HR’s Role as the Architect of Change

Whether it’s driven by politics, regulation, new business models, IA, RPA, iOT, SaaS or MiFID II it’s trite to say that we live in a state of constant change.

I’ve been in ‘Change Management’ for 20 years, initially as a consultant, and then in various HR Director and Business line roles, across a number of industries and in private, FTSE, and PE-backed organisations. Studied and experimented with various approaches, from Kotter to six-sigma to agile/lean start-up & the methodologies of various consultancies. Have had the fortunate opportunity to work in industries undergoing massive change/rapid transformation and growth, and partnered with a number of CEOs to help them manage that change. 

I was asked recently to pull together a summary of how I (as an HR Director) approach the design, facilitation and management of transformations.Hence this short article. Would really value your thoughts, feedback, and recommendations, as I'd like this to start a conversation. I can sum up the approach in one simple statement:

Change Management  is Performance Management 

Once you have decided on the destination all transformation comes down to the day-in, day-out of improving performance. Whether it's personal or professional; all change management is essentially performance management. But not all companies optimise the design, facilitation and management of performance.

HR has an opportunity to step up and play that role as the architect of change - helping design the plan and facilitate/manage the delivery. Day in, day out. Leveraging a new agile toolkit. 

I’ve synthesised my approach into 2 levers and 4 steps. There needs to be someone in every organisation who understands, positions, owns and delivers each of these elements. The first lever is to optimise individual performance, and the 2nd is to create a network effect (a culture of trusted relationships). Last time I checked HR has a pretty massive responsibility and role to play in both of those. 

The four steps:

  1. Set a clear, compelling strategic direction
  2. Measure what you manage
  3. Build high performance habits
  4. Connect the dots

During the first 3 steps we’re defining and refining optimal performance from the individual and teams, getting the mechanisms working that allow each individual to realise their best self. The 4th step is then taking connections and relationships to the next level, creating a network effect across the organisation. For each of these I've come to realise (the hard way) that there's an art and a science. As HR Directors, we increasingly need to be masters of both. The progress in the science, whether its cognitive psychology, data analytics or IA/RPA is creating a great opportunity to build new ways and systems for accelerating performance. As mentioned this approach applies equally well to individual and group, personal and professional change. Whether it's responding to digital challengers, losing weight or planning to climb a mountain. 

I know, the tired mountain metaphor is such a cliché but there's a core element that's really important to stress here - transformation can and should be designed as an adventure. Not fun all the time, challenging - yes! AND hugely rewarding. In this summary I'm focussing on organisational change (I'll get into personal change and also the importance of focussing on performance management rather than employee engagement in future updates).

I'll go through the 4 steps one by one, give examples of practical applications of the art and the science and welcome your additions to build on this draft synthesis;

Step 1. Set a clear, compelling strategic direction

‘Utter Conviction, loosely held’.

I can't stress enough how important it is to use a tool such as strategy mapping. The organisations capabilities & behaviours underpin EVERYTHING - working with your colleagues across functions to align Capabilities-to-Processes-to-Customer Outcomes-to-Financial Results is game changing. Facilitating this changes how HR is perceived more than anything, establishing the vision, path and foundations for change.

The Art - create a compelling Vision/Mission, engage the top team and wider Top30-100 to design the destination and the path.

The Science - start to create the framework for managing your transformation by building a Strategy Map.

The art and science of performance come together in a well-crafted strategy map – the art of a co-created compelling Vision that then starts to lay the foundation for the science/systems required to manage the transformation. Literally getting everyone on the same page with the same definition of success.

Drucker is always a great place to start when you’re looking at Vision/Purpose, and one of his most famous quotes is a pretty good foundation for all companies;

'The purpose of an organisation is to create a customer'. 

2. Manage what you Measure. 

The Art - find quick wins. Identify initiatives that can be visibility delivered or impact quarterly revenue in the first 30-100 days. Builds momentum and trust in the journey. Kill or accelerate.

'learn to say either no or hell yes to everything, nothing in between'.

The Science - an agreed organisational methodology for managing the initiatives, e.g. Six sigma. Setting the right KPIs. Start to performance manage by exception.

3. Build high performance habits

don't tell me you had a good meeting, tell me what you're going to do differently on Monday....' Drucker

This is well beyond Employee Engagement. It’s about optimising your culture for high performance, creating new social norms, such that employees can respond with their best selves.

The Art - foster a conversation. Allow ideas to flow and enable upward challenge. CEO as role model for balance, innovation & diversity

The science - get incentivisation right. Focus on Habit loops. Tools are key - agile etc. Hack your way to optimisation.

4. Connect the dots

The final step is to create a network effect across the organisation. You’ve built systems that will drive individual and team performance – this final step is about creating more than the sum of the parts, and unlocking huge organisational value. Creating deep trusting relationships – enabling how you can help others deliver their goals and unlocking ways that they can help you. Taking performance and the transformation to the next level.

The Art – continually think about how you can serve others and become a real ‘enterprise contributor’. Follow-up/ show gratitude – e.g. send hand-written cards

The Science - daily feedback tools/effective meetings. Recognise and reward enterprise contributors. Learn about Mental Models.

Recommended further reading/top 10 inspirations for this article: 

  1. Delivering & Sustaining Breakthrough Performance - Boston Consulting Group
  2. Driving Breakthrough Performance in the new Work Environment - Corporate Executive Board
  3. Strategy Mapping & Balanced Scorecards - Kaplan & Norton. And Mihai Ionescu on LinkedIn/Slideshare. 
  4. Agile/Lean Start-up - Steve Blank https://steveblank.com/
  5. New management practices - Steve Denning https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2013/08/05/the-golden-age-of-management/#15ea20595692
  6. Habits/Habit Loops - Nir Eyal
  7. Mental Models - Shane Parrish https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/mental-models/
  8. Cycles of Transformation/Tech Change - Geoffrey Moore (Inside the Tornado) and Carlota Perez (Technological Changes and Financial Capital)
  9. Fred Wilson of Union Square giving an insight into his investment framework and how behaviour leads tech changes http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=fred+wilson+web+summit+paris&&view=detail&mid=63420B962908D1A7EF9463420B962908D1A7EF94&FORM=VRDGAR
  10. Great podcast on the science of performance. A weekly must-listen along with 'The Knowledge Project' from Farnham Street and everything from Tim Ferris & a16z http://www.successpodcast.com/

Investing in HR Tech Is Not the Same as Digital Transformation

“If you put 20 executives in a room and ask them to define ‘digital’, you are guaranteed to get 20 different answers,” says Anand Eswaran, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Services and Microsoft Digital. That’s the reality: most companies’ leaders feel overwhelmed by technology, and they’re not sure where to begin or how much money and time spend on Digital Transformation.

On the issues of how to integrate technology across the business, what Digital Transformation requires, and why digital goes beyond technology, we spoke with Soumyasanto Sen, a millennial leader, an advisor, evangelist, and investor in HR technologies, currently focusing on AI-driven people analytics, digital strategies, blockchain, and digital HR transformation.

Passionate about entrepreneurship, Soumya is also the co-founder and advisory board member for HRTech Conscience and Delité Advisory & Partners.


Soumyasanto Sen

“Those, that don’t adapt Digital Transformation, will fail”

– Digitalization becomes an essential part of a corporate strategy, but to be honest, for a significant part of business owners and HR professionals, digitalization is just a buzzword. After all, what does a Digital Transformation of a workplace mean for a company?

Digitalization can extend the reach of organizations, improve management decisions, and speed the development of new products and services. At the same time, the excessively rapid adoption of technologies can disrupt traditional business models. Business owners are equally responsible for successful Digital Transformation.

The challenge of digitalization is not acquiring a proficiency in digital technologies; instead, management must create the conditions and culture needed to enable a transformation to a digitally mature organization. Leaders and HR professionals must also help people (customers, suppliers, employees) take on the right mindset for adopting all these changes. The real value of Digital Transformation for HR is that it enables the whole organization to think creatively.

So, for me, digitalization is more than a buzzword, and it is an essential part of corporate strategies, for sure. There is no alternative to Digital Transformation. Visionary companies will carve out new strategic options for themselves—those that don’t adapt, will fail.

The digital workplace is also considered a company asset. the digital workplace encompasses all the technologies people use to get work done in today’s workplace. It ranges from HR and core business applications to e-mail, instant messaging, enterprise social media tools, and virtual meeting tools.

As per Deloitte, the digital workplace framework consists of four layers, covering the following components, shown in the diagram below:

digital workplace interview

According to Deloitte, the digital workplace is all about the employees’ ability to do their job by collaborating, communicating, and connecting with others.

Technology enables the digital workplace. Each organization already has a digital workplace toolbox with different tools. Depending on your industry and business needs, the tools needed to support your digital workplace vary. The key is to adopt the right tools for your employees to do their jobs.

An effective use of technology in the digital workplace is underpinned by appropriate controls. This means one must support the digital workplace with appropriate governance structures and management processes.

As with any core initiative, it is essential for business needs to drive the digital workplace. To deliver the necessary benefits, the direction of your organization should guide the direction of your digital workplace.

Digital Workplace Banner GIF

About HR digital strategies and a deep change in mind

– What stages does the digital transformation consist of? What steps are the most important and require particularly close attention?

To be very clear, investing in technology is not the same as Digital Transformation. Most companies are now investing into new tools, applications, platforms, and services. These make them tech-enabled, but it doesn’t mean companies are actually transforming in a digital economy. With Digital Transformation, technology is driven by purpose, and that purpose is meant to reshape business.

Based on the research of companies like Cognizant and Altimeter, there are six key stages many organizations go through in their Digital Transformation. But this doesn’t mean everyone has to follow this sequence.

Six Stages Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation enables people to think and to transform. Digital Transformation is about the ability of the organization, and therefore people’s minds not only to adapt to change, but to drive change and innovation, enabling the organization to deep dive into its need, values, purpose and mission.

Digital Transformation is not just bright new technology—it’s a new way of organizing, engaging with customers and employees, and building networks of expertise and trust—through cooperation and collaboration—and working faster, better, smarter than ever before.

Embracing the digital world and implementing technological transformations don’t necessarily begin with technology. They actually begin with a profound change in mindset, an evolution in the way we see the world. Digital strategy plays an important role here.

HR digital strategies or HR technology strategies should actually support the overall strategic objectives of the organization, and HR must take ownership of the digital strategy and ensure that it aligns with the HR strategy, which in turn should align with the business strategy. Moreover, it should emphasize more than just efficiency and effectiveness as a driver for the adoption of technology, and choose solutions that allow for future growth and flexibility, while focusing on deploying solutions that meet the current and future needs of the organization.

