The best HR & People Analytics articles of March 2018


The blanket news coverage and general opprobrium following the expose of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data breach was a good reminder that ethics and data privacy is arguably the most important part of any analytics program – particularly when it comes to HR and employee data.

With perfect (but albeit fortunate) timing, the role of ethics in people analytics was the subject of my presentation at UNLEASH in London little more than three days after the full extent of Cambridge Analytica’s practices were exposed. My article Don’t Forget the ‘H’ in HR, which highlights research and case studies in this area before outlining recommendations for people analytics teams is hopefully a helpful addition to resources about ethics and people data. Certainly, Tracey Smith’s article 5 Ways to Better Protect Your Confidential Data is well worth a read. 

From UNLEASH in London, I flew to the US to attend the Wharton People Analytics Conference where ethics featured prominently in the program perhaps most notably in DJ Patil’s and Charles Duhigg’s fascinating keynote discussion – more on this in the next few weeks.

Turning to this month’s choice of articles…

1. JEFFREY PFEFFER & DYLAN WALSH - “The Workplace Is Killing People and Nobody Cares”

Kicking off this month’s selection is a powerful interview in Stanford Business with Jeffrey Pfeffer about his new book ‘Dying for a Paycheck’, which provides a damning indictment on how the workplace is literally killing people. Not only do modern management practices engender stress, damage engagement and destroy the mental and physical health of employees, Pfeffer also emphasises the massive harm it causes company performance too. This is why the field of people analytics is so important as done well it can shine a light on the damage the practices outlined by Pfeffer cause organisational performance, team dynamics and individual well-being. One can only hope that business leaders around the world read Pfeffer’s book, heed his warnings, say enough is enough and reverse the damage they are causing.

We are harming both company performance and individual well-being, and this needs to be the clarion call for us to stop. There is too much damage being done


2. MAX BLUMBERG - Why HR needs to up its game in strategic people analytics

I always enjoy debating the progress (or otherwise) of people analytics with Max Blumbergand reading his thought provoking articles on the subject. His latest opus in HR Zone is no exception. In it Max argues that people analytics needs to step up its game if it is going to fulfil its promise, solve real business problems and help avert the damage companies are inflicting on their employees as referenced in Jeffrey Pfeffer’s aforementioned book. Max outlines a curriculum designed to improve the understanding by HR as a whole of analytics. This is the only way, Max argues, that people analytics teams can progress from projects centred on operational activities such as retention and recruitment to ones that have real impact with business leaders (see Figure 1).

Figure 1  : Linking HR and Senior General manager (SGM) perspectives: Value Profiling (Source: Max Blumberg, HR Zone)

Figure 1: Linking HR and Senior General manager (SGM) perspectives: Value Profiling (Source: Max Blumberg, HR Zone)

3. ANDREW MARRITT – How to start a people analytics project

If you want to read thought provoking articles about people analytics, HR technology and employee engagement then you don’t need to look much further than Andrew Marritt, whose insightful commentary I have enjoyed for several years. Andrew has published a glut of excellent articles already in 2018 and this one on taking a systematic approach to selecting a suitable analytics project is no exception. Andrew outlines a number of techniques, including the ‘5 Whys’ to help uncover the real business problem. He also emphasises the need to consider at an early stage how you intend to realise value from the analysis, provides tips on developing and testing hypotheses, examines methods of collecting new data and critically how to measure success. 

Possibly the hardest challenge of any analytics project is to accurately define what you want to analyse


4. THOMAS RASMUSSEN & IAIN HOPKINS – Are you asking the right questions?

Touching on similar ground to Andrew Marritt, this is an excellent interview with Thomas Rasmussen, one of the foremost practitioners in our space. Having led the people analytics teams at Maersk and Shell, Thomas is now pulling up trees at National Australia Bank. This interview draws on the seminal paper, Thomas co-authored with Dave Ulrich in 2015 as well as his work at NAB. Thomas shares a wealth of excellent pointers in here not least around asking the importance of asking the right questions and focusing on the business problem you are trying to solve rather than the data.

If we use analytics to supplement intuition, experience and business understanding we can bust some myths, have better-quality discussions, and over time make more informed decisions


5. GEETANJALI GAMEL / re:WORK WITH GOOGLE - Leaders in People Analytics: Merck & Co. on the research-practice divide

From one respected people analytic leader to another. Geetanjali Gamel’s presentation was one of the highlights of the People Analytics & Future of Work conference I co-chaired in San Francisco earlier this year. Geetanjali leads the team at Merck & Co and this article on re:Work outlines some of the work her team has done in the employee engagement space. Two interesting takeaways here is how Geetanjali and her team use research to influence decision making, and also how they communicate the insights from their work to engender employee trust.

