Analytics of the people, by the people, for the people

Yes, it’s a slightly grandiose title: it might make a few people smile; it’ll probably make many more sigh. Some may even consider it Lincolnesque(!), but the People Analytics & Future of Work (PAFOW) conference that took place on 1-2 February in San Francisco definitely deserves such a lavish title.

In my three years first attending and now co-chairing PAFOW, the conference has always stood out from the crowd as being the richest for content, shared learning and participative collaboration amongst delegates. That is down to the environment of trust and curiosity that has been created by Al Adamsen and the PAFOW team. The latest edition of PAFOW was the best yet, and every delegate I spoke to during and after the event concurred with that sentiment.

As ever, Al created a panel of speakers that represented a veritable who’s who of the people analytics space and an agenda that ably demonstrated how the field is both broadening and deepening its reach. Whereas in prior years, the focus of people analytics has very much been on creating business value, PAFOW confirmed that the emphasis is now almost as equally on creating value for the employee (hence the ostentatious title of this article!).

It is an exciting time to work in the people analytics space. Interest levels have never been so high, and with Josh Bersin revealing in his speech that 69% of large organisations now have a people analytics team, growth may finally be set to become exponential. As the perfect storm of technology, rising employee expectations and digitisation converge, so the opportunities (and challenges) facing people analytics teams become more substantial.

69% of large organisations now have a people analytics team 

Figure 1 represents my synopsis of the main opportunities and challenges that were discussed at PAFOW. This is not an exclusive list as many other opportunities and challenges exist in our space, but it does represent a healthy proportion and provides a basis for summarising the key themes that emerged at PAFOW.

Figure 1: The opportunities and challenges for people analytics (Source: David Green, 2018)

Let’s look at each side of the model, starting with the opportunities:



A big takeaway from PAFOW was the scale of ambition many speakers voiced on the magnitude of impact people analytics can or will have on business. Josh Bersin described how people analytics is increasingly being viewed by CEOs as offering their organisations competitive advantage. Similarly, RJ Milnor’s opening keynote set the scene perfectly as he advocated for people analytics moving beyond the traditional uses of methodologies such as employee listening and workforce planning to truly strategic aims that drive business transformation (see Figure 2). Heather Whiteman followed RJ to the podium, and provided a compelling case study of how analytics informed the talent strategy that took GE Digital from 200 to 26,000 employees over a five-year period. Michael Arena’s account of how Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) has helped change business practice and drive innovation at GM was especially compelling. The 4D model he outlined: Discovery, Development, Diffusion and Disruption and the consequent identification of energisers, brokers and connectors in the GM network has helped create disruptive products like Maven and Book by Cadiliac. It is one of the best examples I’ve seen of the huge potential business benefit offered by ONA. This excellent MIT SMR article ‘How to catalyse innovation in your organisation’ provides a detailed account of the GM case study, as will Michael’s forthcoming book Adaptive Space.   

Figure 2: Opportunities for business transformation with people analytics (Source: RJ Milnor)


Josh Bersin presented his new organisation model (see Figure 3) and highlighted that the extent of this shift is driving rapid change in HR technology and widening the focus of people analytics teams. The future of work is here with the majority of organisations almost in a perpetual state of transformation and continually having to reinvent themselves. With the workforce becoming more liquid, the challenge for people analytics teams is to extend its traditional focus on full-time and prospective employees to the wider ecosystem of work. This ‘opportunity’ was a significant part of RJ Milnor’s presentation. Coupled with Strategic Workforce Analytics, RJ described how people analytics can help organisations assess the feasibility of business strategy through scenario planning and probability analysis. Being involved at the heart of business strategy in this way will certainly elevate the impact of people analytics and potentially lead to the function becoming more closely aligned with Corporate Strategy than HR. This is an area I will come back to later in this article. 

Figure 3: Moving to the new organisation model (Sources: Josh Bersin, Bersin by Deloitte - read more in this article)


The aforementioned (and very much welcome) shift in emphasis of people analytics teams to create value for the employee (as well as the business) was much in evidence at PAFOW. Charlotte Nagy’s presentation explained the importance of employee centred design to analytics, which in this case related to the creation of an employee listening program at USAA. There was much to admire about the approach Charlotte outlined, not least how employee experience has been elevated to the same level as member experience, how the program evolved through pilots and test and learn methodology, how trust is prioritised and through the value provided to leaders, managers and employees. After two years, 70% of USAA’s employees have opted in, which is testament to the employee centred approach that lies at the heart of the program. Ultimately, I believe that the focus and desire of people analytics teams to design and enhance the employee experience will drive the growth of the discipline, increase employee trust and buy-in and lead to the development of data-driven cultures.   

PAFOW Speakers (From L to R): Al Adamsen, Geetanjali Gamel (Merck) and Michael Arena (GM)


In his opening address, Al Adamsen presented his People Analytics 3.0 model, which describes how people analytics teams are increasingly taking on the challenge of developing analytically based products for their organisations. These products cover tools to drive career development, employee listening, team productivity, wellbeing and workforce planning. This was the centrepiece of Jeremy Welland’s terrific presentation on the work of his team at PayPal, which he has given the moniker ‘Portraits of Innovation’ (see Figure 4). The five examples provided are nicely split between providing benefit to employees (e.g. insights to navigate their careers) and the business (e.g. retaining key talent and driving improved productivity). Gianpaolo Barozzi demonstrated an ONA-type tool that has been created by Cisco to improve team productivity and collaboration as well as helping employees with insights to develop their networks. Expect to see more people analytics teams broadening the scope of their work to product development in the coming years.

Figure 4: Portraits of Innovation from PayPal's People Analytics team (Source: Jeremy Welland)


Reporting may be a necessity but it can also prove to be a curse for people analytics team and ultimately stymie their progress. Whilst some speakers (e.g. Jeremy Welland at PayPal and Geetanjali Gamel at Merck) described how responsibility for reporting and analytics had been split into separate teams in their companies, many more face the challenge of managing both. Given that many in the wider HR function are still ignorant of the difference between reporting and analytics this invariably manifests itself in endless requests for reports and consequently less time to focus on analytics. How do you solve for this? The collective advice of speakers was through a combination of self-service, education and ruthless prioritisation. The presentation by David Gainsboro and Scott Walker on how they drove self-service at Dropbox was particularly convincing (see key learnings in Figure 5 below). This involved creating a data warehouse that consolidated data from 15 systems across the talent lifecycle. Tableau was then used to visualise four key focus areas for executives with additional dashboards created as the user group expanded. A curriculum for user enablement was also implemented, which ultimately has helped empower end users, created a data driven culture and freed up the analytics team to focus on other projects. A win-win all round.