Drivers that can lead digital strategies for HR are (check out Digital Strategy in HR World):Four Stages Digital Transformation01

What benefits are companies looking for from new HR technology?

– It is a common practice to identify the benefits of new HR technologybefore the implementation process begins. But which benefits should be included in the list?

By selecting the right technology, HR departments and professionals can deliver simpler, faster and smarter user interfaces, as part of a HCM system. This allows organizations to put productivity and engagement at the heart of the process, which in turn should encourage employee loyalty.

The major investments in HR technology solutions are time, money, and energy. One must include the following benefits when considering HR technology transformation:

Easy administration and sharing of information

Good HR technology allows information, whether written or broadcast, to be shared more quickly and with fewer resources. It should also provide easy administration that eliminates the need for double or triple entry systems and reduces the need to file large amounts of paperwork.

Greater productivity

A better HR system can produce real productivity benefits as the adoption of innovative tools leads to workforce optimization, competitive advantage, and greater customer satisfaction. Productivity is essential to the employees, employers, the organization, and the economy, who will all benefit from this.

Reduced cost

Aside from the less tangible costs such as efficiency or productivity, good HR technology will save real money; especially in the era of cloud computing, cost reduction is considered one of the main benefits of any HR technology.

Soumyasanto Sen 01

Soumyasanto Sen

Improved communication

HR technologies must provide employees the opportunity to do their job by collaborating, communicating, and connecting with others, increasing employee engagement and improving performance in turn.

Focusing analytics

Analytics is no longer about finding interesting information and identify it for managers. Now, data are being used to understand every part of a business operation, and analytical tools are being embedded into the day-to-day decision-making of business operations. HR analytics play a vital role here.
There are many other benefits, and aside from the convenience of a HR system that is accessible online by employees and managers, these include:

  • Going mobile for continuous accessibility
  • Helping with consistency
  • Ensuring compliance and privacy
  • Improving user experience

The reasons why so many HR technology implementations fail

– How long does the implementation process last for companies of different types? Is it fair to say that the digitalization of workflows is a never-ending process?

Digital transformation isn’t an outcome; its complex but developing journey. I don’t think that anyone today can claim they have reached the end of the Digital Transformation process. Most are just beginning; in fact, some of them haven’t even started yet.

Blockchain banner

According to MIT/Sloan research, 63% of executives revealed that the pace of technology change in their organization was too slow. In the same report, the most frequently cited obstacle to Digital Transformation was “a lack of urgency.”

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.” – Henry Ford

So, in this digital era, one cannot give a fixed timeline, as it’s a continuous improvement process. Digital Transformation is big and also costly. It covers everything from effectively engaging customers, vendors, and employees, forming new teams to collaborate, forcing process improvements and innovation, optimizing business models, and inspiring new infrastructures, etc.

It’s actually an agile process, which is of course never ending if we think so. The process involves measuring, learning, and building continuously throughout the journey.


digital transformation

– Why do you think so many implementations of new HR technology, which costs tens of thousands, fail?

Organizations are using hundreds, sometimes thousands of applications. New applications are constantly being deployed, whether the new version are upgrades or replacements for old legacy applications. This all brings risk, and if this is not taken into account, they fail. The most important issues as of today are:

Adoption is the key to the success of products and services.

The most important point is to accept the change and adapt to the transformation. If the users don’t like to use the application or start diminishing, all your efforts will come to an unfortunate end.

User experience matters the most today.

Today, users’ expectations are very high. In their personal lives, they’re used to having easy-to-learn and -use technologies at their fingertips. A top-notch user experience is a great way to keep users involved and engaged with a product in this digital age.

Consulting GIF

One should also not ignore the reasons for an unsuccessful transformation below:

Unengaged stakeholders or owners

Any successful HR technology project requires the active engagement of the right stakeholders—the decision-makers and owners of the business processes involved in the problem being addressed, who can make the right decisions and lead the project to success. If they are missing or unengaged, the chances of failure become very high.

Lack of relevance to the business

A very common reason for failure is a lack of relevance to the business. It is not unusual for any HR technology project to focus on a topic or area that doesn’t actually add value to the business. Value addition is very important for any business, especially when you are considering transformation.

No measures or agility

No enterprise business can manage or improve until it can measure. So measure and benchmark the business’ existing user experience and instantly compare any variations when a change is made. There is always scope for improvement, and the process must be agile.

Others reasons also include:

  • Lack of highly skilled teams
  • Lack of integration of new and existing technologies and data
  • Slow and poor processes
  • Outdated technologies
  • Lack of collaboration between IT and businessThe reasons may vary for each company, but the most significant reasons are commonly lie behind transformation failures.

About HR departments and tech skills

– There is an opinion that only HR personal should work in HR. Does a company need to bring technical people into its HR department before starting a Digital Transformation?

The team is the ultimate productivity structure within any organization and HR needs to be right in the middle of this, ensuring the right personalities and skills are represented, and driving new methodologies to ensure the best possible consequences. Increasing team engagement and diversity, using psychometric assessments, encouraging continuous performance feedback, and ensuring trust and collaboration are the major challenges for any team development.

HR Processes GIF

According to Bersin, if HR isn’t supporting the building, optimization, performance, reward and recognition, and methodological support elements, the entire project could be at risk of failing miserably.

So in respect to the strategy, to compete successfully in the new digital economy, HR should:

  • Use technology effectively to execute business imperatives and extend collaboration with other departments, incorporating mobile technology, analytics, social media, and the cloud to ease the transition to a strategic role.
  • Consider the competitive risk of not leveraging technology to contribute to business strategy. Organizations in developed economies are not adopting technology as quickly as their peers in fast-growing economies and may risk being left behind in the global competition for talent.
  • Embrace the transition to strategic thinking and driving business results.

Digital Transformation could not prosper without the integration of IT and business. Most of the successful Digital Transformation projects involve HR and technology people together within one team. Lack of collaboration between them leads to failure for sure.

What if #HR actually made you money?

What exactly is HR ? What does it do ? and most importantly What should it do? 

If you listen to the commentary and murmurings of the start-up community, HR is handy when you have conflict, have administrative burdens in payroll and benefits administration or have to manage someone out.

Have a skip through Fast Company and the likes and you will hear a constant reinforcement of the necessary evil of HR. Many refer to HR as this thing you need when you get too big, when culture needs to be managed, when conflict has to be handled and when the admin becomes all too much.

 Really though, is this what HR should be? Just a cost centre that you have to have when scale gets the better of performance and people become higher maintenance?

We are not really certain how HR got to this dark corridor as a business function nor how the start up community continually pays the price for not getting out in front of the people element of the business.

The People Element

Here’s an interesting exercise...Google the term “Business Definition” and see if you can find any reference to 'people' in the mix.

It seems profound to us that Business is so often defined as being this entity that exists almost exclusively of people. Furthermore, when we talk about HR, Human Capital (we dislike this term for the record) or People, we describe it as an element in business, a variable or factor that you need to keep your eye on, kind of like inventory or pricing.

What is interesting about this is that we are treating a fundamental building block of success as simply an element or variable when in fact it is the people who make or break a business' results.

We would posit that if your business has a Strategy without an integrated view of how people will create, deliver or execute that strategy, you don’t have a strategy at all; you have what is more commonly known as a fantasy.

It seems to us that it takes so much more than renaming HR to People & Culture or some other alternative (which is a futile and sometimes harmful exercise when done in the absence of any fundamental change to the role of the function itself). If HR, doesn’t change what it actually does and delivers and if leaders do not ask more of it, then we could accurately forecast more and more fantasies driving the fall of shareholder value.

 So when will we come to ask more of HR? When will we realise that HR isn’t there to manage or even avoid problems but create opportunities for business growth and success to be accelerated?

HR is well overdue for a Re-Think

Here are some basic building blocks for turning the “people element” of a business into a money making function:

1. Hiring Talent and ensuring their success

When a vacancy arises in an organisation, the pressure is usually on to get "backsides on seats". This can lead to rushed, ill-considered hiring that costs the organisation dearly in terms of lost productivity, the opportunity cost of revenue and direct costs. When recruiting new people there are a number of areas that can quickly add value to the bottom line:

  • Ensuring a true fit for new team members to the role, the team, the line manager and the desired 'culture' of the organisation. This starts with a really good job and person analysis, so there is a clear understanding of what is required for the role and what the right candidate will need to have in terms of skills, experience and most importantly, attributes to succeed in the role. As the old adage goes, "If you don't know what you are looking for how will you ever find it?". Creating a really clear benchmark for the role to compare candidates to will improve your chances of hiring someone that will not only perform in the short term but stay long enough to create real value.
  • Interviews are a very unreliable form of talent assessment yet most organisations rely on them exclusively for hiring new talent. Incorporating more reliable and sophisticated assessment tools into your selection process and training line managers on how to use and interpret the outputs are essential for success.
  • Not settling for second best. Be exacting about the quality of talent you are looking to attract to the organisation. Great people love working with great people. The more 'compromise hires' you make, the more you dilute the performance of your organisation and your attractiveness as an employer to future talent.
  • Once you've hired someone, set them up for success. Many People and HR Managers assume that because they are paying a new hire so much to do the job, they should be 100% productive right from the beginning. The reality is that if you have hired well for talent and potential, the ideal candidate will have room to grow and develop in the role, otherwise, they are likely to bet bored quickly and move on. So planning for their success through effective onboarding and focus on development needs from the start can dramatically increase a candidate's likelihood of success and therefore increase the likelihood of business success. The United Kingdom Association of Talent Development claims that 40% of newly hired executives fail in the first 18 months or less and 70% contribute their failure to poor onboarding

2. Productivity & Performance 

When we are charging toward a goal, its import to make sure that everyone is in the boat and paddling in the same direction. How often do you hear business leaders, particularly in the start-up community, complain that energy or engagement is cramping growth? 

Making sure that everyone is clear on where the business is headed and what they can do to get it there is one of the most profoundly important actions for growth. The HR function can and should significantly fuel efforts for clarity, cohesion and collaboration. From aligning incentives to drive collaboration and the right commercial outcomes to helping teams to understand how to leverage each other and establish effective team operating rhythms and processes to drive accountability, execution and transparency can fast track performance and results and enable the scalability of a business like few other investments.

 3. Profit Generating

Commercial pragmatism from the HR function can have a significant impact on the performance and profitability of a business. Many high growth ventures have missed valuable commercial opportunities due to an inability to resource new projects. By HR understanding the growth plan for the business, developing a strategic workforce plan and implementing some creative solutions to skill shortages, organisations can ensure they have access to the talent they need to take advantage of commercial opportunities.

Similarly, by understanding the commercial dynamics of the business, HR can make a business case for moving on poor performing talent fast and painlessly through negotiated exits, rather than long, painful and costly poor performance procedures. The opportunity cost of poor performers usually outweighs the additional cost of a negotiated exit by a factor of 10 when you consider lost productivity, revenue, business reputation and collateral damage to others in the business.

