANGE
The pace of change digital has foisted upon business has arguably never been so fast, but frighteningly will probably never be this slow again. To survive, organisations need to be continually reinventing themselves, developing new products and services and adjusting the talent mix accordingly. This is placing a heavy burden on HR leaders, who are in turn becoming increasingly reliant on people analytics leaders and teams. Whilst this is an undoubted challenge for our space, it also presents numerous opportunities for us to elevate the people analytics profession and make it an indispensible part of business and a core component of the future HR function. The evidence from the speakers, vendors and delegates at PAFOW is that they are all up for this challenge. A sign that business and investors are beginning to take human capital more seriously emerged in the panel debate with Laurie Bassi and Jeff Higgins, which revealed moves to develop an ISO standard for human capital reporting. This development is one worth keeping an eye on.
FOR INNOVATION IN PEOPLE ANALYTICS, CHECK OUT WHAT THESE VENDORS ARE DOING
Andy Warhol once predicted “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. When it comes to the vendors at PAFOW this drops to five minutes as each gets their moment in the sun to pitch the business problem they are trying to solve. The didn't disappoint. Much of the innovation in the space is being driven by the vendor community, and those present at PAFOW represented some of the leading lights in the following areas:
- Organisational Network Analysis / team productivity and collaboration: TrustSphere, Worklytics, WhoZoo & Cultivate
- Data aggregation, visualisation and democratisation: OneModel, Visier and Domo
- Employee experience, sentiment analysis and culture: Peakon, OrgVitality, Glint and Elucidate
- Learning: Zoomi
- Talent acquisition and management:
QUOTE OF THE CONFERENCE
That has to go to Nicky Clement, who during the part of her speech that focused on the evolution of employee listening at Unilever commented “I don’t believe in survey fatigue. I believe in survey inaction fatigue”. This is an especially shrewd comment as it’s all very well for organisations to listen to their employees, but if they don’t analyse and more importantly act on what they are saying, then really what is the point?
I don't believe in survey fatigue. I believe in survey inaction fatigue
FOR MORE ON PAFOW
As well as checking out the PAFOW site regularly for the latest news and joining the Global People Analytics Network, I can highly recommend reading Ben Teusch’s and Arun Sundar’s excellent reflections on PAFOW – see links below.
- Ben Teusch – Recap: People Analytics & Future of Work 2018
- Arun Sundar – Jetlagged musings…thoughts from PAFOW 2018
FINALLY, IT’S THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE IT SPECIAL…
The best conferences put networking at the front and centre of proceedings and PAFOW does this par excellence. The community that has grown out of the PAFOW events is as close knit as it is talented. Other than those already mentioned in this piece, I’d like to give a shout out to: Amit Mohindra, Eddie Ho, Rosa Lee, Steffen Riesenbeck, Pamela Davis-Bean, Sasha Arjannikova, Dan George, Simon Cockayne, Kevin Gorman, Richard Rosenow, Max Forster, Darren Kaplan, Ian Bailie, Dirk Petersen, Sudha Solayappan, Arun Sundar, Tauseef Rahman, Chris Butler, Ryan Hammond, David Schutt, Veronika Dunkley, Antony Ebelle Ebanda, Manish Goel, Greg Newman, Philip Arkcoll, Erin O’Hara, Caroline Brant, Stacia Garr - you all helped make PAFOW an even more enriching experience.
Finally a note of thanks to Al Adamsen, not only for organising and facilitating such a fabulous event, but also for allowing me to share in PAFOW as co-chair.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn in February 2018: see here.