Figure 5: Key takeaways from David Gainsboro's and Scott Walker's presentation on how self-service and education empowered users with people data at Dropbox (Source: David Gainsboro and Scott Walker)



The recent landmark High-Impact People Analytics Study led by Madhura Chakrabarti for Bersin by Deloitte found that organisations can only reach their full potential in people analytics when data-driven decision making is embedded in their company culture. Many of the speakers at PAFOW outlined how their organisations had tackled this substantial challenge, which in addition to the Dropbox example already provided included:

  • Nicky Clement of Unilever described how an initiative to equip HRBPs with a specialist skill had helped drive the establishment of an extended cohort within the business to amplify and extend the reach of the centralised people analytics team
  • Geetanjali Gamel outlined the targeted program she has initiated to educate, equip and empower HR and business leaders at Merck with the tools and knowledge to be data and analytics savvy

Each of the above examples and others outlined by speakers at PAFOW shared a number of common characteristics:

  • Education helps empower the wider HR and business community and increases their comfort in working with data,
  • Communication on the purpose of the team, success stories and knowledge sharing helps drive adoption, advocacy and builds thriving community of practices,
  • Technology and Self-Service helps put data in the hands of the people in the business who need it, whilst freeing up the team to focus on the projects that matter most,
  • Partnership as opposed to a ‘them versus us’ approach creates the right environment and collaboration between the people analytics team, HRBPs and the business.

PAFOW Speakers (L to R): Jeremy Welland (PayPal), Charlotte Nagy (USAA) and Jonathan Ferrar (Insight222)


Whilst developing an analytical culture is a prerequisite, this is a element most organisations acknowledge is necessary to drive sustainable success in people analytics. However, the need to also focus on the development of the people analytics team itself is often overlooked. Given the pace of evolution of the discipline and the high-demand for talent in the space, this is an egregious error. It was refreshing therefore that the main focus of Geetanjali Gamel’s presentation was on this very topic. Geetanjali described the program she has initiated at Merck that combines: Capability, Capacity and Connectivity (see Figure 6) to help development in skills, scope of work, relationships and ultimately career opportunities. Look out for more on this in a future article between Geetanjali and me.

Figure 6Developing the people analytics team at Merck through capability, capacity and communication (Source: Geetanjali Gamel)


During his speech, Josh Bersin pondered whether the fact that the vast majority of people analytics teams still being based under the auspices of HR, was a sign of the discipline’s immaturity. Certainly, many organisations have developed business analytics teams that encompass most company functions – minus HR. Moreover, one of the major obstacles impacting people analytics teams is the capability of the wider HR function when it comes to analytics. It will be interesting to see how the ‘alignment’ aspect develops over the coming years. Team structure was an area touched upon by a number of speakers, with many advocating that this needs to evolve in line with organisational maturity – similar to how Arun Chidambaram describes here. Of all the suggestions proffered at PAFOW in this area, I found the one suggested here in Figure 7 by RJ Milnor, which places people analytics at the centre of the enterprise (right) rather than two levels down from the business (left) the most compelling. 

Figure 7: To deliver on its full promise, people analytics teams should look to align themselves with the enterprise (Source: RJ Milnor)


Ethics is arguably the most important facet of people analytics and based on research conducted by Insight222 that Jonathan Ferrar presented at PAFOW, it also represents the biggest challenge facing the discipline. The study found that 81% of people analytics projects are jeopardised by ethics and privacy concerns. With the increased focus on the employee and emerging data sources such as wearables, email and social media this challenge is only likely to get bigger. Jonathan outlined a number of recommendations such as the need to develop a code of practice, create a governance council and to work closely with the Chief Privacy Officer. He also urged that organisations should be open and transparent with employees, and be clear on what the data will be used for and how it will benefit the employee. Jonathan then outlined a number of case studies including one at IBM, where the creation of an employee listening program - Social Pulse - has had the dual benefit of helping the company develop a detailed understanding of employee sentiment, and for employees several examples where IBM acted on these insights to improve employee experience. For a more detailed Case Study on Social Pulse, please refer to the interview with Sadat Shami on page 12 of the white paper ‘The Grey Area: Ethical Dilemmas in HR Analytics’, which Nigel GuenoleSheri Feinzig and me published in February 2018. Michelle Deneau closed PAFOW with a powerful example of ethics in practice and how analytics had underpinned the diversity and inclusion strategy at Intuit. The debate of privacy vs. trust is set to be a defining one in the years ahead and it is important that people analytics leaders and practitioners get this right. If we get it wrong, we will set the discipline back – perhaps irretrievably. 

PAFOW Speakers (L to R) - RJ Milnor (McKesson), Scott Walker & David Gainsboro (Dropbox) and Heather Whiteman (GE Digital) 


The pace of change digital has foisted upon business has arguably never been so fast, but frighteningly will probably never be this slow again. To survive, organisations need to be continually reinventing themselves, developing new products and services and adjusting the talent mix accordingly. This is placing a heavy burden on HR leaders, who are in turn becoming increasingly reliant on people analytics leaders and teams. Whilst this is an undoubted challenge for our space, it also presents numerous opportunities for us to elevate the people analytics profession and make it an indispensible part of business and a core component of the future HR function. The evidence from the speakers, vendors and delegates at PAFOW is that they are all up for this challenge. A sign that business and investors are beginning to take human capital more seriously emerged in the panel debate with Laurie Bassi and Jeff Higgins, which revealed moves to develop an ISO standard for human capital reporting. This development is one worth keeping an eye on.  

PAFOW Speakers: (From L to R) - Michelle Deneau (Intuit), Gianpaolo Barozzi (Cisco) and Nicky Clement (Unilever)


Andy Warhol once predicted “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. When it comes to the vendors at PAFOW this drops to five minutes as each gets their moment in the sun to pitch the business problem they are trying to solve. The didn't disappoint. Much of the innovation in the space is being driven by the vendor community, and those present at PAFOW represented some of the leading lights in the following areas:

Figure 8: The people analytics vendors that participated in the vendor showcase at PAFOW 2018 in San Francisco


That has to go to Nicky Clement, who during the part of her speech that focused on the evolution of employee listening at Unilever commented “I don’t believe in survey fatigue. I believe in survey inaction fatigue”. This is an especially shrewd comment as it’s all very well for organisations to listen to their employees, but if they don’t analyse and more importantly act on what they are saying, then really what is the point?

I don't believe in survey fatigue. I believe in survey inaction fatigue 


As well as checking out the PAFOW site regularly for the latest news and joining the Global People Analytics Network, I can highly recommend reading Ben Teusch’s and Arun Sundar’s excellent reflections on PAFOW – see links below.


Al and the PAFOW team are organising a series of events for 2018, which I definitely recommend attending. Check out the PAFOW site for details, but the current list is below:


The best conferences put networking at the front and centre of proceedings and PAFOW does this par excellence. The community that has grown out of the PAFOW events is as close knit as it is talented. Other than those already mentioned in this piece, I’d like to give a shout out to: Amit Mohindra, Eddie Ho, Rosa Lee, Steffen Riesenbeck, Pamela Davis-Bean, Sasha Arjannikova, Dan George, Simon Cockayne, Kevin Gorman, Richard Rosenow, Max Forster, Darren Kaplan, Ian Bailie, Dirk Petersen, Sudha Solayappan, Arun Sundar, Tauseef Rahman, Chris Butler, Ryan Hammond, David Schutt, Veronika Dunkley, Antony Ebelle Ebanda, Manish Goel, Greg Newman, Philip Arkcoll, Erin O’Hara, Caroline Brant, Stacia Garr - you all helped make PAFOW an even more enriching experience.

