Companies have been trying to measure their people for many decades. Fredrick Taylor, an industrial engineer, started this trend in 1911 when he published his report Scientific Management, which studied the movement and behavior of factory workers in steel mills.
Since then companies have deployed thousands of engagement surveys, studied the characteristics of top leaders, done countless reviews of retention and turnover, and built massive human resources data warehouses. All in an effort to figure out “what can we do to get more out of our people?”
Well now this domain is called people analytics and it has become a fast-growing, core-business initiative. A study, entitled High-Impact People Analytics and completed last November by Bersin by Deloitte, found that 69 percent of large organizations have a people analytics team and are actively building an integrated store of people-related data.
Why the growth and why the business imperative? Several technical and business factors have collided to make this topic so important.
Firstly, organizations have more people-related data than ever before. Thanks to the proliferation of office productivity tools, employee badge readers, pulse surveys, integrated enterprise resource planning systems and monitoring devices at work, companies have vast amounts of detailed data about their people.
Companies now know who people are communicating with, their location and travel schedules, their salary, job history and training plans.
New tools for organizational network analysis, built into email platforms, can tell leaders who is communicating with whom, new tools for audio and facial recognition identify who is under stress, and video cameras and heat sensors can even identify how much time people spend at their desks.
It could be argued that much of this information is confidential and private, but most employees don’t mind organisations capturing this data, as long as they know it is being done to improve their work experience, as shown in 2015 Conference Board research, Big Data Doesn’t Mean Big Brother.
While European Union General Data Protection Regulation standards, enforceable from May 25, will put the burden of privacy and governance on HR departments, employers are stepping up to this and treating such data with great care.
Secondly, as a result of having access to all this data, companies can now learn important and powerful things.
Not only are executives being forced to report on topics such as diversity, gender pay equity and turnover, but they can also now use people analytics to understand productivity, skills gaps and long-term trends that might threaten or create risk in their business.
One organization, for example, found incidents of fraud and theft were “contagious”, causing similar bad behavior among other employees on the same floor within a certain distance. Another is using sentiment analysis software to measure “mood” in the organization and can identify teams with high-risk projects just from the patterns of their communication.
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