The best HR and People Analytics articles of April 2019
The term ‘Golden Age’ was first popularised in Ancient Greece and is defined as a period in a field of endeavour when great tasks were accomplished. As Amit Mohindra writes in the article of the month, this can certainly be applied to the field of quantum physics in the first 30 years of the 20th Century. Like Amit, I wonder whether history will come to recognise that we are currently in the midst of a similar halcyon period for people analytics.
Certainly, my experiences in April auger well and confirm that the field of people analytics continues to gather momentum, is broadening and deepening its scope and is increasing its impact both in terms of business outcomes and employee experience. This was evident in the Wharton People Analytics (see key reflections) and PAFOW London (see a selection of takeaways from Michael Carty [here], Pauli Dahlbom [here] and Hans Donckers [here]) conferences that bookended April. It can also be seen throughout the 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which was launched in the middle of April.
Before we dive into the articles selected this month, I’ve got a small favour to ask of readers. As the trailer below explains, I’m launching the Digital HR Leaders Podcast on myHRfuture on 14th May. In each episode, I’ll be speaking to a senior HR leader who is driving transformation in their organisations, as well as other acknowledged experts in the field on how HR can prepare for the future and what HR leaders need to do to prepare for the Future of Work.
ARTICLE OF THE MONTH
AMIT MOHINDRA – Particle Physics and People Analytics
A fascinating and educational piece as ever from the cerebral Amit Mohindra in which he ponders whether the emergence of people analytics in the first 20 years of the current century can be compared to the rise of quantum physics in the first 30 years of the 20th Century. It’s a tantalising thought especially as 17 of the 29 people featured in the photo below from the fifth Solvay Conference (a regular gathering of physicists and chemists to collaborate and share – rather like PAFOW or the Wharton People Analytics Conference?) in 1927 went on to win Nobel Prizes. Will we see a similar flood of winners from the people analytics field? Only time will tell…
GLOBAL TRENDS IN HUMAN CAPITAL
ERICA VOLINI, JEFF SCHWARTZ, INDRANIL ROY, MAREN HAUPTMANN, YVES VAN DURME, BRAD DENNY & JOSH BERSIN - 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise: Reinvent with a human focus
112 pages organised into three main sections dealing with the Future of the Workforce, the Future of the Organisation and the Future of HR and with essays on each of the ten trends identified for 2019. The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends for 2019 is the usual absorbing read. For those working in the people analytics space, the discipline is not called out individually as one of the ten trends – it was joint #1 last year. I see this as a sign that the field has matured as data and analytics is central to most if not all of the ten trends identified for 2019. The whole report is worth a read, but the essays on ‘From employee experience to human experience: Putting meaning back into work’, ‘Organisational performance: It’s a team sport’ and ‘Learning in the flow of life’ are especially essential.
THE FUTURE OF WORK, HR & LEARNING
JOSEPH FULLER, JUDITH WALLENSTEIN, MANJARI RAMAN & ALICE DE CHALENDAR - Your Workforce is More Adaptable Than You Think
It’s become almost cliché to say the toughest challenge in any digital transformation isn’t the technology — it’s the people. The underlying assumption is that most employees don’t understand what’s coming and are resistant to change. That myth is busted in a fascinating new study of 6,500 business leaders and 11.000 workers, which suggests leaders are seriously underestimating their people. The study finds workers are "much more eager to embrace change and learn new skills than their employers gave them credit for.” The article goes on to describe how employers can better help their workforce with two recommendations really resonating: i) Create a learning culture, and ii) Engage the workforce in the transition instead of herding them into it.
JOHN BOUDREAU - HR as a “Prediction Machine”
A terrific read from John Boudreau in which he espouses the need for HR to play an active role in the dilemmas arising from the potential impact of AI (“should AI be built to predict an outcome or mimic human behaviour?”). As Boudreau explains, the latter will often be faster, cheaper and more tempting, but may obscure important values, tradeoffs, and biases. He goes on to advocate that AI gives HR an opportunity to understand these dilemmas, articulate the tradeoffs and lead – not just when it comes to using AI in HR but throughout the organisation.
HR has a golden opportunity to make a strategic contribution by articulating the hidden dilemmas (of AI) and providing needed frameworks to solve them
DAVE ULRICH - From Workforce to Worktask Planning
As Dave Ulrich describes, work is increasingly not just accomplished by full-time, part-time, or contracted workers, but also through automation and technology. This forms the basis of his article, which presents his methodology (see FIG 3) for a shift in thinking from workforce to worktask planning. This entails routine and standard tasks being allocated to technology and automation with people being assigned strategic, creative and unique responsibilities. This shift means HR professionals and people analytics teams need to broaden their horizon from a sole focus on full- and part- time employees to incorporate contractors, technology and automation too.