Finally a note of thanks to Al Adamsen, not only for organising and facilitating such a fabulous event, but also for allowing me to share in PAFOW as co-chair.

Reflecting on another successful People Analytics & Future of Work Conference, Co-Chairs Al Adamsen and me

Don't forget the 'H' in HR: Ethics & People Analytics

I believe ethics is the most critical ingredient in people analytics. Those working in the field simply cannot afford to get it wrong. The risk to employee trust and to the reputation of the burgeoning discipline of people analytics is too high.

‘Ethics, Trust and People Analytics’ is the title of my presentation, which will open the Smart Data breakout at UNLEASH in London tomorrow. It is also the subject of this article, which as well as including a copy of my slides, also features recent research by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Insight222.


Research in November 2017 from Insight222 found that 81% of HR people analytics leaders and practitioners reported that their people analytics projects were jeopardised by ethical or privacy concerns (Figure 1).

Figure 1: 81% of people analytics projects are jeopardised by ethics and privacy concerns (Source: Insight222)


The challenge ethics presents to people analytics leaders is set to get harder, and not just in the short-term as companies seek to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which comes into effect in May 2018.

Whilst the requirement to comply with GDPR is undoubtedly high on the agenda for HR (the same Insight222 study found that 53% of companies had not even started getting ready for GDPR), a number of other factors are in play:


People analytics teams have to navigate different rules and values with regards to data privacy and usage in the countries that they operate. In certain countries, particularly in Europe, people analytics leaders need to work with local HR teams to seek and receive agreement from workers councils and employee representative groups.


Using traditional HR data in certain jurisdictions can be challenging enough for people analytics teams, but the situation becomes even more complex when emerging technologies and non-traditional data sources such as wearables, sensors, email and social media are taken into account. Indeed a survey by UNLEASH and the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute found that 84% of respondents believe HR urgently needs guidance on the fair use and privacy of new and emerging data sources in workforce analytics.

A recent example is the negative press surrounding the announcement that Amazon has been awarded patents to develop wireless wristbands for warehouse workers. A series of media outlets queued up to lambast Amazon, conjuring up images up Big Brother to support their argument that this represented a further erosion of worker rights. This prompted Amazon to counter that the wristbands will support employee wellbeing as well as improving productivity.

Vendors also have a responsibility here and it is refreshing to see CEOs of people analytics technology firms such as Ben Waber of Humanyze (check out Ben’s podcast with John Sumser) and Manish Goel of TrustSphere (listen to Manish speaking to Al Adamsen on the PAFOW podcast) playing a prominent and proactive role in the ethics debate.


Even with the advent of legislation like GDPR, the law simply cannot keep up with the magnitude and increasing pace of technological advance. Figure 2, which is taken from Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends, provides a perfect illustration of the extent of the challenge. This is exacerbated by the fact that technology also outstrips desire. Employees increasingly expect a similar experience at work as they do as consumers in areas such as personalised recommendations and the ability to give and receive feedback. In contrast however, employees are typically less prepared to share the data that enables this ‘consumerisation’ with their employers than they do outside work with the likes of Facebook (although the recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica may change a few minds there.

Figure 2: Technology outpaces legislation and desire (Source: 2017 Global Human Capital Trends Report, Deloitte University Press)


Judging what is acceptable and what is not presents a huge dilemma for HR professionals and people analytics teams. The challenge is as much moral as it is legal. People analytics is about people after all and the risk of getting it wrong and eroding employee trust, perhaps irreversibly, means that ethics needs to be front and centre of any people analytics initiative.


What analytics teams in HR could and should do with people data are two entirely different questions. The reality is that we are at an inflexion point where the delta between what is possible with technology and what is covered by legislation is widening. As such, a nagging question for people analytics leaders is what to do in those situations – or ‘grey areas’ – not adequately covered by legislation.

To find out what companies can do to inform their decisions on how to use employee data, the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute surveyed more than 20,000 workers in 44 countries about their preferences regarding how data dilemmas are resolved in people analytics. The Institute clustered countries according to national preferences on how decisions regarding usage of workers’ data are made.


The results show that within the grey areas, where legal precedent does not exist, or where data ownership is unclear, context and culture matter most. There are important differences between cultures that may impact employees’ receptiveness to having their personal data analysed for people analytics. Even when examining countries in the same continent, the Institute sometimes observed differing dominant ideologies.

The research discovered most countries have dominant ethical ideologies (with 77% falling into the Absolutist ‘I believe the rules are the rules’ type - see Figure 3 below). This infers companies and people analytics practitioners can look to the regions where their business operates to gain a better understanding of how employees might react to an initiative to collect and analyse a new source of people data.

Figure 3: In the Grey Areas, Context and Culture Matter (Source: The Grey Area – Ethical Dilemmas In HR Analytics, IBM Smarter Workforce Institute)


I’m fortunate to spend much of my time working with leading experts and many of the most advanced teams in the people analytics space. Based on this knowledge and experience, Figure 4 provides some recommendations with regards to the use of people data in HR analytics.

Figure 4: Recommendations on ethics in people analytics (Source: David Green, 2018)


Steps to consider here include:

Partnering with legal and IT

To ensure that you are complying with the data privacy and security legislation of the countries you are operating in as well as company rules and regulations. For example, as Patrick Coolen writes here, no people analytics project at ABN AMRO starts without approval from the bank’s legal and compliance teams nor are any findings communicated without sign-off.

Establishing a Governance Council 

To consider and prioritise potential projects is commonplace amongst the bulk of advanced people analytics teams. Ethics and privacy should be at the top of the list of items to debate by members of the council on whether to give the go-ahead to individual projects.

Publish a code of practice 

To set out how you will handle employee data, which as Jonathan Ferrar suggests here is even better if you co-create the code with employees

Get ready for GDPR

Whilst ensuring compliance with the GDPR will undoubtedly cause HR and people analytics teams some pain the short-term, the legislation may provide significant benefit to the discipline in the medium- to long-term. Perhaps it’s easy for me to say this as I don’t have to implement it, but I believe that the GDPR is a good piece of legislation as it essentially forces companies to put the employee front and centre when it comes to the use of people data.

“We do not start any project without approval from legal and compliance. Furthermore we show legal our results before going to our business” 
Patrick Coolen 

Have an expert on your team

As Dawn Klinghoffer describes in this article make serious consideration to having a data privacy expert as part of the people analytics team (as Dawn has done at Microsoft). This is a trend I expect to see grow over the coming years.