So what are you asking HR to do for your business?

 Are you asking them to deal with the “tricky” matters, the administrative nightmares or are you asking them to make you money?

What if we took a different view, that HR (whatever it's named) can be the oil that keeps the machine of connected people performing? What if we asked more of HR? What if we asked it to be a trusted source of clarity and energy, rather than a destination for problems? What if we asked HR to be commercial, allowed HR to engage in the success of the team, and required that as a KPI the machine was well oiled and well coordinated in its efforts?

If you redefine the role of HR to 'enabling the performance of the whole business through people', then you get an entirely different result.

The challenge will now be to breed a new generation of HR people who are commercially savvy and are more than just good ‘people people’. The new breed of commercial and profit generating HR people need to understand the financial dynamics of the business and drivers of performance as well as the CFO and CEO. 

For early-stage ventures who can't justify a permanent resource in their early days or afford a sufficiently experienced one, accessing outsourced providers with a track record in fast-tracking high growth companies from a people perspective can pay real dividends. 

What if HR actually did make you money?

The ‘Data-Driven Time Machine’ of People Analytics

In the movie ‘Back to the Future’, Marty Mcfly travels to the past and accidentally interacts with his mom before she married his dad. This accidental interaction altered the future in unexpected ways which he then tried to fix. People Analytics can learn from Mcfly about our use of predictive analytics.

Specifically, predictive and prescriptive statistics are like a ‘data-driven time machine’ that we want to use in order to change the future by acting in the present.

We use ‘big data’ and look for answers to questions such as

  • What are the early signs of people’s intentions to quit and what interventions may be most effective in retaining them (e.g IBM’s Proactive Retention program)?
  • How can we detect long-term fit between job applicants and organizations to solve grief for both parties?

With data related to the right questions, we can use our ‘People Analytics time machine’ to predict the future and act to alter it. However, time traveling has implications, and that is the other lesson People Analytics should take from Mcfly.

When we interact with others in one-time point, we alter the reality of future times.

Similarly, when we measure and collect data to build and use our predictive models, we interfere with the reality which we measure. This can mean that, like Marty, we will need to ‘fix’ unexpected outcomes.

However, it can also mean that we can take the opportunity to expand our frame of mind and use measurement, not just to collect data, but rather to create a deliberate impact – cultural and behavioral.


Measurement – Not Just About Data Collection

Measurement is an effective tool to induce change, even regardless of the insights that can be derived from the collected data!

For example, in the famous Hawthorne studies (1924-1932) scientists were observing factory workers to understand the effects of lighting. While there were no differences between lighting conditions, a different unintended yet interesting finding came up: performance rose across all groups.

Later analyses of the data (1958) concluded that the observations themselves induced the increase in performance. This is known as the ‘Hawthorne/Observer Effect’ which simply means that people react and alter their behavior when they are aware of being observed.

Similarly to the ‘observer effect’, the ‘mere-measurement effect’ indicates that asking an individual about their intentions changes their subsequent behavior and decisions. These two effects taken together demonstrate the need to understand the effects of measurement beyond collecting data.

When you stop to think about the examples above, it is rather amazing actually. With hardly any resources invested people changes their behavior! This is powerful. And this is a great opportunity for people analytics professionals to become a proactive partner in shaping organizational culture and the employee experience by thinking of measurement as a cultural signal.

People analytics professionals should become a proactive partner in shaping organizational culture and the employee experience by thinking of measurement as a cultural signal.


Research the Measurement of People

To understand the cultural signaling of our measurement methods we should consider two elements – ‘what we measure’ and ‘how we measure it’.

In today’s technological world, the possible answers to both these questions have grown exponentially. There are so many things we can measure and so many ways to collect this data via technology – wearables, email, social networks, and collaboration tools.

People leave data trails behind them every online move they make. Such big data is the fuel of our time machine, and time traveling is really exciting!

Moreover, it seems people have less time and willingness to answer long/multiple questionnaires. Thus, collecting available online data may seem to be a win-win solution and the best way to go. But is it really the case?

The recent data protection regulations in the EU may point out to a different story. A story in which data collection methods induce negative perceptions. The focus on measurement from a ‘data collection’ perspective neglects the effects measurement may have on people and culture – does it make us suspicious? More guarded?

There is an important research to be held here about different methods of measurement and their emotional and behavioral effects. Such research is relevant to any method we may use for data collection.


Understanding Measurement Creates Opportunities

If we take questions as an example, we can find research that looked into how questions alter behavior and found that asking the right question is a powerful and cost-effective way to influence behavior.

Asking questions is also a known coaching tool to induce change. When we are asked a (good) question our brain comes to life, and depending on the framing of the question, different boxes in our heads are triggered. Once opened, these boxes shape our perceptions of reality, and direct our behavior. If we take note of this effect of questions, then we can think ‘end to start’ about what are the behaviors we want to encourage in the realm of what we focus on (e.g. employee engagement), and how can we frame questions to trigger these behaviors.

In addition to their effect on people’s behaviors, questions also affect how people perceive the entity who is asking the question. Think of Voltaire’s (1694-1778) quote – “Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers” – within the organizational context. How do the questions we ask to collect data shape the perception of our organization?

Taken these two effects – alter behavior and change perceptions of organization – we can see that questions are a very powerful tool we can leverage to support our role as proactive culture-drivers.

Questions are a very powerful tool we can leverage to support our role as proactive culture-drivers

For example, imagine an organization in which all people are regularly asked about those who help them succeed in their work (e.g. who do you turn to when you want to brainstorm?). What effect such questions may have?

According to Wayne Baker’s research, gratitude motivates people to ‘pay it forward’. If we take note of the help we received, we will be inclined to do good for others. Moreover, if everyone in the organization recognize others, the more likely we are to adapt to the culture of ‘giving and recognizing’. Thus, questions that make us stop and take note of those who help us can induce behaviors beneficial for both individuals and the organization as a whole.

Moreover, as people are social entities seeking to be meaningful to others, recognized, and included, such questions may also trigger self-reflection (e.g. will I be recognized as a co-thinking partner?), which in turn can lead to improvements in social interactions.

Measurement can have a huge impact! Doc knew to warn McFly about interacting with others, he knew the ripple effect one minor interaction can have in the system. We can take the same lesson and apply it to measurement – one small intervention can have a ripple effect. Now the question is – how can people analytics take on the opportunity and make it a great one?

The 30 best HR Analytics articles of 2016

People Analytics and data driven HR continues to generate huge amounts of interest amongst those working in or associated with the field of human resources.

The potential analytics has to underpin the future transformation of HR with regards to digital, personalising the employee experience and identifying actionable insights that lead to better business outcomes is recognised by many but to date has only been realised by few.

For the last three years, I’ve collected what I believe are the best people analytics articles of the preceding 12 months. The purpose is to (hopefully) provide a useful resource for those already operating in or those who aspire to work in the field of people analytics (see collections from 201420152016 Jan-Jun and 2016 Jul-Dec).

I have been motivated to do this ‘Best of 2016’ piece because I missed (either due to publication date or my own human error) seven articles from my previous two 2016 collections. These articles are too good not to be recognised, so without further ado and in no particular order…

1. Dave Ulrich & Thomas Rasmussen - Learning from practice: how HR analytics avoids being a management fadEsther Bongenaar, Vasilis Giagkoulas and David Green – The HR Analytics Journey at Shell

It may seem strange to begin with an article that was published in 2015, but having somehow not included it 12 months ago, it only seems fair to start with what is one of the most important articles on people analytics I have read. The white paper provides a critique of the HR centric approach adopted by the majority of organisations when it comes to analytics and instead advocates an “outside-in” method targeted at solving real business problems. Two excellent examples from Maersk Drilling are highlighted to support the argument. Case 1 (see Figure 1 below) examines the impact of leadership quality and crew competence on safety, operational performance, and customer satisfaction whilst Case 2 examines the ROI and Strategic Impact of a Technical Trainee Acceleration Program. As the article reveals, both cases show that analytics is far more effective when tackled from a business (rather than an inward looking HR) perspective and that analytics should be treated as a change management process. Thomas Rasmussen is Vice-President of HR Data and Analytics at Shell, which is often (and rightly) cited as one of the leading practices on the planet. To find out more about what Shell is doing please see my interview here with Esther Bongenaar and Vasilis Giagkoulas

Figure 1: HR analytics in Maersk Drilling. Percentages shown are the squared correlations, i.e., amount of variance explained. Often HR Analytics teams will only link leadership quality and turnover (box 3), while a broad analytics approach looks at the entire value chain  (Source: Maersk Drilling, Dave Ulrich & Thomas Rasmussen)

2. Anthony Walter – Bridging the gap between insights and action

Another brilliant article – this time published just days after my H2 2016 collection is this insightful and must-read piece by Anthony Walter, who leads Talent Strategy and Workforce Analytics at Gap. As Anthony correctly highlights, the volume of analytical insights continues to grow and whilst this is positive it is arguably a waste if these insights do not lead to meaningful actions that help drive business results. Anthony highlights four key areas of focus and suggests how these gaps between insights and action can be bridged. The four areas are: i) lack of alignment between business strategy and analytics, ii) missing skills in the analytics team (e.g. storytelling, influencing, consulting), iii) cultural impediments that block or slow down action, and; iv) the absence of feedback mechanisms to understand the impact of actions.

3. Placid Jover & Paul McNamara – HR Analytics – Fact, Fad or the Future?

One of the smartest HR leaders I’ve had the pleasure to come across, Placid Jover was recently appointed to lead HR for Unilever’s £3 billion UK business. Previously, Placid had established and led Unilever’s global Organisation Performance and HR Analytics team. In this thoughtful article, Placid reflects on his experiences, how the space has evolved and what the future holds for analytics and how it will underpin the HR of the future. Like the previous two articles, Placid emphasises the importance of focusing on insights that lead to business outcomes. A must-read.

4. Luk Smeyers – Why HR Analytics must report to the CHRO; Luk Smeyers & Mark Berry – 8 things Mark Berry can teach you about HR Analytics

In the previous article, Placid highlighted that Unilever is fortunate to have a CHRO who embraces data and lives and breathes the insight it brings to the organisation and people agendas. The role of the CHRO is pivotal, as Luk Smeyers, Co-Founder of iNostix by Deloitte, makes clear in this article for the HRN Blog. Luk makes an impassioned plea for CHROs to work closely with their HR Analytics leader arguing that this is how HR can have a demonstrable impact on business results. The second article - an interview with Mark Berry, former HR Analytics leader and now CHRO, illustrates Luk’s point perfectly. Mark argues that when executed correctly people analytics can be the “GPS of HR”, as he answers with typical candour and insight a series of questions on people analytics.

