The best HR & People Analytics articles of May 2018


Last month I highlighted that people analytics had emerged as the joint top trend in the Deloitte 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report. This signal that people analytics has now properly ‘arrived’ continued to grow in May, first as data featured prominently as part of the superb UNLEASH show in Las Vegas (see my key takeaways article). Further reinforcement also came with the publication of the HR Open Source (#HROS) Future of Work Report which, (as Figure 1 below shows) highlighted that people analytics is now regarded as a foundational capability by HR professionals themselves. This augurs well for data-driven decision making to become the norm within HR. 

Figure 1   : Key insights from #HROS Future of Work Survey (Source: HR Open Source)

Figure 1: Key insights from #HROS Future of Work Survey (Source: HR Open Source)

Congratulations to Lars Schmidt and Ambrosia Vertesi on the continued growth of #HROS and the value it continues to provide to the community and also to George LaRocque for what is an absorbing report (Download the report here).

Now on with this month’s countdown:

1. PATRICK COOLEN & FRANK VAN DEN BRINK – HR is hitting a second wall

We kick off this month with the latest opus from Patrick Coolen (this time in concert with Frank van den Brink), which showcases the latest developments and thinking on people analytics at ABN Amro. I always enjoy Patrick’s commentary as not only is he one of the leading practitioners in our space, but he typically breaks new ground each time he publishes an article. That is certainly the case with this collaboration with Frank, which introduces the ‘Second wall for People Analytics’ (see Figure 2). This update of John Boudreau’s wall focuses on the challenge of providing continuous analytics and leads in neatly to the main topic of the article – the continuous listening journey at ABN Amro. Frank and Patrick define what ‘continuous listening’ means to the bank, describe the active and passive data sources in scope and then lay out the path ahead in this critical area of employee insight. Laura Stevens gets a deserved mention from Patrick for her contribution to the debate on continuous listening – you can read my recently published article with Laura here.

"In order to really understand what drives the needs and ambitions of our employees we need to improve our ability and willingness to “listen” better"
Figure 2   : The ‘Second wall for People Analytics’ (Source: Patrick Coolen and Frank van den Brink)

Figure 2: The ‘Second wall for People Analytics’ (Source: Patrick Coolen and Frank van den Brink)

2. BERNARD MARR - What Does GDPR Really Mean For HR Teams?

In last month’s countdown, I featured two articles that had been serialised by Bernard Marrfrom his new book ‘Data-Driven HR’. Bernard has a rare knack of being able to describe often complex technologies and techniques in a language everyone can relate to. This time Bernard turns his attention to the GDPR and what it really means for HR. Even though the legislation has now come into effect, many HR teams are still floundering. As such, Bernard’s explanation of concepts such as privacy, consent, transparency and data protection is very timely.

"Essentially, you need to make it very clear what data you’re gathering and why. If there isn’t a clear business reason for gathering the data, you shouldn’t be doing it"


3. DAWN KLINGHOFFER - Leaders in People Analytics: Microsoft’s collaborative approach to research

In this fascinating interview with re:WorkDawn Klinghoffer, who leads the people analytics team at Microsoft, provides a compelling account on how to straddle the research-practice divide and bring people analytics to the business. As Dawn explains, balancing the rigour of research with the timelines of the business is a continual challenge. This means that businesses typically opt for correlational research and quasi-experiments in favour of research-based experiments into causal validity. Dawn offers a wealth of invaluable advice, emphasising the importance of partnering with the business, the need for continual learning and two-way knowledge sharing. The fifteen years of people analytics at Microsoft seems time well spent though as Dawn reflects that when it comes to talent development it is “hard for us to imagine how we could have made progress without it”.

"The work of people analytics is on-going, and requires us to build long-term relationships with our business partners"


4. ALIA CROCKER, ROB CROSS & HEIDI GARDNER - How to Make Sure Agile Teams Can Work Together  | DAVE ULRICH - Agility: The New Response to Dynamic Change

Agility is described by Dave Ulrich in his article 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. This leads nicely on to Alia CrockerRob Cross and Heidi Gardner’s article in HBR, which focuses on applying organisational network analysis (ONA) to help foster collaboration and agility in employee networks where it matters most - at the point of execution, where teams are working on new products, strategic initiatives, or with top clients (see Figure 3). Two inspiring articles that provide a big clue as to the future direction of HR, underpinned by analytics and which should be read alongside Anna Tavis and Peter Cappelli’s superb recent HBR cover article ‘HR goes agile’ (see our March countdown).

