5.05.2017

People Analytics World 2017 Key Takeaways

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the People Analytics World conference in London chaired by David Green. It was a thoroughly absorbing two days with a great line up of speakers and an equally keen and engaged audience. Here's what I took away from the event and wanted to pass on.

Telling stories with data

The conference began on a rather sobering note. While it is now well recognised that interest in People Analytics is booming (Deloitte Human Capital Trends, 2017), Alec Levenson of the University of Southern California in his opening keynote said he was afraid that companies were trying to tell too big a story with too little data. In his view, organisations ought to focus more on business critical questions that matter, rather than being too focused on the data first.

People Analytics is in danger of becoming the next buzz phrase akin to “Big Data” a few years ago. In light of this, Max Blumberg, founder of Blumberg Partnerships Ltd., even called for a Professional Body to be created for People Analytics to ensure standards and that impact of analytics across the board. See his thought provoking Linkedin post, A call to arms for the future of people analyticsThis lack of business focus coupled with the misconception that people are doing effective analytics, when in fact many are still, as Peter Howes, VP SuccessFactors, put it, “churning out reports” leaves us at an interesting inflexion point.

Building impact of people analytics over time 

But what can be done differently? Levenson argued that organisations need to start with “Competitive Advantage Analytics” - assessing strengths and weaknesses and implications for business strategy execution (i.e. the things mattering most to the company's success). Then move to “Enterprise Analytics” - focused conversations on what is going well and not so well across the business before finally moving to “HR Analytics” - diagnostics at team and individual employee level. By using this approach, companies can show the real long term impact of their people analytics efforts on competitive advantage rather than on (wait for it... another buzzword!) ROI, which only assesses short term cash flow.

Inspire your people to do great things

A critical question organisations need to be asking of themselves is whether they have designed the employee experience effectively to “inspire your people to do great things” (as discussed in The Employee Experience: How to attract talent, retain high performers and drive results) and thereby support the company in executing its key strategic priorities. There were several excellent presentations at the conference centred around treating employees as customers and applying the same analytical rigour to the internal employee experience that is applied to the external customer experience.

Stefan Hierl, People Analytics at Adidas, spoke about their efforts to manage the employee experience through three key surveying components. Their "People Pulse" runs monthly for all employees with focused questions derived from the organisation's strategic priorities, along with People Insights (ad hoc deep dive surveys) and the Employee Journey Experience. In addition to considering traditional touch points such as onboarding and exit interviews, Hierl said Adidas were focused on the moments that matter for Adidas people, such as the experience of an office move or how someone is supported in seeking a new internal career opportunity.

Franc Damhuis of Philips explained how a large business unit facing unprecedented internal and external change, worked to understand the mix of personalities required to win in a challenging market. With work in the knowledge economy increasingly being executed through “networks of teams” (Bersin by Deloitte, 2016), I particularly liked how this project considered the importance of individual employee needs and assessed the balance of skills at the team level to form the right group dynamic to execute together effectively. 

Putting the employee experience first

A resolute focus on the employee experience can help organisations and people thrive in an increasingly complex world. Deloitte reiterated the notion that workforce productivity is flatlining despite continuous innovation and advances in technology. Rather than supporting people in getting work done effectively, technology and digital devices are causing a rise in the number of “overwhelmed employees” (Bersin by Deloitte, 2015).

Companies that win will be those that harness analytics to simplify work and address the needs of all employees. By having people directly involved in shaping the employee experience, organisations can build trust and credibility among employees. With this comes an opportunity to mitigate the increasing ethical and data privacy risks (the closing panel discussion was dedicated to this topic) arising from companies holding more data on their people.

By focusing people analytics on helping to answer the business critical questions in the context of the employee experience, organisations have the opportunity to drive business performance and create great places to work.

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