People analytics should not be a clandestine operation where employee data is collected and analysed with the insights and resultant decisions shared amongst the chosen few. Organisations should instead be open and transparent and provide clarity to employees as to what their data will be used for and how it will benefit them as well as the company. Employees should not only be able to opt in (or out), but also be empowered through being provided access to their own data. If the insights this data provides helps employees manage their careers, improve work-life balance and increase productivity this is a clear win-win for both the worker and the company.

Two examples of this approach are:


Social Pulse, IBM’s employee listening technology helps the organisation understand sentiment, detect problems and make a commitment to do something about them. A Case Study on Social Pulse and interview with Sadat Shami is included on page 12 of the previously referenced ‘The Grey Area: Ethical Dilemmas in HR Analytics’ white paper, and is also referred to by IBM’s CHRO Diane Gherson in this interview with Harvard Business Review. One notable example of the benefit to the employees of the technology came when an IBMer started an online petition about the company withdrawing permission for workers to use ride-sharing services like Uber. This led to a storm of chatter on the corporate intranet platform. Social Pulse detected the event quickly, and Diane Gherson was able to reverse the ban and communicate the decision to employees within 24 hours.


This article by Microsoft’s CHRO Kathleen Hogan describes how Microsoft is using analytics to empower employee decision-making by creating the ability for employees to own their data, and gain insights to help improve their engagement at work, and enhance their work/life balance.


Whilst it may be easier to adopt a risk-free approach to projects, this is not really an option for most people analytics teams if it wants to create sustainable impact. An element of bravery coupled with a close relationship with their legal team as well as a focus on employee benefit is required. Where a project involves the use of emerging data sources, pilots are a sensible option. For example, when Cisco was creating its Talent Cloud (see this article by Jill Larsen), they started with a small pilot, sought feedback from participants, iterated, communicated widely and then expanded the employee groups involved. In this way, not only did Cisco in effect co-create the Talent Cloud with employees but they also built momentum amongst the wider workforce that the product was as beneficial to employees (to support career development) as it was to Cisco (to drive strategic workforce planning).

Another terrific initiative in the realm of ethics and people analytics I became aware of last year is being led by Insight222. The project sees member companies of Insight222’s The People Analytics Program working together to co-create an Ethics Charter. The problem statement Insight222 is helping clients (who include some of the most reputable brands and advanced people analytics teams in the world) solve is: “How might HR build trust that People Analytics work will benefit and not harm our employees, and still ensure business value and impact”. It’s a terrific initiative and one I will watch with interest. Figure 5 below provides a high-level view of the co-creation project. For more information, please get in touch with Ian Bailie.

Figure 5: Ethics Charter, The People Analytics Program (Source: Insight222)


The topic of ethics is as contentious as it is complex, and will continue to provoke much debate. People analytics leaders will continually be faced with the dilemma of what they could do versus what they should do. Perhaps the best test is this: if you cannot articulate the benefit to the employee as to why their data should be collected and analysed, then the project simply shouldn’t be undertaken. There is a ‘H’ in HR after all.


The following articles and research helped inform this article: Nigel Guenole, Jonathan Ferrar and Sheri Feinzig - The Power of People | IBM Smarter Workforce Institute - The Grey Area: Ethical Dilemmas in HR Analytics | Deloitte University Press - 2017 Global Human Capital Trends | Patrick Coolen – The 10 Golden Rules of People Analytics (Crowd version) | Jonathan Ferrar – Ethics & Privacy in Workforce Analytics | Andrew Marritt – People Analytics: What’s in it for the employees? | David Green & Dawn Klinghoffer – The HR Analytics Journey at Microsoft | Dawn Klinghoffer – A well-balanced People Analytics function | Kathleen Hogan - Empower your employees to leverage their own data | Harvard Business Review interview with Diane Gherson – Co-Creating the Employee Experience at IBM | Jill Larsen - How Cisco Is Getting to Know Each of Its 70,000 Employees | Al Adamsen – People Analytics 3.0 | Andy Spence - The Quantified Workplace: Technology Vs. Trust


Finally, a special thank you to Nigel Guenole, Sheri Feinzig, Haiyan Zhang and Louise Raisbeck of the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute; Marc Coleman, Peter Russell, Leah Narodetsky and the team at UNLEASH, and; Jonathan Ferrar, Ian Bailie, Al Adamsen and the team at Insight222.

Human Centred Being: When Human Centred Design isn’t Enough

The rise of human centred design

If you’re working in any kind of professional organisation, you’ve probably come across human centred design… Or design thinking, or experience design, or co-design, or service design or some other variation of design that your organisation has latched onto as its particular flavour of design related ‘buzz’.

I don’t really mind which one you use. The intent is what is important and in most cases, the intent is the same. Put people at the centre of your business, products, services, experiences and workplace. Design with their needs, motivations and desires in mind. To do that, understand them. This requires you to engage with them - not via quantitative data, but in ways that allow you to go deeper.

When I came across human centred design, back in my days working at Deloitte. I thought I’d discovered the best thing since sliced bread (with lots of butter, we all know bread on its own is no fun). ‘This stuff is amazing!’ I touted to anyone who’d listen. ‘It’s all about people!’ And it was. And it still is. But…

Are we just human centred doing?

Over my years of working in Human Centred Design, something has almost always felt a little off. In many of the projects I have led, the focus has always been on the doing.

Scope the project. Bring the consultant in. Do research with the customers/users/staff/citizens/students/members. Generate insights. Brainstorm ideas. Develop prototypes. Test. Iterate. Repeat.

In my case and context, this has been me ‘the consultant/designer’ coming in and doing the work. Trying to help an organisation take a more human centred approach to fixing or creating something to serve their audience. In other cases, this is often done by an internal team. In rare cases, it can be picked up by anyone in an organisation who has the skills, nous and permission. But in almost all cases, it is targeted at a ‘something’ a particular improvement, innovation or creation.

It is no secret being more human centred and focusing on people’s experience is becoming more and more important for any kind of organisation these days. And while doing human centred ‘stuff’ is definitely a step in the right direction, human centred doing will not shift the fabric of the way an organisation works.

Introducing human centred being

To really transform organisations to be more human centred, we need to change the paradigm from human centred doing, to human centred being.

Human centered being is both a verb and a noun. It can be something we enact, as well as something we become. While we might work towards it through projects, actions and doing, the end-game is not about a ‘thing’ (whether tangible like a product, or intangible like an experience or a service). The end game is how we behave. How we act, connect, interact, respond and so on.

To be human centred, people need to be human centred. Not just when they are thinking about it for a specific goal, but all the time. They need live it, breathe it and embody it.