Sometimes it’s less about what data you have and more about how you communicate it to the rest of your business

6. SCOTT JUDD, ERIC O’ROURKE & ADAM GRANT - Employee Surveys Are Still One of the Best Ways to Measure Engagement

The Kinks once warned of the dangers of being a dedicated follower of fashion, and this excellent collaboration between Scott Judd and Eric O’Rourke of Facebook’s people analytics team and Adam Grant suggests that the days of the humble employee survey may not be over yet. The team found that at Facebook surveys are still great predictors of behaviour, provide employees with the chance to be heard and are a great vehicle for changing behaviours.

In an age where more employees are afraid that Big Brother is watching and companies have the tools to observe more than ever before, running a survey can signal that Big Brother is still human


7. JASON McPHERSON – Predicting Glassdoor scores with engagement data

Culture Amp’s Chief Scientist, Jason McPherson was not just content with publishing one outstanding article this month, he produced two (do check out What matters most when it comes to driving employee retention? too). Jason’s second effort examines the relationship between Glassdoor data and Culture Amp’s annual benchmark data it creates from the aggregate engagement the company collects from its thousands of customers. The results are fascinating (see example in Figure 2) and as Jason writes point to some important trends, like the ability to use internal employee engagement data to predict how your company is perceived externally.

Figure 2:    The relationship between engagement and Glassdoor ratings (Source: Jason McPherson, Culture Amp)

Figure 2: The relationship between engagement and Glassdoor ratings (Source: Jason McPherson, Culture Amp)


March's HBR has a triumvirate of terrific articles on how tech is transforming HR under the banner of the new rules of talent management. The lead article from Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis describes how the HR function is "finally getting its long awaited overhaul". Then an interview with CHRO Diane Gherson outlines how IBM has radically co-created the employee experience through a lens of the employee as customer. The third article from Dominic Barton, Dennis Carey and Ram Charan provides another case study, this time from ING, and describes how agile methodologies were used to design a team-based approach to deploying, developing, and assessing talent.

(With Sentiment Analysis) we’ve been able to swiftly detect problems that are starting to brew and, more important, make a commitment to do something about them


9. TOM DAVENPORT & RANDY BEAN - Big Companies Are Embracing Analytics, But Most Still Don’t Have a Data-Driven Culture

In Bersin by Deloitte’s High-Impact People Analytics study, which was published last November, one of the headline findings was that 69% of large organisations now have a people analytics team. The study, which was written by Madhura Chakrabarti, also highlighted that organisations can only realise the full potential of people analytics when data-driven decision-making is embedded in the culture. As such, this article by Tom Davenport and Randy Bean is timely as it reveals only one-third of companies have succeeded in shifting to a data-driven culture. It is reassuring and perhaps scary at the same time to see that other functions in the business find it just as challenging as HR does to create the data-driven culture required for analytics to thrive.

Many start-ups have created data-driven cultures from their beginning, which is a key reason why large, established firms fear disruption from them


10. CHLOÉ MEREDITH - Answering 5 frequently asked questions about Organisational Network Analysis | JOHN BOUDREAU & ROB CROSS - It’s All Connected: Unearthing The Potential in Hidden Collaborative Networks

Organisational Network Analysis is an area of people analytics that is increasingly providing a lot of coverage, and is one of the techniques people analytics leaders are most interested in finding out more about. This pair of articles helps shed more light. First, Chloé Meredithanswers five frequently asked questions about ONA such as common use cases, how to ensure privacy and key learnings from previous projects. Then, John Boudreau and Rob Cross describe in Visier’s Clarity Magazine how ONA can be applied to identify key influencers, connectors and hidden stars within an organisation, bolster succession planning, highlight employees at risk of burnout and support diversity and inclusion programs.



ADAM GRANT – WorkLife: The Problem with All-Stars | MATT ALDER & ALAN AGNEW – Recruiting Future Episode 122: Talent Intelligence | BERNARD MARR & DAVID GREEN – Tucana People Analytics Podcast: Building a Super-Intelligent HRAL ADAMSEN & PHILIP ARKCOLL – The PAFOW Podcast: Worklytics

Once again there was a great selection of podcasts on data-driven HR to tune into in March. If you haven’t already subscribed to Adam Grant’s WorkLife podcast then you are really missing out as evidenced by this fascinating episode on the secrets of building a winning team. Then Matt Alder talks to Alan Agnew about how Philips is using talent intelligence to bolster its recruiting strategy. Next I had the pleasure of speaking to Bernard Marr about his forthcoming book Data-Driven HR (which will be launched at People Analytics World on 11th April) and how analytics and technology is set to change the face of HR. Finally, if you want to learn more about ONA then you’ll enjoy Al Adamsen’s discussion with Philip Arkcoll, Founder and CEO of the excellent Worklytics.



March was another busy month for me culminating in an eventful week that saw me deliver two presentations and moderating the Smart Data track at UNLEASH in London, before flying (a day late thanks to a snowstorm on the East Coast) to the Wharton People Analytics Conference in Philadelphia. As such, I’d like to say a quick thank you to Marc ColemanLeah Narodetsky and Anna Ott of UNLEASH and Laura Zarrow at Wharton for inviting me to your events.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn in April 2018 - see here