People Analytics Grows Up: Healthy New Focus On Productivity

Over the last decade, HR departments and businesses have become better at collecting data about people. We used to know employees’ ages, demographics, salary histories, performance ratings and training histories. We now can know where they are and where they’ve been, their e-mail and social communication patterns, their travel and hourly work schedules, and even psychographic information like their moods and heart rates. (This latter information can come from mood apps and wellness apps now hitting the market.)

In addition, companies can now study the behaviors of high-performers in greater detail to find out what percentage of their time is spent in meetings, how many e-mails they send to clients or internal staff, and even how much physical movement they experience each day. (Some companies are even installing “heat monitors” to see if you are at your desk, tracking how many hours you spend at work.)

As we start to get access to this kind of data, I see People Analytics truly growing up. We used to spend an awful lot of time analyzing employee engagement and retention. Now, rather than only focusing on employee survey data (which is still important), companies are looking at real productivity: how can we mimic the behavior of the highest performers?

US and UK productivity has been lagging for almost a decade now. It’s time for companies to focus their energies on finding ways to help people get more work done. This in turn will improve engagement, retention, and overall employee satisfaction.

One of our clients, for example, instrumented their employees with smart badges and after 6 months of study, found that the single greatest contributor to employee happiness was “people getting up and moving around.” The next step? They moved conference rooms, started having walking meetings, and moved the cafeteria and other public spaces to people could spend more time walking.

The exploding market of Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) tools is evidence of this. Most vendors of e-mail systems, messaging systems and core HR systems, are starting to produce organizational network analysis graphs that show who is communicating with whom, generate vitality reports that can reveal why some people are getting burned out, and create reports and dashboards that show who might be overworked or underutilized in the workforce.

I recently saw Cisco’s “team network analysis” and it shows precisely how teams communicate with each other, separate entirely from the company structure. Cisco told us they have more than 20,000 teams in the company, each doing important work, but not measured or represented in the company’s core HR systems.  ONA is helping Cisco understand how these teams work.

After more than a decade talking about this topic, I believe People Analytics has grown up: moved from a broad, academic focus on employee engagement to a new and critical focus on employee productivity.

Think about the most important issues we have in HR: Are we hiring the right people? Are we developing leaders in the best way? Are we training people to be safe and productive? Is our culture promoting performance and engagement? Do people feel included and that they are treated fairly? Are our working conditions flexible, productive and supportive enough?

All of these questions go well beyond the topic of “employee engagement” and now cover topics like readiness, productivity and performance. And these latter topics are what an organization’s CEO and senior leaders care about.

This shift, from a focus on “employee happiness” to “employee performance,” is appropriate and positive for the HR profession in general. I have always believed that happiness (or engagement) is the result of a great work environment, meaningful jobs, and a sense of business purpose and customer value. So now, rather than try to measure something that seems fleeting and a little hard to understand, we can really measure what drives results, and that makes analytics more important than ever.

One of the senior vice presidents of HR whom I interviewed early this year told me that managers and senior leaders have access to two dozen standard metrics for every employee, team and department around the world. They can see when a group has high turnover, low performance ratings, excessive compliance violations, overbudgeted travel and other important metrics—at the click of a button. These “people measures” are business-relevant, useful and highly actionable. This is what we should all strive for.

As you will see from our new People Analytics maturity model, standard metrics are now becoming easy to deliver. The new focus is shifting toward data security, privacy, and upskilling HR and business managers to understand how to use all this data to make people more effective.

What does this mean for HR? People analytics is no longer just a “fun and exciting project.” It’s now business-critical, mandatory and must be supported well. You should have a data security team, integrate data carefully, invest in scalable tools and deliver data directly to line managers. And your entire HR team must now understand what a median, mean and standard deviation are all about.

(This article was originally published in SHRM Viewpoint.)

  • Eelco Voogd

    Finally the article we have been waiting for. When we were at HR TECH in Paris in 2015 (Yes we are in Amsterdam again) we presented WPA (Work & People Analytics). We focus already for 5 years on these metrics and got the customer base to show for. We believe the performance of people comes not only from hiring and firing the right people but to understand every part of their traction they need at as team. Their culture (we measure), their value networks (we measure), their activity patterns (we measure) but also their environment support (we measure) is all part of either a high performing individual or becoming a misfire. We have seen high potentials from Coca Cola and Apple been hired by clients but because of the wrong environment, non supportive culture and not been equipped to perform at their top, they cave in or leave.

    Once you hired a person or a team, they stay for 2-4 years performing on a daily basis (or not). Understanding their work patterns, collaborations, engagement, environment support etc all in one dashboard makes you aware of where to tweak performance. Sensors and AI are moving in but some fortune 1000 companies still struggle to get every formation in their HR system with the right location. We acknowledged that, and decided to provide faster recon for management teams with WPA analytics. So yes! We definitely believe that productivity will be a big issue, especially by making people more effective again. But hanging sensors around people their necks and the upcoming GDPR will be a big challenge in Europe. Human Capital solution providers need to start to create more solutions that benefit the human capital itself and make autonomous teams learn from their own data, for their own performance improvement. So not top down but bottom up. Exciting decade for the future of Work Performance. Agree or disagree? tw @eelcovoogd

  • Sumit Kumar

    Really great article..keep sharing like this…Thanks. For HR industry blog click here: https://www.careerbuilderforemployers.co.in/ | https://www.thecareermuse.co.in/