Encouraging human centred being

There are so many things we need to do to be human centred, but for today, let’s look at some of the things we really need to change. We need to:

  1. Decouple the idea of human centredness from ‘designing’. When it is always attached to the word design, it gives people an excuse not to participate. Design feels like something you need to learn. So if someone doesn’t feel they have the skills or the permission, it can be a licence for them to opt-out.
  2. Start teaching human centredness outside of processes. I’m talking things like the Double Diamond. Human centredness doesn’t just happen over time, or over the course of a project. It can happen in the tiniest of moments, in individual behaviours, across cultures. You can’t always fit these things into a process.
  3. Begin to empower all individuals to tap into their innate capacity for human centredness, don’t just teach tools and methods. I honestly believe being human centred is something we can all access without the need for anything fancy. Tools and methods have their place, but we actually know this stuff deep down. After all, we are human.
  4. Explore and embrace our own humanness. Being human centred is not something you do to someone, it requires a reciprocal relationship. One human understanding and responding to the needs of another human. So to do this, we need to be able to connect to ourselves and others openly. This requires us to be willing to feel, express and tap into our emotions. The good and the bad.

This does not mean we have to stop designing. Human centred design in all its different forms can be an incredible way to create better products and services, better organisations, better societies and a better world. But we can’t do it with design alone. The kind of change we need in our world to really make a meaningful impact requires us to look at how we all show up as humans in life and work every day.

How to build an EX-Centric Organization

Our survey of 250+ companies and research on EX Pioneers, reveal a clear business case to transforming your business, designed around your customers and workforce (see links to more info at end of article)

The Customer and Employee Experience

by Elliott Nelson and Hannah Olvera Doman - Kennedy Fitch

We have seen breakthrough performance in companies in recent years that have re-built on the concept of Customer Experience (CX). Analytics and mobile technology have provided organizations with deeper insights into what drives behavior – what attracts customers, what makes them return, buy higher margin products, and most importantly, what makes them want to promote their company’s products.

Multiple studies show that CX-Centric companies see significant growth vs. the competition, including research that shows organizations with high NPS ratings grow at twice the rate of their peers.

If this CX data is true, does the same apply to Employee Experience (EX)? Business leaders should be asking themselves 3 questions:

·     What is the correlation between business results and Employee Experience (EX)?

·     How is EX different from Engagement (which is steadily declining)?

·     What does it take to weave EX into the fabric of an organization? Is there a common ‘EX Playbook’ that can be successfully applied in a variety of business situations?

To answer these questions, KennedyFitch launched a global study to understand how companies are approaching EX. Over 250 companies worldwide responded to our recent online survey. 4 out of 5 said EX is very important and 9 out of 10 said it would become more important in the next 1-2 years. Only 1 in 10, however, felt their company had made significant progress developing EX. And many reported that lack of internal EX expertise is a big problem.

We interviewed another select group of companies who were further along in the journey, including GE and Airbnb, who are considered ‘EX Pioneers’. We also looked at current publications – books and internet articles – to see what existing research could tell us. 

To start, we found the following answers to the three questions mentioned above:

1.    There is a clear business case and a correlation between EX and business results.

2.    Engagement and EX come from two different worlds - they measure quite different things, come from different sources and have widely different applications.

3.    Building an EX-Centric organization requires a complete Transformation in the way of thinking and operating. Most companies are in the early stages of learning what EX is and few understand what is required for implementation.

What we found in our research make us believe that the movement to design CX and EX as part of a Disruptive Business Transformation is one of the most revolutionary and impactful actions a company can take. Let’s dive a bit deeper into each of the three questions.

What is the EX Business Case?

Research[1] done recently by Jacob Morgan found the following comparisons of EX vs. non EX companies:

·     EX companies are 4.5x more frequently listed on Most Innovative Companies lists by Fast Company, Boston Consulting and Forbes, than non EX companies

·     6x more frequently listed on GlassDoor’s Best Places to Work, Fortune’s 100 Best Companies for Millennials and LinkedIn’s Most In Demand Employers

·     3x more frequently listed on Brand Z and Forbes’ ‘Top Brand Value’ companies

·     40x more frequently in the list of Exponential Organizations (companies whose impact is disproportionately large – 10x larger - vs. other organizations)

·     4.4x Average Profit vs. non EX companies

·     2.9x Average Revenue per employee vs. non EX companies

The shift to EX is rooted in a silent revolution taking place in organizations across the world as companies transition from treating humans as assets or “capital” (Engagement) to treating them as human beings (Employee Experience); from forcing them to submit to and work within certain processes and norms (managing assets) to understanding them and how they work best and designing solutions around their needs (individualization).

Tom Friedman, in a recent article succinctly describes how technology is making a huge impact as work is being disconnected from jobs, and jobs and work are being disconnected from companies, which are increasingly becoming platforms (moving from “owning” employees to “having access” to capabilities). This major shift from the traditional idea of ‘We own talent’, as reflected in the concepts of “Human Capital”’ and “Talent Management” to: “We create an attractive platform for you to learn and do your best work.”

EX and CX companies create platforms for Employees and Customers to individuallyexperience their organization. The organizations that successfully do this will be the winners as the disruptive force of technology shifts the balance of power from companies to both consumers and employees.

What is the difference between Engagement and EX?

Engagement and EX come from 2 different universes. Engagement sprang out of the era of top-down, command and control thinking when management wanted to know if employees were content with current decisions and practices. Engagement surveys essentially ask: “Here’s what we’ve decided to do, how happy are you with these decisions?”

Engagement surveys have often been long lists of things management decided to ask, with a quantitative rating. In the end, companies were ‘guessing’ if they were asking the right questions (why else ask 80-90 questions?). Moreover, Leadership Teams would only run the surveys every 1 or 2 years at most, and if it was a ‘Bad Year’ they would cancel the survey because ‘We already know people are upset.’ Imagine asking your customers for input once every year or two, and only when you know they’re happy.

Multiple studies from leading engagement research companies (Gallup, AonHewitt, Hay, Mercer, WillisTowersWatson, Bersin) all confirm falling engagement scores over several decades. So it seems that focusing on engagement does not deliver promised business value.

EX and Engagement are built differently. EX is built on Design Thinking – where organizations watch and observe and continually ask employees open-ended qualitative questions e.g. “What matters most to you?” rather than guessing “Does X matter more or does Y?”, when it might actually be “none of the above”. EX Pioneers build and test prototypes of Employee Journeys. And similar to CX, also EX puts the Net Promoter Score in the mix.

Design thinking places the issues of the employee at the center of the problem-solving process, and analyzes issues and solutions from her point of view, not the organization’s. EX Pioneers then build and test prototypes of Employee Journeys to remove pain points and elevate the experience. To measure their success, EX Pioneers uses business-centric metrics to measure their success, such as Net Promoter Score, EBIT, Profitability, Growth, and others. They avoid creating metrics that are not tied to business outcomes.

EX has a different goal. EX is really about building insights and an understanding of your employees and giving them a say in shaping the organization they are working for. Just as CX is about designing the organization around customers.

EX gets input on what matters to employees from a variety of sources outside of surveys including face-to-face interviews, focus groups, hackathons, instant feedback apps, and analytics. Together these paint a picture of what employees feel most strongly about, with emotion being a powerful window into behavior.

