The best HR and People Analytics articles of 2019

2019 proved to be another momentous year for people analytics, which continues to be the fastest growing area of HR as more organisations create, grow and expand their people analytics teams.

We see the growth of people analytics at first-hand at Insight222, where we are now working with over 60 global organisations to help them put people analytics at the centre of business. In tandem we have also created a digital learning academy with myHRfuture to upskill HR in digital and analytics.

For the last six years I have collated and published a collection of the ‘best’ articles of the preceding 12 months – see 201420152016 2017 and 2018, and following are my choices for the 50 best articles of 2019.

Those who have read the previous annual collections may note that the number of articles that make the cut has steadily risen. This is partly down to my inability to prune down to 30 or 20 – although it was hard enough to get it down to 50! Mainly though this recognises the increased number, variety and quality of people analytics and data-driven HR material now being published, which is another indicator of progress in the field.

I hope that the articles selected will act as a venerable resource library for those working, researching or interested in the people analytics space. That is certainly the intention.

I have arranged the 50 articles into twelve topics: i) Driving business value, ii) the future of work, iii) the future of the HR function, iv) ethics and trust, v) employee experience, vi) strategic workforce planning, vii) ONA, viii) diversity and inclusion, ix) organisational culture, perspectives and case studies from people analytics leaders, x) retention, xi) assessment and xii) getting started, as well as highlighting a few of my own articles from 2019 at the end.

I hope you enjoy the articles selected, and if you do, please subscribe to my weekly Digital HR Leaders newsletter.


Ultimately, people analytics should be about creating value – for leaders, for managers and for the workforce. So, where better to start than with seven articles that collectively provide insights on how to create value and/or give examples of where organisations have created value from people analytics.

ADAM GRANT – The Surprising Value of Obvious Insights

Just as people analytics doesn’t need to be sophisticated to unlock value, nor do findings necessarily need to be a great leap forward to be useful. Indeed, as Adam Grant outlines quantifying obvious insights through people analytics can help gain trust and overcome three obstacles to change. These are: resistance to data (“But that’s not what my experience has shown”), resistance to change (“But that’s the way we’ve always done it”) and organisational uniqueness bias (“That will never work here”).

Findings don’t have to be earth-shattering to be useful. In fact, I’ve come to believe that in many workplaces, obvious insights are the most powerful forces for change

JONATHAN FERRAR – How can I be more successful at People Analytics?

Jonathan Ferrar outlines a common challenge for People Analytics leaders – identifying value in People Analytics Projects. Leveraging the Nine Dimensions in People Analytics Model Jonathan and I co-created to help clients navigate this challenge led us to identify seven questions that People Analytics leaders should be asking themselves to ensure they’re on the right path to success (see FIG 1). The article also provides access to a short survey that will help you identify your current level of excellence in People Analytics.

CHROs who seriously invest in skills, technology AND data, will succeed in People Analytics

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FIG 1: Are you creating value from people analytics? – click on the image to take the survey (Source: Jonathan Ferrar, David Green, Insight222)

NEIL IRWIN WITH BRETT OSTRUM, DAWN KLINGHOFFER & RYAN FULLER – How Data Can Help You Win in the Winner-Take-All Economy 

This New York Times article conveys a stellar example of the business value of people analytics. Through a powerful story and input from Brett Ostrum (who runs Surface and Xbox at Microsoft), Dawn Klinghoffer and Ryan FullerNeil Irwin reveals how people and network data provided critical insights about work-life balance in a high-performing team at Microsoft.

Data alone isn’t insight. The key is to listen to what data has to say — and develop the openness and interpretive skills to understand what it is telling us

JENS JAHN, THOMAS RASMUSSEN & REINHARD MESSENBÖCK – Unlocking Change Management with People Analytics

Thomas Rasmussen, General Manager, Employee Experience, Digital & Analytics at National Australia Bank, partners with BCG for a thought-provoking account of how people analytics can shift the goalposts with regards to business transformation and change. The article offers several examples of the business value of people analytics including FIG 2, which highlights how in one company business units with high engagement had twice the sales volume compared with units with low engagement.

People analytics has changed the game, with engines that can generate quantitative behavioural data on what people do at work, how a transformation will affect their work, and how changes in behaviour can improve financial performance

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FIG 2: Business units with high engagement scores generated greater sales (Source: BCG Analysis)


This CFO Magazine article takes its cue from a move in the US by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) that companies be required to report on human capital “to the extent such disclosures would be material to an understanding of the registrant’s business.” FIG 3 summarises the events that have created a groundswell for such disclosure. The article gives examples of companies leading the way such as Allianz, SAP and Deutsche Bank as well as providing details of the ISO standard for Human Capital Reporting, which likely prompted this move by SEC.