HR professionals need to broaden their talent management horizon to recognise that work is not just accomplished by full-time, part-time, or contracted people, but also through automation and technology
GROWING PEOPLE ANALYTICS CAPABILITY
JONATHAN FERRAR - How can I be more successful at People Analytics?
In this article Jonathan Ferrar outlines a common challenge that is frequently experienced by People Analytics leaders - identifying value in People Analytics Projects. Leveraging the Nine Dimensions in People Analytics Model Jonathan and I co-created to help clients navigate this challenge led us to identify seven questions that People Analytics leaders should be asking themselves to ensure they’re on the right path to success. These questions cover areas such as leadership, ethics, governance and the levels of data literacy amongst HR business partners. The article also provides access to a short survey that will help you identify your current level of excellence in People Analytics.
CHROs who seriously invest in skills, technology AND data, will succeed in People Analytics
PEOPLE ANALYTICS CASE STUDIES – STORIES FROM THE TRENCHES
BETH GALETI, JOHN GOLDEN III & STEPHEN BROZOVICH – Inside Day 1: How Amazon uses agile team structures and adaptive practices to innovate on behalf of customers
A fascinating read about how the HR team plays a pivotal role in keeping Amazon’s fabled Day 1 culture alive, which Jeff Bezos believes is crucial in enabling the company to continue to innovate and remain customer focused. The article covers Amazon’s agile ‘two-pizza’ team design, Single-Threaded Owner (STO) methodology, use of ONA to evaluate team structures (see example in FIG 5), practices to enable adaptive space and much more. This article comes from SHRM’s spring 2019 People + Strategy magazine, which is devoted to articles on ONA and advancing adaptive space. I highly recommend getting hold of a copy and enjoying other articles from the likes of Michael Arena, Mary Uhl-Bien, Rob Cross, Anna Tavis, Kristin Supancich, John Healy and Debra R. France. It’s an absolute treasure trove of insights.
The fittest organisations with chances for survival are adaptive, agile, and flexible to the changing needs of customers, technology, regulations, demand, and external trends
GURU SETHUPATHY & DAVID GREEN - How can you scale People Analytics in a Global Organisation?
Guru Sethupathy shares with me his two-year journey of scaling people analytics at Capital One including insights on i) how he grew the team from 25 to 75 people, ii) how and why he developed a Centre of Excellence (see FIG 6), iii) his philosophy on hiring and developing the team, iv) the dual focus on creating business impact as well as supporting employee experience and career development, v) his key responsibilities as leader plus his views on enablers of success. Guru has built one of the leading people analytics functions on the planet, so there is plenty to learn from here.
Insights are insufficient: converting insights to action is of utmost importance
VERONICA GILRANE - Working together when we’re not together
This article documents the findings of a fascinating study by Google’s People Analytics team to understand the impact of distributed work on teams in areas such as well-being, performance and connectedness, before providing some recommendations to keep those things consistent.
PETER CAPPELLI - Your Approach to Hiring Is All Wrong | Data Science Can’t Fix Hiring (Yet)
The May-June edition of Harvard Business Review contains a trio of excellent articles on the state of recruiting in the wake of the use of social media, technology and algorithms. Two of these articles are by Peter Cappelli and simply have to be read. In the first article, Cappelli eschews the trend for “passive” candidates highlighting that there’s no evidence to suggest these candidates perform better, that the approach marginalises talented internal candidates, costs more and is largely unproven. In the second article, Cappelli is similarly scornful about the risks of using predictive algorithms for hiring. A sobering but important read.
The drawback to using algorithms is that we’re trying to use them on the cheap: building them by looking only at best performers rather than all performers, using only measures that are easy to gather, and relying on vendors’ claims that the algorithms work elsewhere rather than observing the results with our own employees
JOSH BERSIN - Employee Engagement 3.0 – From Feedback to Action
As Josh Bersin writes in his latest appraisal of the dynamics affecting the market, the evolution of employee engagement continues to gather pace. He reminisces that it was only ten years ago that over 60% of companies didn’t survey their employees at all, and those that did only did it once a year. Now, a large number of companies have created the ability for workers to provide continuous feedback and the emphasis has shifted towards taking action – invariably via managers - as Josh outlines in FIG 7 below.