Figure 1 - Engagement v. Employee Experience

Paul Davies, Head of EX at GE defines EX as “enabling our people to do the best work of their lives through moments that matter”. Cisco, Deloitte and LinkedIn have similar definitions. GE leverages concepts such as personas, design thinking, and storyboards as it curates EX. Paul says, “We don't go an hour without using one of these. We ask our employees, our people leaders and our candidates what matters most to them, we listen to their stories, listening especially for emotions.”

Mark Levy, Head of EX at Airbnb since 2013, says they borrowed the idea from Disney that ‘every frame matters’ in telling employee stories. Cisco holds regular hackathons where employees give input on People processes.

Using all these ongoing insights, EX involves employees in the design and shape of the company, helps identify organizational strengths, and discovers the situations in which people learn and perform best. These insights are being used to restructure (remove silo’s, layers and titles), trim processes, turn rules into employee judgment. All of which helps companies unlock new paths to faster growth, profitability and innovation. 

How to build an EX-Centric Organization?

Our study of existing books and publications did not yield a standard definition of Employee Experience. Nor did it reveal an outline of the steps for designing the Employee Experience – a Playbook. Most importantly, we didn’t find research that matched the depth of the Transformation that EX pioneers say is required to become an ‘EX-Centric Organization.’

Our primary research therefore became a quest to 1) find a common definition, 2) discover an EX Playbook, and 3) understand the kind of Transformation required.

Through interviews with more experienced EX Pioneers, we found that while there are some common elements in designing EX, the particular ingredients are refreshingly unique to their companies, because every culture and business context is unique. In Designing EX, it is not the “What” that matters (e.g. ticking the boxes of 17 or 21 precise EX elements), it is rather the “How”. You need to learn to cook, but the best chefs go by taste, rather than by recipe.EX design is unique to each organization.

This is quite a radical departure from the past when large consultancies scanned hundreds of companies to distill the exact ingredients of ‘good Talent Management’ or ‘Leadership’, and sold assessments and maturity models. Unique EX design means also that the definition of EX varies from company to company. Most organizations look holistically at ‘Workforce’ (FTE’s as well as contract, temporary or ‘Agile’ workers). They look at everyone who interacts with the company from recruits to alumni. Most definitions talk about ‘Holistic end-to-end journeys’ and ‘Designing the best possible experiences for employees’. The main point is that organizations are designing experiences around the employee rather than making employees fit to the organization.

We asked companies about the motives and challenges they have in building EX. Our 250+ Survey Respondents listed their top three most important reasons for building EX:

  1. Business growth
  2. Engagement
  3. Creating competitive advantage

They listed their top four challenges as:

  1. Transforming the Culture – Given the radical shift to an outside-in, bottom-up culture required for successful EX, companies recognize the need for an equally radical transformation.
  2. Leadership mindset – EX pioneers emphasized that the CEO and leaders at all level must be on board for EX to succeed
  3. Complex Organization – Simplification is one of the keys to making EX work
  4. Lack of internal expertise in building the Employee Experience – Given that most companies have never built EX, this is not a surprise. EX Pioneers report using Marketing, Design, Facilities experts.

EX Pioneers cite the top four keys to success:

1.    Top leadership and CEO support – EX touches so many parts of the organization, it needs sponsorship and complete support at the top

2.    The goal is to become a Disruptor – EX Pioneers are convinced EX is a way to become disruptive and gain competitive advantage

3.    EX is the centerpiece of Cultural Transformation – EX requires a complete transformation in the way of thinking and working

4.    Involve many functions outside HR – EX is best when it is not an HR-only effort. EX Pioneers typically combine HR with all the functions that touch Culture and employees e.g. Marketing, Communications, IT, Facilities, etc.

Here are a few other highlights of what we learned:

  • EX Pioneers often start with CX. Customers are a good place to engage the CEO and senior leadership, who then pivot more naturally to seeing employees as customers (a big mindset change!), understanding what is meant by ‘experience’, and looking holistically at ‘Workforce’
  • EX Pioneers make CX and EX the centerpiece of their Transformation as they design everything around customer and employee drivers. An oft-cited goal of Transformation is to become Disrupters.
  • CEO’s of the more progressive and successful EX Pioneers e.g. Adobe and Airbnb promote EX and CX at the top of their agendas because there is such potential for strong business outcomes. Monir Azzouzi, Head of EX Pioneer Maxis, emphasizes that it is a non-starter if the CEO isn’t in the lead and driving key changes. Companies we interviewed who struggled to implement EX and CX did so because they lacked CEO support and sponsorship.
  • Successful EX companies design around customer and workforce, and transform to out-side in, bottom-up thinking. They become more agile and innovative. They adapt and simplify processes and decision-making in response to new customer and employee insights. EX and CX Pioneers become flatter, less hierarchical.
  • EX pioneers e.g. Google, LinkedIn, ING and Intel borrow heavily from Design Thinking, starting with listening on multiple channels; observing, interviewing, feedback tools, hackathons, utilizing employees to identify holistic journeys, listening for feelings and emotions, creating personas, designing experiences which in turn are vetted, tested and prototyped, and ultimately folded into a Digital People Strategy (see Figure 1).
  • EX (just like CX) is designed around a series of questions to get at feelings and behaviors that build on predictive data e.g. Why do our top performers join or leave? Why do our expats leave? Why do some teams outperform the rest?
  • EX Pioneers are constantly testing what they roll out, getting more feedback which is brought back to EX design teams who make changes and then the process starts all over again.
  • EX and CX companies are “insanely” data-driven; they borrow, buy or build analytics capabilities to collect and interpret data. They build seamless and borderless cooperation between different data-intense parts of the company and seek to integrate and connect a wide variety of data points
  • Hot new role: There are only 40-50 Heads of EX and new Heads of EX positions are being created all the time. In some cases, like Airbnb and Adobe, the CHRO role is being replaced by the Head of Employee Experience. We believe that this is the way of the future.
  • The lines between HR and Marketing disappear as they start sharing a common responsibility for both their internal and external brand (Adobe and others have one person who is Head of EX and CX, replacing the CHRO). But it doesn’t stop there – EX Pioneers have Marketing, Design, Facilities Management and Analytics roles in their EX Teams.
  • ·Talent, Learning, Recruiting, etc. realign to reflect holistic journeys. Key processes also are radically redesigned e.g. Performance Management (more ongoing development focus), Learning (bite-sized, Just-in-time), etc.