5. Kathleen Hogan - Empower your employees to leverage their own data Dawn Klinghoffer and David Green – The HR Analytics Journey at MicrosoftDawn Klinghoffer, Valuing your Talent – Microsoft Case Study

Continuing Luk’s theme, having a CHRO who not only sponsors but is involved in driving the people analytics initiative is a common best practice I have seen in organisations that are successful in this space. One such CHRO is Kathleen Hogan. The first article describes how Microsoft is using analytics to help employees and teams to become more productive. More importantly, it also tackles the question of employee trust. Hogan emphasises that the purpose is to empower rather than undermine employee decision-making and articulates her vision of creating the ability for employees to own their data, improve their engagement at work, and enhance their work/life balance. Read more on Microsoft’s people analytics journey in my interview with Dawn Klinghoffer, who leads the HR Business Insights team here and also an in-depth case study on the excellent Valuing your Talent site here.

6. Andrew Marritt – People Analytics: What’s in it for the employee?

When I speak to people analytics leaders, the topic of ethics and trust is never far from the top of the list. Andrew Marritt believes that trust is the most important part of doing great people analytics, and I’m inclined to agree with him. If your employees don’t trust what you will do with their data they won’t give it to you, or won’t provide relevant, truthful data. Not only does it affect the quality of data available, it also makes people analytics initiatives unsustainable. The Virtuous Circle of Data Quality (see Figure 2 below), conceptualised by Andrew, provides a convincing case for placing employee trust at the heart of any people analytics strategy.

Figure 2: The Virtuous circle of data quality (Source: Andrew Marritt | Organization View)

7. SHRM, Mark Huselid, Bill Schiemann, Mark Blankenship, Doug Grant, Dawn Klinghoffer, Alec Levenson, Alexis Fink, Greta Roberts, Jerry Diaz, Mark Rivera & Beth McFarland - Using Workforce Analytics for Competitive Advantage Thought Leaders Retreat Executive SummaryAlec Levenson – I solemnly swear…an HR data and analytics manifesto

One of the best events I attended last year was SHRM’s 18th Thought Leaders Retreat on using workforce analytics for competitive advantage. The event featured some of the leading academics and practitioners in the field and this article captures the many insights that were outlined and discussed over the two days. To pick just four examples: i) Alexis Finkhighlighted that the value of analytics is in discovering how it can make a difference to the organisation, ii) Alec Levenson (see also Alec’s superb HR Analytics manifesto) describing how analysing at the team level, rather than the individual level, can offer bigger returns, iii) Dawn Klinghoffer’s advice that sometimes it’s the quick wins that make leaders come back and ask for more, and; iv) that greater use of analytics requires HR leaders to think hard about ethical factors: what data is used, how it is used, how data is protected, and in what ways use of data and analytics might cross an ethical line. For more on using workforce analytics for competitive advantage also see this white paper published by SHRM two months prior to the retreat.

Figure 3: Intel's People Analytics methodology (Source: Alexis Fink | SHRM)

8. Lorenzo Canlas – The ROI of Talent AnalyticsRebecca White - How Building Out a Talent Analytics Function Saved LinkedIn Recruiting Considerable Time and Money

Published just a day after my H2 2016 collectionAmit Mohindra was right to highlight that this superb article by Lorenzo Canlas, Head of Talent Analytics at LinkedIn, demanded inclusion. Lorenzo describes how his team has refined its mission to helping leaders use talent as a lever to achieve business objectives and how their success is defined as having a measurable impact to business or talent metrics. As Amit also commented the evolution Lorenzo describes from "arming decision-makers" to actively participating in the intervention/solution is game-changing. The financial return (see Figure 4 below) of Lorenzo’s team demonstrates the significant impact that people analytics can have. Lorenzo goes on to cite several examples of the work his team has undertaken such as that impressively outlined in the second article by Rebecca White. This describes how a single project to better forecast and plan for how many recruiters were needed as the organisation scaled at over 40% a year, including where and when they were needed, predicted within 5% the actual numbers hired, saved the company 15% of its recruiting budget in year one and consequently paid for talent analytics for over four years. The Slideshare below, which was presented by Jennifer Shappley and Chris Pham at Talent Connect, also recounts this outstanding project.

Figure 4: The ROI of LinkedIn's Talent Analytics team (Source: Lorenzo Canlas)

9. Jonathan Ferrar – The role of storytelling in workforce analytics; Prasad Setty – The science of storytelling

Storytelling is the last mile problem in analytics. Fail to develop a compelling story for your stakeholder and even great insights and analysis will be for nothing. In this article, Jonathan Ferrar highlights a study by SHRM that reveals this is a skill lacking in many HR analytics efforts. He then recounts an excellent example of powerful storytelling from Mark Berry. Jonathan is co-writing a book - 'The Power of People' (pre-order here) on people analytics, which is due to be published in May 2017 and will feature a whole chapter on storytelling from where Figure 5 below is extracted. Can’t wait. Also on storytelling, the short video thereafter features Prasad Setty, who leads Google’s fabled people analytics team. In it, Prasad distils effective communication into three key points that matter: what you want your audience to know, how you want them to feel, and what you want them to do. The basis for better storytelling in analytics starts here.

Figure 5: Three Principles of Storytelling (Source: The Power of People by Nigel Guenole, Sheri Feinzig & Jonathan Ferrar)

10. Patrick Coolen – The 10 Golden Rules of HR Analytics (Crowd version)Patrick Coolen & David Green – The HR Analytics Journey at ABN AMRO

The importance of storytelling also features prominently in Patrick Coolen‘s update of his much-loved 10 Golden Rules of HR Analytics. The result is the best version yet as not only has Patrick used crowdsourcing for the update, but has also taken the time to highlight examples of the research he and his team have conducted at ABN AMRO. My favourite rule? That has to be a tie between #2 ‘Only do business relevant research’ and #3 ‘Create actionable insights’. Read more on the people analytics journey at ABN AMRO in my interview with Patrick here.

11. Josh Bersin – People Analytics Market Growth: 10 Things You Need to Know; Madhura Chakrabarti A Look Ahead at People Analytics 2016 / 2017: Enabling Organizational & Financial Health

The world’s premier analyst on all things HR gave his observations on the field of people analytics at the midpoint of 2016. The headline finding is that “our research shows tremendous growth in this market, and a significant shift away from measuring HR toward a real focus on using people data to understand and predict business performance”. Josh then outlines ten elements driving this growth. This is a great analysis of many of the factors I am also seeing in this space. The second article from Madhura Chakrabarti, Bersin’s People Analytics Research Leader, highlights three emerging trends: i) the need for people analytics to add value to the business; ii) analytics as the new normal for HR; and iii) the critical role of technology. Complete and then look out for Bersin’s High-Impact People Analytics study, when it is published in the summer of 2017.

Figure 6: Redefining People Analytics (Source: Bersin by Deloitte)

12. Morten Kamp Andersen – Six must-have competencies in a world-class analytics team; Morten Kamp Andersen, Simon Svegaard and Peter Ankerstjerne – Linking Customer Experience with Service Employee Engagement (Case Study)

Constructing a team with all of the skills required to do analytics is a challenge, not least because these skills are diverse and seldom found in one or two people only. This excellent article (including Figure 7 below) by Morten Kamp Andersen, not only outlines the six key skill areas Morten believes are required but also examines what happens when just one of those skills is missing. The second article is a wonderfully detailed white paper of a project Morten undertook with ISS to investigate whether and to what extent customer profitability is driven by customer experience and employee engagement.

Figure 7 - The six must-have competencies of a world-class people analytics team (Source: Morten Kamp Andersen)

13. Al Adamsen – The 10 Essentials of Generating Workforce Insight

As founder of the Talent Strategy Institute and convenor of the People Analytics & Future of Work Conference, (which, I am honoured to be co-hosting with Al on 2-3 Feb in San Francisco), Al Adamsen is one of the most popular and knowledgeable people in the field of people analytics. Here Al provides ten salient points, which are a great template for the aspiring analytics leader to follow as they build and grow their function.

Figure 8 - The 10 essentials to generating workforce insight (Source: Al Adamsen)

14. Andy Spence – 7 Challenges that People Analytics must overcome

Whilst acknowledging his own excitement about the role people analytics will play in transforming organisations, Andy Spence correctly asserts that despite the hype adoption rates remain frustratingly low. He then describes seven challenges HR needs to overcome, as well as providing some astute advice to help practitioners succeed. Read alongside the accompanying Slideshare below.

15. Erik van Vulpen / Analytics In HR – 5 reasons why HR Analytics projects fail Erik van Vulpen - The Basic Principles of People Analytics

In just a few short months, Analytics in HR has rapidly emerged as the premier blog for those working and interested in the people analytics space. Ticking both the quantity and quality boxes, there is a wealth of excellent proprietary and third party content to choose from. Choosing just one article was difficult, but I’ve plumped for this excellent piece by Erik van Vulpen on five reasons why HR Analytics projects fail. It’s an invaluable guide for anyone working in a people analytics role, especially those just getting started – as is the recent book (in which a version of the article also appears) (The basic principles of People Analytics) Erik and Nando Steenhuis have published. I was so impressed that I happily agreed to write the Foreword.

16. Max Blumberg – Avoiding People Analytics Project Failure

Failure, or more pertinently how to avoid it, is also the subject of this fabulous article by Max Blumberg, one of the leading consultants and influencers in the field. The article is designed to help budding aspirants harness people analytics, and avoid project failure, by presenting a systematic, cost-effective methodology for creating robust data sets that correlate. It’s an eminently readable resource full of great advice and tips to avoid the many pitfalls that can befall even the pluckiest of novices. See Max speak at People Analytics World in London on 25-26 April.

17. Evan Sinar and Rich Wellins - Gaps in Both Will and Skill Explain HR’s Struggles with Analytics

The glacial pace of progress in people analytics is perhaps not surprising since HR is trying to remake itself in an entirely new image, in an environment where supply of new analytical talent—and budget to hire them—is extremely limited. This article by Evan Sinar (also a must-follow on Twitter) and Rich Wellins describes the skills and traits HR needs, how well (or not) the function is prepared (see Figure 9 below, which had over 30,000 views when I shared it on LinkedIn before Christmas!) and the relationships in the business that can best help propel HR forward.