The new generation of tools are now able to analyse and interpret all this data, and then give managers specific actions to take
Laszlo Bock paints a familiar picture of counterproductive employee engagement surveys including failure to measure what matters, analysis paralysis and no action on issues workers care most about. Fortunately, things don’t have to be this way and Bock outlines four steps companies can take to ensure efforts to solicit employee feedback don’t come back to haunt them.
When you don’t act on what your people have told you are the most important issues they face, your company’s culture doesn’t just stay the same. It gets much, much worse
DIDIER ELZINGA - 5 questions for every CEO to ask their head of people
As Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga writes in this insightful piece, CEOs are increasingly seeking competitive advantage through the ability of their organisation to take people and grow them faster and better than anybody else – and they’re turning to their CHROs to achieve this. The five questions Didier outlines that CEOs should ask their CHROs cover areas including: inclusion, engagement, leadership capability and employee experience at key touchpoints. A mandatory read for any current or aspiring CHRO.
Great companies are looking at the moments that matter and how they can manage and measure people's journey
MAX BLUMBERG & JAMES HOLDSTOCK - Can people analytics tell the difference between employees, inmates and livestock?
I’ve always enjoyed Max Blumberg’s articles as not only do they tackle interesting and important topics in people analytics, but they are invariably also rather provocative. That’s certainly the case with Max’s latest piece penned together with James Holdstock, which presents the case against the use of flight risk models because the authors feel they are creepy and open to abuse by employers. Whilst the scene painted here is contrary to what I’ve seen from the organisations I’ve worked with it is relatively certain that people analytics will at some point experience its own ‘Cambridge Analytica’ moment. As such, as a community we must continue to put ethics and people analytics for good at the forefront remembering it’s not enough to just decide whether a model is ethical, but also how it is going to be used and applied.
People analytics insights that don’t result in visible and demonstrable win-win interventions for both employees and investors are a waste of time and money
LASZLO BOCK - Can the Occasional ‘Nudge’ Make You Better at Your Job? | STEPHANIE TIGNOR - Can a bad manager make you like your job… more? | EMILY BURT - Nudge theory can help change your employees' behaviour (without them even realising) | ANNA GÜNTNER, KONSTANTIN LUCKS & JULIA SPERLING-MAGRO - Answer these 6 questions before setting up a ‘nudge’ unit
Nudge theory dictates that the best way to drive change in a complex organisation is through a series of small incremental changes, which will consequently deliver significant and substantial business results. The theory was popularised by Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler, who stole the show at the recent Wharton People Analytics Conference in Philadelphia. In tribute to Professor Thaler, I’ve collected four recent articles highlighting the growth of nudges and behavioural economics in the workplace. Much of the attention in this area is focused on the work Laszlo Bock is doing with his new company Humu, and his interview with Yale describes how behavioural science, combined with an understanding of human feeling and careful attention to privacy, can help organisations run better. The second article comes from Humu’s Stephanie Tignor and is adapted from her enthralling presentation at Wharton PAC (see also FIG 8). Next, an excellent long read in People Management really captures the essence of how nudge theory can help persuade people to change behaviour. Finally, McKinsey outlines six areas to consider before setting up a nudge unit with two covering how to demonstrate impact and the critical topic of ethics.
STEPHEN TURBAN, DAN WU & LETIAN ZHANG – Research: When Gender Diversity Makes Firms More Productive | MARY YOUNG - More Than A Feeling: Measuring Workplace Inclusion | TOMAS CHAMORRO-PREMUZIC - Why are Some Leaders more Committed to Diversity than Others? | PEAKON – The XX Factor: The Strategic Benefits of Women in Leadership
As the Wharton PAC and PAFOW conferences both demonstrated, the rise of data-driven diversity and inclusion continues to gather pace. This is a good thing as people analytics has the potential to finally unlock the business value of D&I. These four articles provide further evidence. First, Turban et al outline their fascinating research, which found that beliefs about gender diversity create a self-fulfilling cycle. Countries and industries that view gender diversity as important capture benefits from it. Those that don’t, don’t. In the second article, Mary Young explores how firms are increasingly combining traditional HR data and performance metrics with previously untapped data sources to measure inclusion and track its progress over time. Then, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic outlines three factors that make some leaders more committed to diversity than others. Finally, Peakon’s excellent new Heartbeat series delves into data from 60,000 employees under 3,000 managers, across 43 countries to answer the tantalising question: How do female-led companies differ from male-led companies?