Figure 2 – Key steps in designing the Employee Experience

Sample of insights from EX Pioneers

We discovered in our interviews with EX Pioneers that companies have many different business cases for investing in the Employee Experience. Here are a few examples of companies we interviewed:

  • Scaling Culture for growth - AirBnB’s CEO Brian Chesky was adamant about scaling their Culture. When the new EX Head Mark Levy brought together the groups touching Culture (Recruiting, Events, Facilities, Real Estate, Design, etc.) to create an End-to-End journey for employees as they had done for customers, Brian liked it because ‘it wasn’t HR!’ AirBnB have used EX to change the way they interview, to judge whether someone is joining for the right reason, assessing how they fit with AirBnB values, and approach to life and work.
  • Regain Market Share and Competitive Advantage - Maxis was the largest, most successful Telecom company in Malaysia but lost their market position to disruptive startups with leaner, better business models. They used EX as a primary way to accelerate growth and build their way back to competitive advantage. Along the way, they flattened from 51 job grades to 4 and removed titles. Their CEO Morten Lundal sits in the same kind of open space as everyone else.
  • Integrate 2 distinct Cultures - Startup Learnvest was built around apps for Millennials to do Financial Planning, and was bought by 160 year old Northwestern Mutual Life, who saw the EX concept in Learnvest as the key to integrating their two distinct cultures. Head of EX Lina Stern says EX starts with the idea that 'Employees are your first customer'. LearnVest wanted to be the destination of choice for innovators – by attracting, engaging and learning to do things differently. They focused on building an enriched and flexible environment, building great data, and helping people engage in immersive experiences e.g. virtual reality offices where people can come together, and having a professional film editor to help you create your own movie. 
  • Digital Strategy – ING began with CEO Ralph Hamers declaring to his business leaders: ‘Become Disrupters before someone disrupts you’. ING developed a clear Digital Strategy for CX, based on Design Thinking understanding the psychology of our clients. Then we asked, if we can do this for our clients, why can’t we do this for our employees? We started by interviewing employees – asking "What are your common pain points, hurdles", defining with them what a good solution looks like. We developed an App to help employees develop at that point of their career where they might have a short term assignment.
  • Raise Productivity - GE recognized that EX was the pathway to raising productivity and getting the best work from their people. Paul Davies, GE’s Head of EX, spent his first 100 days visiting other companies e.g. Airbnb, Disney, Deloitte and Brooklyn Navy Yards, and saw that everyone is doing EX differently, according to what makes sense for them. At GE, they focused on designing the digital and physical space as well as the Culture, putting the employees at the center of what the company does. Paul has a small team with people from Technology, Analytics and data scientists.
  • Restructure under new business model – ABN Amro’s Head of EX, Frank van den Brink says EX and Digital HR are key to success in their 4 ‘Must Win Battles’. Frank and his team have used insights from EX and CX to do away with traditional HR and build a new operating model, based on what they designed for 5 Personas and their Employee Journey.

Final Thoughts

We initiated this study to create an objective view of Employee Experience and develop greater understanding of some critical building blocks as we saw an effort to re-brand and re-purpose other, older concepts e.g. Engagement and Employee Life Cycle or Employee Branding. EX is something different, driven by new generations, disruptive technology, and based on Design Thinking, where organizations are created around people, from the bottom up. It’s about ‘What works here’ vs. large models of ‘What works everywhere’. It’s bigger than HR or the HR Service Model while it completely reshapes HR and breaks down functional walls. 

EX is centered on greater face-to-face interaction. Its goal is to help organizations become more human. Simultaneously, EX is the foundation of a Digital People Strategy.

In the end, we can be customers and employees at the same time. We believe EX is an important step in a journey towards creating the Human Experience ‘HX’ where we seek to understand all people around an organization. 

Where to get more information

These are just a few short excerpts from our interviews and research. We invite you to join us in the coming weeks as we share more insights and details from our study, including an EX Playbook, and stories and lessons learned from EX Pioneers. Here is our schedule of upcoming events:

  • Listen to our presentation from Qualtrics’ Experience Week: Employee Experience: the Winning Company Playbook. Go to: www.experienceweek.com
  • Join our interactive workshops in New York, Zurich and Amsterdam, where we help you develop your own plan for an EX-Centric Organization (the link takes you to our EX/CX Resources page & workshop registration).
  • To receive our full EX Report, arrange a workshop or presentation in your company or to explore how we can help you design an EX-Centric Organization, email me at: elliott.nelson@kennedyfitch.com

Figure 3 – Infographic of Key figures from our Global EX Study

Elliott Nelson is a partner at KennedyFitch, a consulting and search firm building new ways of thinking and practices on the Future of Work. He coaches and advises leaders and organizations on Disruptive Transformations and building EX-Centric Organizations. He is a former head of Talent, Learning and Organization Development at Pfizer, AzkzoNobel, Novartis, Fujitsu-Siemens Computers and Compaq. 

Hannah Olvera Doman is a Research Assistant at KennedyFitch, specializing in studying how companies design and implement the Employee Experience. Hannah is working towards a Bachelors’ Degree in HR at Brigham Young University, where she is also a Board Member and writer for the Marriott Student Review, and leader in the local SHRM Chapter.

[1] “The Employee Experience Advantage: How to Win the War for Talent by Giving Employees the Workspace They Want, They Tools They Need and Culture They Can Celebrate”, Chapters 11 and 12, 2017. 

Beyond self-service to #HR service delivery: the new frontier in HR?

HR leaders are in a position to be innovative leaders in their organisations, and Mark Souter explains that HR service delivery is a perfect way to make a truly meaningful impact to the future of your business

Innovation in HR is exploding. As a result, the HR function is extending beyond core activities like recruitment or talent management systems, and increasingly exploring the service delivery space – addressing the people ‘interaction’ before the HR ‘transaction’ occurs. This is transforming the experience of employees and HR professionals, and increasing the strategic value HR can bring.

HR service delivery is about how HR service and information are delivered to employees, via omni-channel experiences (like using telephones calls/ SMS, chat functionality & other ways we interact in our consumer-world). Often, the standard “self-service” options of HR departments don’t meet the evolving needs of employees today. Employees, who have become accustomed to streamlined, user-friendly experiences delivered by consumer technology, are not very tolerant of a poor service experience and will make decisions to change companies quicker than ever before. Employees expect and deserve a terrific service experience at work; one that looks more like the consumer services they experience every day.

HR departments need to look at some of their standard HR processes and ask whether they are delivering for the future. Consider the heart of HR service delivery – employee enquiries. This is a simple concept but is often one of the last things that HR teams address as a priority. Managers and employees have questions and they need answers. In most organisations, email is still the most common way for employees to ask questions, followed by phone calls and visits to the HR office. When I talk to HR professionals, few can tell me how many enquiries their teams field in a day and they do not have a good understanding of the nature of the questions coming in.

“HR departments need to look at some of their standard HR processes and ask whether they are delivering for the future”

To stay relevant in the era of digital transformation, HR professionals should be focusing on building the workplaces of the future. Yet when they are spending 60% or more of their work week answering emails, responding to the same questions, or manually processing forms, there simply isn’t enough time to dedicate to innovating. HR leaders should have a clear HR service delivery strategy. Most are delivering HR services via email and spreadsheets on a daily basis. These methods don’t provide information about how many enquiries are coming in and what types of questions employees are asking.