Figure 9: What HR needs to thrive with Analytics (Source: DDI)

18. Madhura Chakrabarti / RJ Milnor - Scaling People Analytics Globally: Chevron Takes a Multipronged Approach to Build Organization-wide Analytics Capabilities – Part 1 and Part 2

One of the more impressive stories I’ve heard on building organisational capability in people analytics comes from RJ Milnor and his team at Chevron. This detailed Bersin by Deloitte Case Study* comes in two parts. Part 1 describes how Chevron tackled its challenge to scale, unify and grow analytics capabilities across the organisation, making it an essential skill for all HR professionals and ultimately turn people analytics into a competitive advantage. The key focus was the business rather than HR and steps to achieve this included i) implementing a vision and mission statement to help create an identity, ii) consistently reviewing the metrics tracked for business relevance, and iii) creating a prioritisation mechanism for all analytics projects (see Figure 10 below). Building organisational capability centred on two main strategies: i) launching a Community of Practice, which now has 300 members spread across 22 business units and 18 countries, and; ii) introducing a three-stage in-house analytics curriculum that serves to create a structured learning and development program in analytics. Part 2 of the Case Study describes two additional areas of Chevron’s analytics journey: how it built a centre of excellence to optimise its organisational structure and why it believes in leveraging analytics talent across functions. This multi-pronged approach has helped create a vast and virtual people analytics team and effectively changed the way HR and the business thinks. With this firm foundation in place, Chevron is well-positioned to derive the competitive advantage it seeks from its investment in people analytics. For more people analytics case studies, see hereherehere and here

Figure 10: Chevron's Grid to assess prioritisation of people analytics project (Source: Chevron / Bersin by Deloitte)   

19. Bart Baesens, Sophie De Winne, and Luc Sels - Is Your Company Ready for HR Analytics?The Atlantic | Kaveh Waddell - The Algorithms That Tell Bosses How Employees Are Feeling

Whilst HR is “the new kid on the block” in the business when it comes to analytics this may not be such an obstacle providing the function is prepared to leverage the experiences from elsewhere in the organisation. In the first article above from the MIT Sloan Management Review, the authors describe four lessons from customer analytics than can easily be applied to people analytics. The second article looks specifically at sentiment analysis, which has long been used by organisations to better understand its customers, and is now increasingly being used by forward-thinking organisations to get invaluable insights on their employees. Two examples from Twitter and IBM are highlighted. In the latter, the article describes how IBM used an internally developed sentiment-analysis tool called Social Pulse to engage its employees in a revamp of its performance-review system.

20. Nigel Guenole & Sheri Feinzig – Decoding Workforce Analytics

If people analytics is to become a core component of the future HR then it is important that everyone working within the function has a reasonable level of analytical understanding and curiosity. This excellent white paper by Nigel Guenole and Sheri Feinzig, adapted from ‘The Power of People’ book (pre-order here) they have written together with Jonathan Ferrar, simplifies the potentially complex subject of research designs and different analytical methods. Confidence (or more to the point, the lack of it) is one of the inhibitors holding many HR professional back from embracing analytics – resources like this white paper are exactly what is needed to accelerate progress. 

21. Olly Britnell – It’s time for HR to be bold with analytics

As Olly Britnell, Head of Global Workforce Analytics at Experian, testifies in this article, many organisations are still swimming in the slow lane when it comes to workforce analytics. As he goes on to state, it doesn’t have to be a struggle, and this is less likely to be the case if organisations and nascent analytics leaders follow the excellent advice in this article. Effective stakeholder management, building a balanced team and prioritising education and awareness are just three of the tips provided.

22. New Talent Management Network (Marc Effron, Zac Upchurch, Joyce Petrella) - Still Under Construction: The State of HR Analytics 2016

Whilst this white paper provides a stark analysis on the current state of people analytics it does provide HR with some helpful home truths, which if the function doesn’t address may lead to many organisations situating people analytics outside HR. The three primary areas of deficiency highlighted by the study are i) most organisations are still only doing basic analyses (see Figure 11 below), ii) poor data quality, and, therefore perhaps not unsurprisingly; iii) a lack of confidence by the business in these fledgling people analytics functions. Indeed, more companies said their people analytics team hinders their analytics work than helps it. The silver lining is that these challenges can be tackled and the report goes on to elucidate some of the practical steps that organisations can take to do just that.                                         

Figure 11 - The type of people analytics projects being undertaken today (Source: New Talent Management Network)

23. Manoj Kumar - 5 Reasons Why Your HR Analytics CoE is Not Delivering Expected ROI

Many organisations decide to build a Centre of Excellence (CoE) as part of its attempt to develop people analytics capability. In this piece, Manoj Kumar, who led HSBC’s HR Analytics CoE for five years, outlines five reasons why a CoE may not deliver ROI within expected timelines whilst also suggesting fixes to each of these challenges. I can also highly recommend Manoj’s Talking HR Analytics blog as an excellent resource for those working or interested in the field.

Figure 12: A HR Analytics CoE requires that change is driven by all the stakeholders (Manoj Kumar)

24. Tracey Smith - 13 People Analytics Ideas to get you Started

Being a mathematician, prolific writer and consultant Tracey Smith tables 13 (it’s a prime!) ideas for the budding people analytics aspirant to get started. Together, these cover the whole gamut of people operations from recruiting through to engagement, performance and retention – all with the emphasis on providing business value. There is plenty to inspire here.

25. Greta Roberts – The beginner’s guide to Predictive Workforce Analytics

As founder and CEO of Talent Analytics, Greta Roberts has been helping organisations do analytics with their people data for 15 years. Therefore, it is no surprise that she offers some great advice in this article on how to implement predictive workforce analytics and the common pitfalls to avoid. I particularly like Greta’s advice on avoiding the “Wikipedia approach” of starting with the dataset rather than the business question – a typical problem I encounter with organisations trying to get started in this space.

26. Saskia Menke - How do you transform HRBPs into “consumers of analytics”?

How do you engage HRBPs and make them “consumers of analytics”? This was the weighty challenge set for the first Human Capital Analytics Group Hackathon held by Copenhagen Business School under the auspices of Professor Dana Minbaeva. The solutions are nicely summarised in this article by Saskia Menke. It is certainly an important challenge for organisations if they are to scale analytics and create a sustainable capability across HR, so the findings make for interesting reading.

27. Jacob Morgan & Ben Waber - People Analytics: The promise, the perils and the possibilities

Jacob Morgan’s Future of Work podcast is always worth a listen and this is certainly the case when it comes to this episode featuring Ben Waber, CEO of Humanyze, a social sensing and analytics platform that uses sensors in employee ID badges to drive team effectiveness and engagement. Waber offers some fascinating observations on the people analytics space, not least his observations to i) start small, but do something that makes you uncomfortable and outside of your comfort zone, ii) if you don’t start people analytics in the next two years it will be hard to catch up with those that have, and iii) on average people analytics increases top line performance by 10-15%.

28. Sidhartha Shishoo – Decoding HR Analytics

Another practitioner article comes from Sidhartha Shishoo of Genpact on the excellent People Matters site. The article describes some of the challenges Genpact faced when embarking on its people analytics journey including i) separating analytics from reporting, ii) data quality, iii) building capability and iv) employee privacy. It’s an outstanding article and one that emphasises the need for boldness: in thinking, in strategy and in application when it comes to people analytics.

29. Sam Hill - What teaching People Analytics has taught me about teaching People Analytics

Sam Hill trains HR practitioners through his ‘Practical People Analytics’ course (and very good it is too, by all accounts). This article describes some of the lessons this experience has taught him such as the need to i) differentiate between reporting and analytics, ii) embrace rather than eschew traditional HR intuition and iii) collaborate and share. Read the article for further insights and also see the equally good Part 2 and Part 3 of Sam’s series.

30. Steffen Maier - How Google Uses People Analytics to Create a Great WorkplaceCharles Duhigg | New York Times - What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect TeamDarren Kaplan - Google Game Changer is changing HIS Game

Google is the poster organisation for people analytics and there have been countless articles written about their phenomenal success in this space. These two rank amongst the best. First, Steffen Meier describes Google’s data-driven approach and use of employee feedback to optimise its people processes and culture. He also summarises Project Oxygen (on leadership) and Project Aristotle (on team effectiveness). The New York Times article provides a fascinating and detailed description of Aristotle, which is an essential read, and finally the third article features Darren Kaplan’s tribute to Google’s former HR head Laszlo Bock. As Kaplan rightly asserts, Bock is one of (if not ‘the’) most influential figures in people analytics and data driven HR and all of us in the space have a lot to be grateful to him for.

Figure 13: The five key factors of team effectiveness at Google (Source: re:Work, Project Aristotle)

…and not forgetting David Green

Hey, it’s my blog so hopefully you can forgive the mild self-promotion, but here are three of the blogs I published in 2016 that seemed to get a positive reaction:

  • Read my Demystifying People Analytics series on the HRN Blog: Part 1 (where the People Analytics team should sit in the business), Part 2 (skills and capabilities) and Part 3 (the power of storytelling)
  • Read and listen to my interviews with people analytics leaders at IBMMicrosoftShellABN AMRO and Cisco
  • Finally, have a look at my 2017 predictions for HR, which you won’t be surprised to learn includes a number of predictions with an analytics theme.

Top 40 HR & People Analytics articles of 2017

I believe 2017 was a breakthrough year for people analytics. The last 12 months has seen the discipline move from the periphery towards the centre of the HR function.  

This doesn’t mean that people analytics has yet crossed the chasm of widespread adoption. The champagne remains on ice. Nevertheless, the acknowledgement that people analytics is a core component of a digital HR strategy is becoming more widely acknowledged.

Consequently interest levels in analytics continue to soar. The number of conferences on the subject has tripled in the last 18 months. Adoption levels are rising too - albeit at a more sedate trajectory. The penny seems to have dropped with executives too with Josh Bersin recently writing that “CEOs and CHROs now understand that people analytics is a vital part of running a high performing company.”

For the last four years I have collated and published a compendium of the ‘best’ articles of the preceding 12 months – see 20142015 and 2016, and following are my choices for the best 40 articles of 2017.

With a couple of notable exceptions, all of the articles listed are freely available to read. Most of my choices featured in my bi-monthly round-ups, but my human fallibility means that I missed a few gems. I hope I have redressed that here.

Thank you to all the authors below. Collectively, you are helping push the discipline forward through inspiring the growing number of people interested in people analytics and data-driven HR. I’d also like to thank the likes of Dave Millner, Caroline Brant, Richard Rosenow, Carla Gentry, Hung Lee, Nick Holley, Manoj Kumar, Andrée Laforge, Arun Chidambaram, Michael Carty, Amit Mohindra, Priya Bagga, Geetanjali Gamel and numerous others for regularly sharing and promoting my articles. Your support means a lot.