Figure 3:    To manage collaboration, pay attention to four points of execution (Source: Harvard Business Review, Alia Crocker, Rob Cross and Heidi K. Gardner)

Figure 3: To manage collaboration, pay attention to four points of execution (Source: Harvard Business Review, Alia Crocker, Rob Cross and Heidi K. Gardner)

5. DAVID GREEN – The role of Organisational Network Analysis in People Analytics

ONA and its role in people analytics was the subject of my speech at May’s UNLEASH show in Las Vegas and also the theme of this article, which is designed to demystify what has rapidly become a topic du jour for HR and business leaders. It includes a definition of ONA, why the technique is increasing in importance, the difference between active and passive ONA, and examples of what companies can use ONA for. It also provides four case studies from Michael Arena at GM, TrustSphereBen Waber and Dawn Klinghoffer at Microsoft.  

Figure 4:    Example use cases of Organisational Network Analysis (Source: David Green)

Figure 4: Example use cases of Organisational Network Analysis (Source: David Green)

6. OLIVER FLEMING, TIM FOUNTAINE, NICOLAUS HENKE & TAMIN SALEH - Ten red flags signalling your analytics program will fail

Whilst not limited to the HR function, people analytics practitioners will relate to many of the red flags described in this revealing McKinsey article. Familiar challenges such as the absence of a clear vision from the executive team with regards to analytics, a lack of analytics translators, costly data cleansing exercises and an inability to attribute bottom line impact are all present. Another red flag described is that analytics roles are generally poorly defined, with the authors using Figure 5 to outline the variety of talent and well-defined roles required. A sobering but ultimately insightful read.

Figure 5  :  Organisations need a variety of analytics talent with well-defined roles (Click on the image to access the article/infographic where you can click on each role to see its responsibilities)

Figure 5Organisations need a variety of analytics talent with well-defined roles (Click on the image to access the article/infographic where you can click on each role to see its responsibilities)

7. TOM HAAK – 10 trends in workforce analytics | LUK SMEYERS - Evolution Of People Analytics Over The Last Five Years – The Narrowing Gap 

Two of the most astute observers in our field analyse the latest developments in the people analytics space. First, Tom Haak succinctly captures the latest major trends in what he prefers to call the ‘workforce analytics’ domain, describing the shift to continuous analytics and the increase in focus on productivity, teams, transparency and personalisation. Tom also offers some cautionary words on the inherent challenges in predicting human behaviour. Luk Smeyers also accentuates the positive in reflecting on the findings of the Deloitte 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report, highlighting that the growth in people analytics can partly be attributed to a renewed focus on productivity and engagement. Luk also provides an interesting insight that for the first time in five years the gap between the importance of analytics and the readiness of organisations to practice it has fallen. Whether this is an indication that the tide has turned, or it is merely a blip, only time will tell. 

"Productivity and employee engagement are increasingly pressing issues for companies with people analytics perfectly placed to provide more insights in these areas and the ability to drive meaningful change"


8. JASON McPHERSON - 3 ways leadership behaviours are reflected in employee feedback

Jason McPhersonCulture Amp’s Chief Scientist, continues to churn out some really insightful articles and this month he turns his attention to the significant impact leadership has on culture and engagement. As Jason explains, a decline in employee perception of leaders can lead to a sharp fall in engagement levels and take a long time to turn around. Fortunately, surveys can provide early indications that things might be about to go awry, which at least means that organisations can take preventative steps to avoid slipping off the cliff edge. Then based on data from over 200,000 people, Jason outlines (see Figure 6) some of the key characteristics of good vs. poor leaders.

 "Leadership is the cornerstone of engagement - everything else depends on it"
Figure 6   : Indicators of good vs. poor leadership (Source: Culture Amp, Jason McPherson)

Figure 6: Indicators of good vs. poor leadership (Source: Culture Amp, Jason McPherson)

9. JEFFREY POLZER WITH PRASAD SETTY & PATTY McCORD - Case Study: Should an Algorithm Tell You Who to Promote?

This is a clever and fascinating article that asks the reader to step into the shoes of Aliyah and make a decision on whether to hire Molly (as per her instinct) or Ed, who the hiring algorithm and network analysis provided by the people analytics team predicts will be the stronger hire. Jeffrey Polzer’s article features the thoughts of Prasad Setty, who leads Google’s People Analytics team, and Patty McCord, ex-Chief Talent Officer of Netflix. The discussion thread when I posted this is fascinating – I particularly enjoyed Mark Lawrence’s comment here. If you were Aliyah, what would you do?

