photo of concrete steps on bleachers in photo by cc0 published on article April 11, 2016 by John Sumser about People Analytics

People Analytics is becoming its own discipline quickly. We are rapidly learning to ask and answer questions that were unimaginable five years ago.

I’ve been spending much of my spare attention on the question of ‘People Analytics.’ It turns out that it’s a vast topic that is rapidly expanding in scope and importance. It’s moving into the heart of HR much faster than most practitioners can see.

The topic of People Analytics is spoken about in meetings where the attendees are either not from HR or recently ended up there. I’m pretty sure that most people who work in HR and many of those who provide software and services to HR do not see this particular thing coming. As usual, the traditional outlets don’t cover emerging ideas with much enthusiasm.

There are significant conferences and the audience is growing very rapidly. Last week, I gave a keynote for a People Analytics conference of 900 people in Minneapolis. Let me say that again. 900 people in Minneapolis turned up for a day long conference on People Analytics.

900 people. Minneapolis. People Analytics. Not a lot of HR practitioners.

Training Programs are emerging online. They don’t usually agree with each other. They seem to be speaking about different things. It’s early. But there is online training available.

There are interesting new products hitting the market in big ways. Deloitte reoriented its core Human Capital Transformation offering to focus on the cultural aspects of the story. eHarmony opened the doors on its tool for assessing compatibility between potential employees and the companies they want to work for. Fight risk calculations are routinely embedded in employee profiles. Ceridian is using personality assessments to coach employees on more effective communication

They all blend some level of cultural assessment with some sort of gap analysis. Some leave you with recommendations. Some help with implementation so deeply that it’s hard to tell where their service starts and your company stops.

At the core, all of these bits and pieces are the next generation of HR. Computing capacity has exploded while becoming extremely affordable. At the heart of the new ideas in HR is the reality that doing trillions of calculations is cheap.

Available computing capacity is vast. Maybe beyond imagining.

What always happens when computing capacity is vast and cheap is that we find new and interesting things to explore. Things that people had to do repetitively in the last generation get automated in the next. And, that’s generations of technology, not people.

People Analytics is becoming its own discipline quickly.  We are rapidly learning to ask and answer questions that were unimaginable five years ago. Here are some things you should expect to see:

  • Sourcing tools that assess a prospective employee for cultural fit based on publically available data
  • Hiring process monitors that continuously assess the likelihood that a candidate will succeed
  • On the fly curriculum development that notices the difference between current skills and necessary skills in employees
  • User adoption assistance software that helps employees recall the specific of an interface based on performance
  • Employee ‘surveys’ that rely exclusively on behavioral data (keystokes, communication patterns

Here’s what’s already out there

  • A database of 2 Million cultural models (all companies /divisions with more than 20 Employees in the US)
  • A retail management system that learns to give each employee the training they need
  • Tools that help you shift your written tone to be more attractive in certain demographics
  • Large teams of researchers in all of the enterprise service providers trying to figure this out.
  • An explosion of startups focusing on aspects of the question
  • There are well financed startups developing Predictive People Analytics

Perhaps the most interesting part of this emerging discipline is that HR is not the only part of the organization with an interest in this topic. The security department also cares about the motivation, performance, connectedness and fit of the workforce. There’s much more to the problem with chronically low engagement scores than the endless hand-wringing would suggest.

Recently published research suggests that more than 20% of the employee base would sell their passwords for a modest amount of money. This is an organizational crisis that will not remain unsolved. Since HR doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to address it (and similar concerns), company leadership will look elsewhere for help. HR has a very long history of deep (and sometimes troubling) alliances with the security department.

Talk about a conflict between process and action orientation.

In an ideal world, corporate security might actually be the business outcome that HR is designed to achieve. In the real world, security tends to be heavy handed in the way that destroys the relationship between the company and its employees. It would be nice to think that the two functions could routinely complement each other. What’s happened historically is that the Security group brings out the Inner Accountant in the HR team.

The takeaway here is that a change is in the wind. It’s building faster than prior changes. It suggests an HR Department that is more focused on probabilities than on meaning.

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HRExaminer Radio: Episode #150: Dominic Barton

John Sumser speaks with Dominic Barton, the Chief Operating Officer of North America & Asia-Pacific at Broadbean Technology.