Without further ado and in no particular order, here are my 40 choices for 2017: 

1. NIGEL GUENOLE, JONATHAN FERRAR & SHERI FEINZIG - The Power of People: Learn How Successful Organisations Use Workforce Analytics To Improve Business Performance

If you already work or are interested in the people analytics field, you must read this book. If you are a HR leader wishing to increase the impact of your function, you must read this book. If you are a business leader who expects more from HR, you must read this book. Nigel GuenoleJonathan Ferrar and Sheri Feinzig have written what has quickly become regarded as the definitive book to date on people analytics. The Power of People is in part informed through interviews the authors conducted with a veritable who’s who of the people analytics field encompassing practitioners, academics, analysts, HR and business executives and consultants. The results speak for themselves. To find out more check out Jonathan’s preview articles and then go and buy the book. As a taster, the Eight-Step Model for Purposeful Analytics is provided as Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: The Eight-Step Model for Purposeful Analytics (Source: The Power of People: Nigel Guenole, Jonathan Ferrar and Sheri Feinzig (Pearson FT Press, 2017) 

2. JOSH BERSIN – People Analytics Finally Grows Up | MADHURA CHAKRABARTI - High-Impact People Analytics Study: The 2017 Maturity Model

Josh Bersin is widely acknowledged as the world’s premier analyst on HR and he has been researching and writing about people analytics for longer than most. It is perhaps significant therefore that in this article, summarising some of the key findings of Bersin’s High-Impact People Analytics Study, Josh shares his belief that “people analytics has grown up” and is now an established function in the business. Now on to the report itself: if you are even remotely interested in people analytics and you are not a Bersin member, you simply must beg, steal or borrow a copy of Madhura Chakrabarti’s fabulous report. Its 71 pages are packed full of insights, case studies and advice to improve the impact of your people analytics function. Highlights include the seven top findings for driving high-impact people analytics (see Figure 2) and also a dramatic update and overhaul of Bersin’s infamous people analytics maturity model (see Figure 3). 

Figure 2: Top findings from High-Impact people analytics research (Source: Bersin by Deloitte)

Figure 3: People Analytics Maturity Model (Source: Bersin by Deloitte)

3. AL ADAMSEN - People Analytics 3.0 | AL ADAMSEN & DAVID GREEN - People Analytics 3.0: The Podcast

Al Adamsen is one of the pioneers in the people analytics space having set up the Employee Insights function at Gap all the way back in 2004. He has worked tirelessly to raise the level of the discipline ever since so is well placed to describe how people analytics has evolved. As Figure 4 and Figure 5 below depict, and as Al describes, people analytics is moving into its third cycle where value is increasingly being delivered to those that create the data in the first place – employees. I like that Al is at pains to stress that the evolution he outlines is not a progression or maturity model – leading people analytics teams are deploying all three cycles via an ecosystem of data, tools, people, and partners. For more on Al’s thinking around 3.0, have a listen to my discussion with Al on the PAFOW podcast. Alternatively, there are still a few tickets to come and see Al speak at the People Analytics & Future of Work conference he convenes in San Francisco. This year’s conference takes place on 1-2 February.

Figure 4: The evolution of people analytics (Source: Al Adamsen)

Figure 5: Embrace the “And”: People Analytics 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 within the Analytics Maturity Progression (Source: Al Adamsen)

4. MICHAEL ARENA, ROB CROSS, JONATHAN SIMS, and MARY UHL-BIEN - How to Catalyze Innovation in Your Organization

One of the most fascinating uses (and fastest growing areas) of people analytics is how it is being used in combination with Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) to uncover insights in areas such as team effectiveness, collaboration and organisational design. A captivating example is provided in the MIT Sloan Management Review, which provides details of a ten-year study led by Rob Cross (aka Mr ONA) combining academic research and business to answer the question: “How do we best connect employees in ways that more systematically unleash emergent innovation?” The findings are illuminating and in brief include highlighting the importance of Adaptive Space (see Figure 6). Other highlights include a compelling case study of the work Michael Arena has led at GM, as well as a description of the three key roles within a network (Brokers, Central Connectors and Energisers). A terrific read with plenty to learn and be inspired by. More articles on ONA follow later.

Figure 6: Adaptive Space - the network and organisational context that allows people, ideas, information, and resources to flow across the organisation and spur successful emergent innovation - Source: MIT Sloan Management Review

5. MAX BLUMBERG & MARK LAWRENCE – A call to arms for the future of People Analytics

In many respects the practice of people analytics is going in the right direction – interest levels have soared, adoption is rising and significant sums are being invested in the space by large consultancies, tech giants and start-ups alike. However, as Max Blumberg and Mark Lawrence so passionately argue, continued growth of people analytics is under threat. They cite a potent mix of ill-conceived products, consultants that promise the earth but fail to deliver, uneducated opportunists chasing filthy lucre and naïve consumers who are too easily satisfied by a funky dashboard. Max and Mark’s call for a professional body to outline competencies, define training, provide certification and perhaps most importantly a code of ethics is long overdue. Is anyone willing to take up the challenge in 2018?

People Analytics must become a profession, with a professional body that oversees its direction, ethics, competencies and standards 


Similar to the Bersin by Deloitte research, this is a seminal study by Gillian Pillans and Alec Levenson for the Corporate Research Forum on the state of workforce/people analytics. Its 68 pages are jam-packed with a critique on the discipline (still too much ‘HR for HR’s sake’) as well as methodologies for connecting analytics with business strategy and guidance on building organisational capability. Whilst the CRF report correctly concludes that the discipline still has a long way to go, there is also plenty to learn from and be inspired by. Several case studies are provided that really bring the power of analytics alive. There are contributions from many of the people analytics cognoscenti including Ian BailieEsther BongenaarOlly BritnellNicky ClementBelinda DeeryAlexis FinkNigel GuenoleTim HaynesJulian HolmesScott KellyBrydie LearIain McKendrickDave MillnerHaig Nalbantian and Ian O’Keefe. I highly recommend you download the entire report via the excellent OrgVue.

Figure 7: Selected findings from the Corporate Research Forum's Strategic Workforce Analytics report

7. PATRICK COOLEN - The perfect match: HR analytics and strategy

The intrinsic link between people analytics and strategy and the ability this provides to focus on the right projects is the central theme of Patrick Coolen’s terrific article. Patrick describes the four-year evolution of the people analytics function he leads at ABN AMRO. These cover evolutions in the tools and techniques used, the analytical service offered, the capabilities of the team, where the team sits within the bank (now as part of HR Strategy and Change) and how analytics has become a core component of HR’s DNA. Figure 8 below ably demonstrates how people analytics is a core underpin in building a HR strategy that helps the business reach its goals. As ever with Patrick’s articles there is plenty to learn from and to be inspired by.

To understand strategy, to operationalise strategy or to evaluate strategy you need analytics 

Figure 8: People Analytics as a core underpin of business and HR strategy (Source: Patrick Coolen)

8. DAVID GREEN – What constitutes best practice in People Analytics?

I’m fortunate to spend most of my time speaking to and working with people analytics leaders around the world. This has helped me identify many of the common characteristics organisations that have been successful with people analytics share. These are illustrated below in Figure 9 and described in the article. A version of this article was included in the special issue on Human Capital Analytics of the Journal of Organizational Effectiveness People and Performance (see #20), which was a proud moment for me last year.

Figure 9: The characteristics of organisations with successful people analytics capability (Source: David Green)

9. DAVE ULRICH - Analytics on HR Analytics: What Really Works

In this article, Dave Ulrich outlines the findings of research he and the RBL Instituteconducted to assess the impact of competence in HR Analytics on three outcomes: i) personal effectiveness, ii) stakeholder value, and iii) business performance. The results weren’t what we in the people analytics field would have hoped for, with the impact on business performance being fairly modest. Ulrich also notes his surprise at the findings, but offers suggestions on how to transform analytics into a sustainable and value-added HR practice. First, he confirms that analytics do matter and how used effectively can only improve decision-making. Then he recommends the need to i) focus analytics on the right business issues, ii) manage expectations by linking analytics projects to business outcomes, and iii) to build analytics on previous research. It will be fascinating to watch how business impact rises as people analytics continues to mature and becomes accepted as a core component of HR.

Sustainability comes when HR is not about HR but about stakeholder and business impact 

10. FRANK BAFARO, DIANA ELLSWORTH & NEEL GANDHI - The CEO’s guide to competing through HR

This terrific McKinsey Quarterly article implores HR to step out of its traditional silo mentality and embrace a new mindset of explicitly using talent to drive value rather than just responding passively to the routine needs of businesses. The authors set out a four-pronged strategy (see Figure 10) that places people analytics and data driven HR front and centre. The article argues that “companies that take these steps will move toward a next generation of HR that’s data driven, not experience driven; systematic, not ad hoc; and consistent, not hit and miss.” This is a must-read for all CHROs and augers well for the continued growth and influence of analytics in HR.

Figure 10: The CEO agenda for the 'New HR' (Source: McKinsey)

11. JONATHAN FERRAR - Ethics and Privacy in Workforce Analytics

In this article, Jonathan Ferrar tackles arguably the most important part of people analytics and certainly one of the biggest challenges facing practitioners – ethics and privacy. The central part of the article is the revelation from a study by Insight222 that 81% of people analytics projects (see Figure 11) are jeopardised by ethics and privacy concerns. Jonathan’s advice includes the need for people analytics leaders to work closely with their Chief Privacy Officer, publish a code of conduct, establish a governance council and above all put employee trust and transparency at the centre of what you do.

Figure 11: 81% of people analytics projects are jeopardised by ethics and privacy concerns (Source: Jonathan Ferrar / Insight222)

12. LAURENCE COLLINS, DAVID R. FINEMAN & AKIO TSUCHIDA(with contributors including MADHURA CHAKRABARTI & LUK SMEYERS) - People Analytics: Recalculating the route

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends is always a captivating read and the 2017 edition was no exception. People Analytics gets a whole chapter. The headline finding being that people analytics is “no longer about finding interesting information and flagging it for managers” but is now being utilised to “understand every part of a business operation” with analytical tools “being embedded into day-to-day decision making”. A detailed example from Chevron is provided, as are eight factors the authors believe are fundamental to creating a people analytics program. There are a number of invaluable insights in the report not least Figure 12 below depicting the old and new rules of people analytics. It certainly whets the appetite for the 2018 report, which is due to be published in Q1.

Figure 12: People Analytics - Old rules vs. New rules (Source: Deloitte University Press)

13. ANDREW SPENCE – The Quantified Workplace: Technology Vs. Trust?

This article by Andrew Spence is one that I regularly go back to read as it is innovative, insightful and infused throughout with Andy’s wit and dry sense of humour. It starts by telling the story of Jo and her automated coaching partner, Sirius and their trip to work in the office of the future. The examples Andy gives on the insights that Sirius offers Jo throw up plenty of questions around privacy, prediction and data sets. As Andy goes on to detail, from a technological perspective most of what he describes is already possible. However, and this is the crux, the low levels of trust most employees have in their organisations means that many of us believe that quantifying the workplace is still in the realms of science fiction. Andy’s view that “the winners will not be those who enable the technology, but those who construct a new contract with employees, based on trust” seems entirely plausible. An original, thought provoking and entertaining read.