Moving towards or automating a HR service delivery model makes a lot of sense. Here are some simple steps that will help:

  • Automate workflow: –Minimising manual work is critical. Wherever there is manual work, there is greater opportunity for errors, delays and missed deliverables. Enabling technology to move work through your organisation from requestor to fulfiller is at the heart of an effective service delivery strategy. Without automation, you cannot free up your HR resources to focus on more strategic initiatives.
  • Sophisticated cross-departmental case management: The best way to minimise or eliminate email as the primary communication method between employees and HR, is to implement case management functionality with workflow capabilities. Cases are auto-routed to the appropriate person or team for follow-up and response, and everyone, including the requestor, has visibility to the status of all requests.
  • Develop a comprehensive HR knowledgebase:  Empowering your employees to get answers to their questions without being dependent on HR is at the heart a good service delivery strategy. The best type of HR case, is no HR case! Without a knowledgebase, HR will continue to spend a significant part of their day answering basic questions. Knowledge bases build over time, but once in place, they save organisations huge amounts of time and money.
  • HR service delivery platform: To fully automate your processes, you must consider your current HR technology and the gaps in service delivery you are experiencing. Missing from many organisations and HR initiatives is a service delivery platform designed to manage how work gets done across an organisation.

“Enabling technology to move work through your organisation from requestor to fulfiller is at the heart of an effective service delivery strategy”

I recently met with the senior vice president of HR shared services for a leading healthcare organisation. They had just implemented a new service delivery strategy and were already reaping the benefits. Instead of simply relying on phones & email, employees were directed to their new HR service centre to get answers and get the right level of HR support, at the right time. In the first month alone, there were 50,000 knowledge base searches and employee experience rocketed.

As you look to the future: considering the workplace and employee environment you want to create, you have to begin by developing an overall HR service delivery strategy & how people experience the workplace services offered. HR leaders are in a position to be innovative leaders in their organisations, and HR service delivery is a perfect way to make a truly meaningful impact to the future of your business.

Is HR In Europe Ready For Analytics?

At HR Tech World in San FranciscoJosh Bersin stated that the discipline of workforce analytics has grown up and progressed from doing ‘cool experiments’ on the fringes of HR to something that is far more embedded and valuable to organisations.

Undoubtedly, workforce analytics is central to the future of HR, as it lies at the heart of initiatives to personalise the employee experience, optimise organisational design and improve team collaboration and effectiveness.

Interest in workforce analytics continues to rise and I expect the Smart Data track I am moderating at HR Tech World in Amsterdam this week to once again see standing room only. There is a sense though that whilst adoption is also rising (though not as quickly) many HR functions are struggling to get to grips with analytics.

Partly in response to this, HR Tech World teamed up with researchers the IBM Smarter Workforce Instituteto investigate the workforce analytics readiness of organisations in and outside Europe. Of 347 participants, 177 (51%) reported working for companies headquartered in Europe.

The results, which I will be presenting at HR Tech World, were telling in that they indicated that practitioners working for European headquartered companies feel significantly less prepared than their peers working for organisations headquartered elsewhere in the world. This is despite HR practitioners in Europe facing similar demand to use analytics and enjoying similar support from the CHRO and business stakeholders.

About the research

The research was based on the foundational steps required to successfully bring analytics to the HR function. These steps are outlined in the book, The Power of People: Learn How Successful Organizations Use Workforce Analytics To Improve Business Performance. The book, written by Nigel GuenoleJonathan Ferrar and Sheri Feinzig, is a must-read for CHROs as well as anyone working or interested in the field of workforce analytics.

Three foundational steps to workforce analytics success

The authors’ advice on how to establish, develop and then sustain analytical capability in HR, broadly fall into the three categories below, with the sub-headings being the specific areas covered in the HR Tech World/IBM Smarter Workforce Institute study:

1) Getting started

  • Vision and mission
  • Clear governance, accountability and privacy standards
  • Stakeholders who want to solve problems analytically*
  • Strategy for prioritising projects
  • Senior sponsors to champion analytics*
  • Sponsorship and involvement of the CHRO*

2) Building your analytics capability

  • Skilled workforce analytics leader
  • The right mix of skills
  • Clear guidance on the use of external vendors
  • Right analytics technology
  • Right data

3) Establishing an analytics culture

  • Succession strategy for core roles
  • Ability to show ROI
  • HR analytics embedded through the organisation
  • Standardised approach to projects

Key research findings

In all but the three asterisked (*) areas in the ‘Getting started’ category above, the research revealed that practitioners working for European headquartered companies rated themselves at least five percentage points lower in each area than their peers in the rest of the world. Indeed, in eight of the fifteen areas covered by the research, Europe was at least ten percentage points behind the rest of the world.

Not surprisingly and irrespective of geography, the state of readiness of practitioners reduces for each foundational step. For “Getting started’ I used the data in the white paper to calculate that the overall global readiness is 59% (Europe 57%, rest of the world 61%). This tallies with my experience of speaking to practitioners and attending conferences around the globe – the conversation has moved on from the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ to the ‘how’ – at long last!

However, the state of readiness lessens significantly in the second two categories, with the gap between Europe and the rest of the world widening. For ‘Building your analytics capability’ the global readiness is 39% (Europe 31%, rest of the world 46%), whilst for ‘Establishing an analytics culture’ the global readiness level is 30% (Europe 23%, rest of the world 36%).

Organisations that have successfully established an analytics culture, whereby decisions with respect to people are habitually data driven, are the companies that are able to sustain momentum and provide regular insights that lead to better business and employee outcomes. This represents a cultural change in most organisations, both within HR and also in how the function is perceived by the rest of the business. As such, it is perhaps the biggest challenge (along with ethics and privacy) facing the discipline in the coming years.

Why is Europe behind?

The reasons why Europe is behind the rest of the world are not clear from the research, but we can speculate. Undoubtedly, the relative maturity of workforce analytics in European headquartered companies is behind that of those headquartered in North America. The delta between Europe and the rest of the world can in part (though not wholly), be explained by the volume of North American firms in the rest of the world sample.

The level of uncertainty currently in Europe is also perhaps higher in light of Brexit and the pending EU General Data Protection Regulations. Legislation and attitudes to data privacy are also more stringent in Europe, which means that many organisations will pilot and perfect workforce analytics projects elsewhere in the world before they consider implementing them in Europe.

Further possible reasons for the relative differences between Europe and the rest of the world are described in the white paper, which you can download here.

Reasons for optimism

While this research presents a generalised picture of a lack of European readiness, there are some clear examples of excellence that should act as inspiration to other European firms. Four of these – Shell, ABN AMRO, ING and EY – are speaking in the Smart Data track at HR Tech World in Amsterdam this week.

Get a copy of the white paper

Download the white paper HR analytics readiness: How does Europe compare to the rest of the world? for full results and commentary on the research.