2014 headshot of Susan LaMotte on HRExaminer.com

Susan LaMotte, HR Examiner Editorial Advisory Board Member

Data. Analytics. Statistics. Not the topics you’d expect to dominate human resources. But the big data conversation is not only getting louder, HR’s role is the center of the discussion.

After all, if big data is really about looking for relationships in data sets, who better to play a role?

Cutting edge analysts like John Sumser have been talking about big data since 2012. But experts and academicians are complaining that HR still isn’t taking charge.  After the recent Wharton People Analytics Conference, professor Peter Cappelli complained that the real work was happening with CIOs and in IT—not in HR:

“The big-data people aren’t reinventing the wheel. They’ve already found things that traditional HR researchers never knew and, frankly speaking, never thought to ask. One reason is because they have better data,” said Cappelli.

But do they?  Or do they just have more of the quantitative we’ve come to drown in?

As big data has gotten bigger, HR has shifted towards a metrics approach. After all, with ATS, HRIS and performance metrics, it’s easier (and cheaper) to rely on the numbers to drive decisions. And companies such as Microsoft want to take it all the way.

Wharton Magazine reported on Microsoft’s presentation at their conference:

“[During] the presentation by Dawn Klinghoffer, senior director of HR Business Insights at Microsoft, Klinghoffer delved straight into Microsoft’s end goal: to eliminate human interaction from the hiring process at Microsoft.”

Why would any organization want to eliminate the human process from anything?

If we only rely on the numbers to make our decisions, we’re ignoring all of the inputs. How do people feel when they go through a process—whether hiring, a big presentation at work, or a technological innovation? What are the external influences the data can’t predict or control. This matters—greatly.

At exaqueo, we’re obsessed with data—but not the kind you think. We spend hours collecting qualitative data for clients from interviews and focus groups. Using a consumer marketing, unbiased approach we’re able to dig into patterns as they’re discussed, probe, listen and learn.

But as powerful as qualitative is, it’s only part of the story and that’s where the quantitative data comes into play. This is what HR organizations are missing.

Back in 2013, the New York Times touched on the human potential of data in their piece on building better workers.

“Today, every e-mail, instant message, phone call, line of written code and mouse-click leaves a digital signal. These patterns can now be inexpensively collected and mined for insights into how people work and communicate, potentially opening doors to more efficiency and innovation within companies.”

We now have the ability to look into these behaviors and patterns to better support what the hard statistics tell us. Why aren’t we harnessing this?

It’s time to bring it all together.

Historically HR hasn’t been good at data—so when we began implementing our HRIS and ATS systems we needed our IT counterparts to help us customize and access the data. But as technology advanced, HR got more hard data and became more and more obsessed with presentations and decks showcasing percentages and metrics analysis.

The problem now? We’ve swung the data pendulum too far to the quantitative right.

We’ve lost the human element even as we gain the ability to look at behaviors behind the data and digital footprints we can track.  And it’s time to change that.

We’ve just begun partnering with RedOwl Analytics, a technology company, applying advanced statistics to the ever-growing corporate digital trail to provide organizational assessment in real-time. RedOwl’s team includes a combination of data scientists and intelligence and data analytics experts from military intelligence, politics and social science. More importantly, they believe as I do, that big data and predictive analytics have to be about more than numbers.

Awhile ago I posited that talent isn’t just about past performance as behavioral interviews will lead us to believe. Talent is like the stock market—you predict the value of a stock based on future potential. It includes a combination of quantitative market analysis and qualitative company, product and leadership assessment.

You can take a company’s descriptive statistics which are great for informing us on potential (predictive analytics) and pare them with behavioral inference—the communications assessment the New York Times reported on—to better understand how people are acting and producing. Quantitative data alone doesn’t tell us how, who, and why people communicate.

We owe it to our workforces to pay attention to the behaviors behind the data. And conversely, we can’t look at the behaviors alone.  If we’re really going to show that HR can use big data and predictive analytics well, we have to lead the way in advancing the use of the quantitative while still waving the flag for the qualitative.

Come on HR, are you with me?

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