If we don’t have trust or empowered employees, all we will have is Digital Taylorism – a modern version of ‘scientific management’ that threatens to dehumanise the workplace 

14. ADAM GRANT & REB REBELE – Beat Generosity Burnout

This HBR article presents the findings of a fascinating four-year study by Adam Grant and Reb Rebele and is a superb example of the extent of the impact ambitious people analytics projects can have on both individuals and organisations. The study examines perhaps the most important people in any organisation – the ‘givers’, how uncontrolled their generosity puts them at risk of burnout and the steps they can adopt so that they don’t wear themselves out. The advice offered (see also Figure 13 below) broadly falls into three areas: i) be more proactive and less reactive about how you help, ii) focus on lower cost and higher impact ways of helping, and iii) be more selective rather than helping everyone with everything. For more on this subject, read Adam and Reb’s follow-up article – More on Being Generous Without Being a Doormat and watch this video.

Figure 13: Where are you on the generosity spectrum and 7 habits of highly productive giving - Adam Grant and Reb Rebele

15. NIGEL GUENOLE & SHERI FEINZIG – 5 Truths about Workforce Analytics | NIGEL GUENOLE, SHERI FEINZIG, DAVID GREEN & HAIYAN ZHANG – HR analytics readiness: How does Europe compare to the rest of the world?

In the first article, Nigel Guenole and Sheri Feinzig adopt a mildly provocative stance and offer five generalisable ‘truths’ about workforce analytics. Their thinking was partly informed by the second article, which summarises the findings of research conducted by IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute and UNLEASH into HR analytics readiness across the world. The headline finding of the research was that whilst demand from the business for workforce data and analytics is high and CHROs are increasingly supportive of this initiative, HR functions – particularly in Europe – are lagging behind. I presented highlights of the research at HR Tech World in Amsterdam in October 2017 – the deck is below.

16. TRACEY SMITH - 86% of Executives Can’t Find Value in Analytics - Why not?

One of the most prolific and best writers on people analytics is Tracey Smith. Of the many excellent articles Tracey published in 2017, I have opted for this one. The article analyses a McKinsey study, which found that 86% of executives are still not getting value from analytics. Tracey focuses on the importance of the role of the analytics leader, their position within the organisation (the higher, the better), the need for them to ‘get out into the business’, and the importance of prioritisation and focus. An essential read for any current or aspiring people analytics leader.

Success in analytics is about focus and prioritisation 

17. MARK BERRY - Getting To Evidence Based HR Part 1 and Part 2

The eminently quotable Mark Berry has trod the path I predict many heads of people analytics will follow – all the way to the CHRO role as the practice of HR finally becomes more evidence based. This two-part article in John Sumser’s excellent HR Examinerprovides the perfect roadmap for success. Part 1 outlines 10 of the key steps (see Figure 14below) Mark followed, whilst Part 2 looks at each of these steps in more detail. Mark’s passion, knowledge and humour shines throughout what is both a hugely enjoyable and insightful read.

Figure 14: 10 steps to evidence based HR (Source: Mark Berry, HR Examiner)

18. GREG NEWMAN – Why informal networks are set to revolutionise HR and People Analytics

It is becoming increasingly acknowledged that we need to rethink organisational design around how work actually gets done in the 21st century. This is where Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) comes in. The opportunities this offers HR leaders and people analysts is perfectly described by Greg Newman of TrustSphere in this excellent article. Learn how ONA has evolved from a paper based process into a real time continuous flow of data that has transformed the ability of companies to map their informal networks and understand how work really gets done. Greg provides examples of how ONA/SNA can help identify influential employees, support succession planning, identify good/bad leadership behaviours (see Figure 15) and the effectiveness (or otherwise) of collaboration.

Figure 15: Quantified evidence of leaderships behaviours (Source: Greg Newman)

19. MORTEN KAMP ANDERSEN - Why evidence-based HR is critical to success and how to get started

I always enjoy Morten Kamp Andersen’s insightful articles on evidence-based HR. His most recent effort is one of his best. There are two aspects of the article I’d like to highlight. First, as Morten says, “the purpose of evidence-based HR is not to find ‘the Right Answer’ – we are dealing with people after all. The purpose is to use all available evidence (research, internal data, analysis, experience, interviews etc.) to find the solution with the highest probability of adding the most value to your organisation.” This is our best hope of mitigating the bias and prejudice inherent to varying degrees in all of us. Morten then goes on to describe an approach (see Figure 16), which emphasises the importance of starting with the business challenge rather than getting lost in the data.

Figure 16: The HR Value Chain (Source: Morten Kamp Andersen)

20. DANA MINBAEVA Human Capital Analytics: Why Aren’t We There? | THOMAS RAMUSSEN & JORRIT VAN DEN TOGT – Toward Evidence Based HR | JOHN BOUDREAU & WAYNE CASCIO, MORTEN KAMP ANDERSEN, ALEC LEVENSON & ALEXIS FINK, SJOERD VAN DEN HEUVEL & TANYA BONDAROUKDAVID GREENJournal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance – Special Issue on Human Capital Analytics (Link to all Articles)

As Dana Minbaeva, Founder of the Human Capital Analytics Group at Copenhagen Business School, muses in the first article despite overwhelming consensus that analytics and evidence based decision-making will be a mandatory part of the future, HR still isn’t quite there when it comes to widespread adoption. The ‘Why Aren’t We There Yet?’ question inspired Dana to edit a Special Issue of the Journal of Organizational Effectiveness, People and Performance on Human Capital Analytics. The special issue features a host of some of the leading thinkers in the field. Dana provides a preview of each contribution in her article. The second article by Thomas Rasmussen and Jorrit van der Togt, which is free to download, describes the HR analytics journey at Shell. I am grateful that Dana asked me to contribute my ‘The Best Practices to Excel at People Analytics’ article (see #8) – it is humbling to be in such esteemed company.

In order to make analytics actionable, we need to get both researchers and practitioners on the dance floor, where they can tango together 
Dana Minbaeva 


Looking for a conference on or featuring people analytics in 2018? Click on the link below to explore over 75 conferences taking place all over the world from Jan-Dec 2018.


21. CARLA ARELLANO, ALEXANDER DiLEONARDO, and IGNACIO FELIX - Using people analytics to drive business performance: A case study

One way to help the continued growth of people analytics is the publication of case studies so that companies can be inspired and learn from the successes others have had and apply these to their own organisations. What makes this example of a fast food restaurant chain so instructive is i) it demonstrates the power of people analytics on frontline staff, ii) the insights derived have led to dramatic improvements in customer satisfaction, service performance, and overall business results, and iii) the analysis busted a number of myths (see Figure 17) that had pre-existed within the organisation. Finally, the case study is in-depth, well-written and also demonstrates that one way of accelerating progress in people analytics is to partner with an external party (in this case McKinsey).

Figure 17: CASE STUDY - Employee features correlating to the desired outcomes (Source: McKinsey)

22. VOLKER JACOBS – How to reverse the HR Transformation Death Spiral

Less than 20% of HR transformation programs produce the desired results. Why so, asks Volker Jacobs in this excellent article? Volker then outlines the three waves of HR transformation, describing why the first two that focused on i) economies of scale, and ii) technology have largely failed. The third wave is employee-focused transformation, and this represents the opportunity for HR to reverse the death spiral. Volker describes the three elements that make up the third wave (see Figure 18), and introduces some interesting concepts around data ownership: i) that employees will own and manage their own master data, and ii) that companies will no longer own employee data but will have permission to use it. A fascinating idea, just like a number of others Volker outlines in the article. A must read for any organisation that is embarking or thinking of embarking on a HR transformation program.

Figure 18: Three waves of HR Transformation (left) and Three elements of Employee Focused Transformation (Right) - (Source: Volker Jacobs, TI People)

23. JONATHAN FERRAR How to be a successful people analytics leader

In this article on HR ZoneJonathan Ferrar draws on research from The Power of People to outline the key ingredients required to be a successful people analytics leader. The first is that the role should report to the CHRO not least as it sends a clear message that “the CHRO is putting analytical decision making at the heart of the HR function.” Jonathan then describes how business acumen (comprising financial literacy, political astuteness and awareness of both the internal organisation and the external marketplace) is the most important skill for people analytics leader to have. The organisations that are furthest forward with people analytics have great leaders and those that aspire to emulate these companies would do well to heed the advice Jonathan offers here.

Forward-thinking CHROs will want to have the workforce analytics leader report to them and be accountable directly to them 

24. DAWN KLINGHOFFER - How to turn meatloaf into cupcakes

One successful people analytics leader who possesses all of the attributes described by Jonathan is Dawn Klinghoffer, who leads the people analytics team at Microsoft. In this article, Dawn cleverly combines her twin passions of cooking and analytics to share some of the lessons she has learned as a people analytics leader. These include: the need to understand what is important for your business leaders, getting to the ‘why’ rather than stopping at the ‘what’ and the importance of knowing your audience when it comes to presenting insights in a way that will resonate. A perfect recipe! If you want to read more about the people analytics journey at Microsoft, please read my interview with Dawn.   

It took me a while to realise it, but the more I worked with my HR business partners and HR program owners, the more they sought me out to help them and the more value they saw in the results 

25. DAVID CREELMAN – How to Prepare HR Business Partners for Analytics

As Dawn explains in the quote above, if analytics is to become part of the DNA of HR then it simply has to embraced by HR Business Partners (HRBPs). As David Creelmanconvincingly lays out in this excellent guest post on Analytics in HR, the long-term success of your people analytics program depends on it. The challenge is that many HRBPs are notoriously busy and not natural bedfellows for analytics. Creelman offers some invaluable advice on how to enthuse, equip and enable HRBPs and move them to the centre of your analytics equation.

The success of your people analytics program depends on your HR business partners 

26. THOMAS RASMUSSEN - Engagement Drives Performance: Evidence from People Analytics

Does engagement really drive performance? Or is it the other way round? This is a question Thomas Rasmussen argues can be answered by people analytics. Thomas, who has led people analytics teams at Maersk Drilling, Shell and now National Australia Bank, is not one for the hyperbolic. So when he presents evidence that engagement really does drive both business and individual performance over time (2-3 years), then we should all pay attention. Indeed, Thomas writes that the potential uplift in Sales or Customer Satisfaction (NPS) is typically in the 15-25% range, which as he says is a massive opportunity.