PODCASTS OF THE MONTH
WORKLIFE WITH ADAM GRANT – When Strength becomes Weakness | MATT ALDER FEAT. JOHN WALLACE, BEN GLEDHILL & KEVIN WHEELER – Recruiting Future Podcast: Recruiting Automation Fact or Fiction? | LARS SCHMIDT & AMBROSIA VERTESI – 21st Century HR: From Ground Zero to Unicorn
I’ve been doing a lot of research on podcasts in readiness for the launch of Digital HR Leaders on 14th May. The absolute masters of this genre from a HR themed perspective are Adam Grant and Matt Alder. I could have picked any episode of Adam’s mesmerising Worklife podcast but really enjoyed his take on playing to your strengths – at the right time. Matt Alder has overseen over 180 episodes of his consistently excellent Recruiting Future Podcast. The pick from April has to be this deep dive into the world of recruiting automation. I can also recommend Lars Schmidt’s excellent new 21st Century HR Podcast, with this episode seeing him reunited with his HR Open Source sparring partner Ambrosia Vertesi for insights on how she scaled people teams and infrastructure at Hootsuite and Duo Security.
VIDEO OF THE MONTH
JASON AVERBOOK - The Guide to a Digital Workforce Experience
Jason Averbook is one of the most knowledgeable, lively and most interesting speakers on the circuit, so this video of his masterclass at the recent People Matters Tech HR conference in Singapore on how HR leaders can build a holistic digital experience is definitely worth a watch.
BOOK OF THE MONTH
MIKE WEST – People Analytics for Dummies
It’s perhaps a good sign that the growth in people analytics has finally seen the addition of ‘People Analytics for Dummies’ to the long-running series of similarly titled how-to guides. Mike West, the author, is a seriously good egg and has been in the people analytics space longer than most. He has helped large and small companies alike in setting up successful people analytics functions, so has a lot of knowledge to impart. As such this book is a good starting point for anyone ready to dip into the deep end of people analytics.
FROM MY DESK
For the third consecutive year, I made the pilgrimage to Philadelphia for the Wharton People Analytics Conference. The conference deserves its lofty reputation, and despite the high bar set in 2017 and 2018, this year’s event was the best yet. My reflections on the two days feature the likes of Richard Thaler, Allyson Felix, Marcus Buckingham and Deloitte's CEO Cathy Engelbert along with the Wharton team of Adam Grant, Cade Massey and Laura Zarrow. The topics covered in Philadelphia were diverse with three themes coming to the fore: Diversity and Inclusion, Organisational Network Analysis and Nudges. I strongly recommend that everyone working in or interested in people analytics should try and get along to Wharton PAC at least once in their careers.
I’d also like to offer a big thank you to HRE and the HR Technology Conference team for including me in their inaugural Top 100 HRTech Influencers list, which was announced last week. I should say that I'm typically not a huge fan of lists like these as they can be a bit arbitrary and subjective - for example my list of favourite albums (e.g. Low, The Stone Roses [30 years old last week], This Is Big Audio Dynamite [see below], London Calling etc) is likely to be completely different to most others.
However, this list is a pretty solid one and features genuine giants of our industry like Josh Bersin, Adam Grant, Dave Ulrich, Diane Gherson, Jason Averbook and Laszlo Bock. The list is a real feather in the cap for Insight222 and myHRfuture too as it features three of our team – Jonathan Ferrar and Al Adamsen as well as me. You can check out the full list here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Green is a globally respected writer, speaker, conference chair, and executive consultant on people analytics, data-driven HR and the future of work. As an Executive Director at Insight222, he helps global organisations create more cultural and economic value through the wise and ethical use of people data and analytics. Prior to joining Insight222, 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. You can follow David on LinkedIn and Twitter and also subscribe to The Digital HR Leader weekly newsletter.
SEE ME SPEAK AT THESE EVENTS IN 2019
I’ll 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 October 2019.
24-25 Apr - People Analytics & Future of Work, London
14-15 May - UNLEASH America, Las Vegas
21 May - HRtechX, Copenhagen
10 Jun - CogX: The Festival of AI and Emerging Technology, London
1-2 Aug - People Matters Tech HR, Gurugram, India
5-6 Sept - People Analytics & Future of Work, Philadelphia
22-23 Oct - UNLEASH World, Paris