Big data is indeed a big topic. It’s sprung from rapid changes in technology that have changed, not only how we communicate with each other but the level of insight that we can give into human behaviour.
But sometimes the data is so big it’s left organisations drowning underneath it all. And it needs its own categories too. From demographic to unstructured – which can be anything from the water cooler chit chat of colleagues or what’s being said about your organisation on Twitter – to semi-structured data, which focuses on employee engagement data.
Indeed, this does leave something of a pressure to do something, anything, with data. In particular, to make predictions that will answer an array of questions from – ‘who are your most engaged and skilled workers?’ to ‘who are the top performers at risk of leaving?’
There is no doubt that workforce analytics are beneficial in that they move HR away from gut instincts to a more rigorous evidence-based system. By definition, workforce analytics is the discovery, interpretation and communication of meaningful patterns in workforce-related data to inform decision-making and improve performance. But are we always using it correctly?
Jonathan Ferrar is a consultant, speaker and influencer in HR strategy. He is a former Vice President of IBM and recently set up his own firm, OchreRock, to help clients establish people analytics functions. He also is the co-author of the book ‘The Power of People’ (Pearson Education, Inc., May 2017). He believes that organisations often use or discover data without fully analysing the need. For example, some people may gather prediction data on what their attrition rate will be, without identifying whether or not this is an actual problem in the organisation.
Another issue that makes workforce analytics problematic is that it often only focuses on workers at a single point in time – for example, via an employment survey. Methods such as these often have their own limitations too, as they already have a number of pre-set assumptions that don’t adequately quantify feelings.
Jonathan predicts this is all set to be shaken up by new technology that could change workforce analytics in a way that legislators cannot predict or (maybe even) imagine.
He says: “It’s anticipated that previous data sources will increasingly be replaced by systems that stream data in real time, from technology that is perceptive (sensors), mobile (wearables), and small (disappearables). He adds: “And many of these are relevant to workforce analytics.”
Recent developments in sensor technology will begin to be deployed live in organisations. These sensors will permit digital badges to monitor all social interactions (virtual and in person), including how, where, and when the interactions occur. From biometric data (fingerprints and retinal scans) organisations can see who’s entered a cafe at a particular time, to the extent in which people are utilising various spaces around the building.
Although this sounds a little like something out of 1984, it does not necessarily herald an era where employees are being continuously ‘monitored’ – it can be viewed in a much more positive light and for much more positive gains.
Jonathan says: “The insights into human behaviour are very interesting. This data can tell you who’s connecting with who, as well as identifying a person’s business networks. It can also aid in decisions regarding how buildings should be built – in terms of their configuration and internal dynamics. For example – how do the marketing and finance departments talk to each other? Do they need to be near each other? He adds: “It can also help with identifying where to build lavatories and canteens, and whether or not to make particular areas more collaborative and open plan.”
Even the potential of the mobile phone in terms of the meta data have not been fully realised. With 80% of the world’s population using a mobile device, this provides some incredible data that can be used to organisation’s advantage. Email is the same. The meta-data of an email (who is sending messages to who and on what frequency) can help identify, for example, key influencers for the implementation of a change management program or the profile of a successful sales person.
It’s crucial that organisations are open and honest with their employees for this to work – whether it’s a project on productivity or making sure the right communication tools are being used in the organisation.
Of course, new technology brings multiple considerations to the fore: behavioral (what people like and how they will behave), legal (what is permitted), and ethical (what is the right thing to do with people’s data).
One thing is for sure, new data sources will continue to emerge in the future, and those that are considered to be useful, practical and ethical for workforce analytics are likely to make their way into the business environment.
To find out more about how new technological developments in workforce analytics could benefit your workplace attend our Working Futures event for the opportunity to meet Jonathan Ferrar in person.