Building employee engagement is a bit like buying shares: you are investing in the future, and both employers, customers, shareholders and employees can collectively reap the dividends ongoing 

27. STEPHEN TURBAN, LAURA FREEMAN & BEN WABER - A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work

Earlier articles by Michael Arena & Rob Cross et al and Greg Newman provide examples of how ONA coupled with people analytics is helping firms to gain insights into what drives productivity, innovation and collaboration. Two more examples follow here. First, Ben Waber et al document an experiment that investigated whether gender differences in behaviour drive gender differences in outcomes at one multinational organisation. The results, which combined anonymised data from emails and Humanyze sociometric badges, indicated that bias rather than differences in behaviour explained the differences in male and female promotion rates. These are not only powerful findings that demonstrate the value of people analytics, but they also highlight the fundamental challenge facing most organisations of the need to reduce bias. The second article by Philip Arkcoll describes why when looking at passive data sources for ONA, email on its own can provide an incomplete picture. Philip illustrates this perfectly in Figure 19, which depicts six different network relationships from different tools in one organisation.

Companies need to approach gender inequality as they would any business problem: with hard data 

Figure 19: networks that exist within different tools in a single organisation (Source: Philip Arkcoll)

28. KEITH McNULTY – People Analytics: What’s the big deal?

In the last 12 months Keith McNulty, who leads people analytics and measurement globally for McKinsey, has emerged as one of the best writers on people analytics and deservedly received recognition as a LinkedIn Top Voice for 2017. Check out a helpful summary of all of Keith’s articles from 2017 here. In the article I’ve selected, Keith cites the advances in technology, digital and innovation as the fundamental cause of the increased hype, interest and adoption of people analytics. He then describes the opportunities these advances have enabled when it comes to understanding and analysing people: the enrichment of the digital exhaust, new people data to analyse and new ways to analyse people data. 

We are in the midst of a genuine paradigm shift in how we gather and analyse people data, and it's the technology that has taken us here 

29. TOM HAAK – The Psychology of People Analytics

Inspired by Daniel Kahneman’s monumental ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ and Rolf Dobelli’s ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’, Tom Haak summarises 15 cognitive biases that are relevant to the work and results of people analytics projects. As Tom states “there is a benefit for people analytics professionals to learn more about psychology and important cognitive biases, because no one is exempt from these biases”. Also check out below Tom’s video on this subject as well as Figure 20 for Buster Benson’s Cognitive Bias Sheet, to which Tom refers.

Figure 20: Cognitive Bias Codex (Source: John Manoogian III and Buster Benson)

30. BERNARD MARR - Is HR Data Even More Valuable To A Business Than Its Financial Data?

The premise of this excellent article by Bernard Marr is that, in the information age, people data is rapidly becoming the most valuable source of data in the business. Marr cites the spike in companies investing in technology that can measure and analyse the behaviour and performance of their employees. One example is Deloitte with their ConnectMe HR analytics platform, which is focused firmly on the needs of employees. Marr’s discussion with Deloitte principal Michael Gretczko about the platform is revealing, and we can expect to a see a flood of companies adopting similar platforms that are “tailored specifically for employees”, which “bring personalised content and experiences based on what employees need”. I concur with Marr’s quote below and believe that it distils the central theme for people analytics moving forward perfectly.

A company which understands its employees is without a doubt better placed to keep them motivated, happy and productive. But a great deal of care will have to be taken to gain this understanding in a manner that is transparent and in-line with people’s expectations of privacy 

31. JOHN BOUDREAU - HR Analysts: Unleash Your Inner Storyteller

In this article for the Visier blogJohn Boudreau urges analytics leaders to use the structure and classical elements of storytelling taught by Aristotle when communicating the insights of their projects to the business. Boudreau then uses the classic story of the Three Little Pigs to walk the reader through how to tell a good HR Analytics story with all the elements required: exposition, rising action(s), climax, falling action and resolution. Insightful and fun at the same time with a nice mention for Mark Berry and Jonathan Ferrar too.

Too often the story is framed with the language and perspective of HR analysts. The most engaging story is not about analysis. It’s about actions and the lessons learned 

32. ANNA OTT – A year with our recruiting chatbot

There has been a lot of talk about the use of chatbots in HR – most of it from vendors, analysts and industry influencers. It is refreshing therefore to read an article from Anna Ottdetailing her experience of the chatbot she implemented to support the recruiting process at hub:raum (the incubator of Deutsche Telekom). The findings and observations that Anna goes on to detail are fascinating, sometimes surprising and a good source of inspiration for other practitioners looking to implement chatbots within their own organisations.

People love extracting information from algorithms  

33. LAURA STEVENS - Why HR Analytics is Critical to Employee Experience Success

One of the emerging topics in people analytics and potentially one of its most important benefits is how it can underpin efforts to understand, improve and personalise the employee experience. This superb article by Laura Stevens of iNostix by Deloitte outlines first why investment in people analytics is a pre-requisite and then describes three ways analytics can boost programs in this area: i) segmentation, ii) targeting and prioritising investment as well as iii) understanding and demonstrating value.

Making a meaningful impact on employee experience & business outcomes requires investing in HR analytics early on in the transformational effort 

34. PRASAD SETTY - Google’s head of People Analytics talks making work better

In this re:Work article and must-watch video, Prasad Setty asserts that research trumps best practice when it comes to making work better for employees. Unfortunately, as Prasad describes, the vast majority of HR programs simply replicate practices from other organisations. Given that each organisation has a different culture and what employees are looking for is also different, is it any surprise that many of these programs fail? Prasad provides examples of the research his people analytics team have conducted (see Figure 21) to help Googlers make better decisions in areas such as onboarding (by proactively seeking feedback), saving for retirement and diet. These examples all follow the principles of behavioural economics in terms of framing different choices, and all draw on the philosophies habitually used in consumer marketing.

Figure 21: Examples of people analytics projects at Google (Source: Prasad Setty, re:Work by Google)

35. DRAKE BENNETT - The Brutal Fight to Mine Your Data and Sell It to Your Boss

The definitive account of the hiQ Labs vs. LinkedIn legal battle, which grabbed attention throughout last year and is set to continue to do so in 2018. As it stands, hiQ may have won the first battle over its right to use public data from LinkedIn (i.e. the data you and me are happy to be public) within its products that help customers predict and subsequently address employee skills gaps and flight risk. However, as this captivating article from Drake Bennettin Bloomberg Businessweek outlines, LinkedIn has filed an appeal and the saga looks set to run and run all the way to the US Supreme Court. Spare a thought for Darren Kaplan, and the hiQ team as this case is disrupting the growth and upwards trajectory of what is one of the most impressive people analytics start-ups. For more on the battle, tune in to a recent edition of the Chad & Cheese Podcast with Mark Weidick, CEO of hiQ.

36. RUPERT MORRISON - Five mindsets HR needs to get right to deliver business impact

I always enjoy spending time with Rupert Morrison and his super smart team at OrgVue. Like me they advocate that people analytics isn’t about providing insights that help HR – instead it should be about improving the organisation. In this terrific article, Rupert offers five mindsets HR should adopt to win hearts and minds within the business. Two suggestions I’d particularly like to highlight are first the need for HR to couple analytics with organisational design to answer the question “how good is my workforce in executing the business strategy?” Morrison’s idea to gamify and crowdsource the data collection and cleaning process is also quite brilliant. A must-read.

Having prediction is desirable, but the real value lies in taking action 

37. DAVID D'SOUZA – People Analytics: Is Restraint a Constraint? | GARETH JONES – Whose Data is it Anyway?

This pair of articles from two of the most thoughtful and acerbic writers in our space tackles two critical questions relating to people analytics and the use by organisations of employee data. First, David D’Souza examines the delicate balancing act that is embracing technology and analytics whilst at the same time being considerate to privacy and data ownership. David deliberately advocates a cautious approach (e.g. “just because it has a mutual benefit - for employee and employer - this still doesn't mean it is right”) and offers some sensible guidance on what could be permissible. In a similar vein, Gareth Jones looks at the thorny issue of data ownership and makes a compelling case that it is owned by the employee and merely shared with the employer. With the new sources of employee data that are increasingly being captured and analysed (e.g. social capital, wearables etc) then Gareth’s call for this data to be shared with employees for their value and benefit is one many of us will agree with.

Without the employee, there is no data. Without the employee, there is no insight 
Gareth Jones 
We want the data (because we want the insight), but we have to balance that against genuine duty of care to our colleagues 
David D’Souza 

38. GRETA ROBERTS - Five Ways to Select a High Value, Predictive HR Project

Greta Roberts has had an amazing start to 2018, with confirmation that her company Talent Analytics has been acquired by Hire Smarter. This is deserved reward for someone who has given so much to the space. Greta is an accomplished writer too and has a refreshing ‘shoot from the hip’ style. This is accurately reflected in this article where Greta pulls no punches in offering guidance on how to select a predictive HR project. Her first piece of advice to first identify a business problem to solve should be carved in stone.

You need to first know what you’re looking for before you embark on a predictive project 

39. MICHAL GRADSHTEIN - The ‘Data-Driven Time Machine’ of People Analytics

This is an excellent read from the Analytics in HR blog by Michal Gradshtein, founder at ONA start up StarLinks, on the role of people analytics in shaping organisational culture and employee experience. Anything that evokes and combines Marty McFly (yes, THAT Marty McFly) and Voltaire, as Michal skilfully does here, is definitely worth a read. Michal likens predictive and prescriptive analytics to a ‘data-driven time machine’ in which we enter the right data and the right questions to predict the future and alter it. This comes with huge responsibilities and also a need for caution just as Doc reminded Marty in Back to the Future of the ripple effect one small intervention could have on the future. Clever, entertaining and hugely insightful – a terrific read.

Questions are a very powerful tool we can leverage to support our role as proactive culture-drivers 

40. EDWARD HOUGHTON - HR risk and opportunity: evolving the language of HR | EDWARD HOUGHTON, LOUISA BACZOR, DR ACHIM KRAUSERT & PROFESSOR CLINT CHADWICK  – Do investors see the potential of people data?

Ed Houghton is one of the unsung heroes driving the people analytics and data-driven HR agenda, which he does under the auspices of the CIPD. In the first article, he sets out why the impact of HR needs to be framed through a risk lens as well as the opportunity lens through which we traditionally view the discipline. Naturally, as Ed goes on to say, this approach needs to be founded on getting measurement right and applying analytics. Ed then nicely links the article to recent research he led for the CIPD together with Warwick Business School and University of Kansas School of Business, which examines the extent that human capital data is used in investment decisions (see video below, which demonstrates the key findings of the research).  

That's all for 2017. I hope you enjoyed the articles. The last word is to thank all of the people in the image below - the writers behind the 40 articles you've just read.

Here's to a prosperous data-driven and employee focussed 2018!