"You wouldn’t launch a new product or a new campaign without data. HR decisions should be approached the same way"



MORTEN KAMP ANDERSEN – Why are women better leaders than men? | KEITH McNULTY - Diversity - the one thing that should permanently top the agenda | LEENA NAIR – Why diversity is personal to me | FRIDA POLLI - How AI Will Make Our Workplace Fair With Diversity Tech Stack | HROS CASE STUDY – How Atlassian uses data to attract more qualified and more diverse graduate candidates | JESSICA NORDELL – How Slack got ahead in diversity

In a month where a BBC article described the top 10 worst excuses for not appointing women executives it seems timely to provide several reminders as to why diversity in all its forms is not only the right thing to do but is good for business too. First, Morten Kamp Andersen analyses research that suggests women actually make better leaders than men. Then Keith McNulty highlights data from McKinsey (see Figure 7) that links executive diversity in both gender and ethnicity to stronger business performance whilst warning that we must not rest on our laurels. Next Unilever CHRO Leena Nair provides a very personal account of why diversity is important to her. Then Frida Polli presents a ‘Diversity Tech Stack’ – technologies including her own company Pymetrics as well as the likes of TextioHumanyze and HackerRank that have been proven to enhance diversity outcomes in the hiring and promotion processes with global companies. The latest #HROS Case Study provides an excellent example of how (and why) Atlassian improved the gender and ethnic diversity of its technical graduate hires (kudos to Dom Price and the Atlassian team for their continued sharing of their talent management practices). Finally, a revealing piece in The Atlantic on how Slack outperforms other Silicon Valley tech giants like Google and Facebook on diversity despite not having a designated ‘head of diversity’.

Figure 7:    Gender and ethnic diversity are clearly correlated with profitability, but women and minorities remain underrepresented (Source: Keith McNulty | McKinsey, Delivering on Diversity)

Figure 7: Gender and ethnic diversity are clearly correlated with profitability, but women and minorities remain underrepresented (Source: Keith McNulty | McKinsey, Delivering on Diversity)


MICHAEL ARENA & AL ADAMSEN – Adaptive Space: The PAFOW Podcast | McKINSEY PODCAST: DOMINIC BARTON & SIMON LONDON - Putting talent at the top of the CEO agenda | ANNA OTT & MEGHAN BIRO – #WorkTrends: The future of HR Tech | LAURIE RUETTIMANN & MATT ALDER – Recruiting Future Podcast: Let’s Fix HR Tech | ADAM GRANT & MALCOLM GLADWELL – WorkLife: A debate with Malcolm Gladwell

This month’s collection of podcasts kicks off with a fascinating discussion between Michael Arena and Al Adamsen on how ONA helped drive innovation at GM as well as previewing Michael’s forthcoming book ‘Adaptive Space’. Then McKinsey’s head honcho Dominic Barton outlines why talent should be at the top of the CEO agenda (see Figure 8 for summary). Anna Ott, who leads UNLEASH StartUp then joins Meghan Biro for an insightful exploration of the future of HR Tech, which leads nicely on to Laurie Ruettimannand Matt Alder discussing on the Recruiting Future podcast how to fix HR Tech. Finally, Adam Grant wraps up the first series of WorkLife (already labelled ‘The Porsche of podcasts by Inc.) with perhaps the best episode yet a real tête-à-tête with Malcolm Gladwell.

Figure 8   : Winning with talent: The CEOs playbook for value creation (Source: McKinsey)

Figure 8: Winning with talent: The CEOs playbook for value creation (Source: McKinsey)


ERIC BRYNJOLFSSON & DANIEL KAHNEMAN - Intuition, Expertise, Learning, Humans and Machines

This month’s video features an absorbing discussion between Nobel Laureate and Thinking Fast and Slow author Daniel Kahneman and MIT professor and author of The Second Machine Age Erik Brynjolfsson on the perils and potential of machine-based decision-making.


WAYNE CROSBY - One Year of Science, Machine Learning, and Love

For those of you (like me) who are old enough to remember the wait for the second Stone Roses album (not as good as the first, but not as bad as many would have us think), the anticipation of the great reveal on what Laszlo BockWayne Crosby and the team at Humuare cooking up is very similar. This article offers a few clues and highlights i) they've raised over $40m in funding, ii) have had enquires from 20% of the Fortune 100 despite being in stealth mode, iii) their approach is overwhelmingly focused on improving the life of the employee, and iv) they believe the data revolution in HR is already here. An enticing article that only whets the appetite even more!


May was mostly about the UNLEASH show in Las Vegas, which was an outstanding success and an honour to speak at. Read my thoughts in ‘The revolution will be televised’. Thanks to Marc ColemanChina GormanKat Khramova and the UNLEASH crew for inviting me to speak and moderate the Smart Data track. I also published articles on 'What makes People Analytics in Asia Pacific different?' (with Arun Sundar), and 'The Dos and Don'ts of Continuous Listening' with Laura Stevens.

June is shaping up to be a busy month. I’m in St Petersburg this week to speak at the Big Business Fun Festival, which alas is a week before the World Cup starts so I won't be able to witness England's likely brief appearance! I’ll also be in Paris on 12 June to speak at LinkedIn’s Talent Intelligence Experience. Finally, I’m looking forward to delivering the opening keynote at the HR Tech Summit in Toronto on 26 June.