Human capital disclosure isn’t just good for investors. There’s pretty convincing evidence that companies that disclose more of such information perform better

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FIG 3: Activity around human capital disclosure has accelerated the past two years (Source: CFO Magazine)

LEXY MARTIN – Leading Practices in People Analytics Change Management

Lexy Martin featured in my monthly collections numerous times in 2019 and continues to be one of the best and most prolific analysts around when it comes to people analytics. This research paper introduces nine leading enterprise change management practices for people analytics, related case studies, several interesting data points (e.g. FIG 4 on people analytics team sizes) and methodologies to enable HR Business Partners and business leaders with analytics. Read in conjunction with two other of Lexy’s articles from 2019: How to Turn HRBPs into People Analytics Evangelists and How Four Companies Enable their HRBPs with People Analytics.

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FIG 4: People Analytics Team Size: Advanced versus Emerging Organisations (Source: Visier)

McKINSEY – How leaders in data and analytics have pulled ahead 

Research we conducted in 2019 at myHRfuture on HR Skills of the Future found that contrary to popular opinion, HR professionals are eager to learn more about analytics. The importance of creating a data culture is reflected in this study by McKinsey on the strategies and organisational cultures of companies leading the way with analytics. Giving access to data, leadership, a culture tolerant of failure and data literacy (see FIG 5) all feature. Also read this related article from McKinsey on How to Train Someone to Translate Business Problems into Analytics Questions.

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FIG 5: At high-performing organisations, employees at all levels are better educated on data concepts (Source: McKinsey)


As I wrote in my 10 Predictions for HR in 2020 article, despite the hyperbole from some quarters, most wise sages judge that more jobs will be created than lost from the fourth industrial revolution. What the Future of Work does mean however from a people perspective, are huge challenges around skills and how we define work. These five articles look at these two issues as well as some of the other major changes we can expect to see with an example provided of how IBM has overhauled the HR programs it offers to its workforce.

DAVID KIRON & BARBARA SPINDEL FEAT. DIANE GHERSON, JOANNA DALY & ANNA TAVIS – Rebooting work for a digital era: How IBM Reimagined Talent and Performance Management

This in-depth case study describes how IBM reimagined its performance management system (see FIG 6) by co-creating a model with employees that promoted speed, innovation, feedback over assessment and strove to cultivate a high-performance culture. The article also describes how IBM overhauled and personalised learning to reflect that “in today’s world, skills are actually more important than jobs.” This platform uses data to infer which skills employees have and connects them with learning to build those skills that are increasingly in demand. Furthermore, information is also provided on how IBM uses people analytics to predict and prevent attrition, as well as how it has deployed chatbots and virtual assistants to improve the employee experience.

(The purpose of HR is) to create competitive advantage with your talent and improve the employee experience

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FIG 6: The shift in IBM’s approach to performance management (Source: MIT SMR)

ANNETTE LA PRADE, JANET MERTENS, TANYA MOORE & AMY WRIGHT – The enterprise guide to closing the skills gap

Research from IBM reveals that the vast majority or organisations have not moved beyond traditional hiring and training strategies to try and address the growing skills gap. One stark finding is that the time it takes to close a skills gap through training has increased by more than 10 times in just four years (from 3 days in 2014 to 36 days in 2018). The study also found that new skills requirements are rapidly emerging, while other skills are becoming obsolete with FIG 7 highlighting the change between the top skills sought in 2018 compared to 2016. A roadmap and set of key recommendations leveraging AI and based around personalisation, transparency and an inside and out approach to help address skills-related gaps is also provided.

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FIG 7: Executives now point to behavioural skills as the most critical for members of the workforce today (Source: IBM Institute for Business Value Global Skills Survey; 2018 IBM Institute for Business Value Global Country Survey)

JOHN HAGEL, JEFF SCHWARTZ & MAGGIE WOOLL – Redefining Work for New Value: The Next Opportunity

The premise of this research from MIT SMR and Deloitte is that redesigning jobs to take advantage of automation in order to boost efficiencies and reduce costs should not be seen as an end goal. Instead, it should be seen as part of a process that enables the larger opportunity of redefining work itself to create new value for customers and the business. The authors make the case that (as illustrated in FIG 8) companies won’t be able to significantly improve value creation if they redesign jobs to optimise processes with the goal of reducing costs. A powerful and persuasive read.

The future of work will require a new focus on the orchestration of cost and value as well as on redesigning jobs and redefining work

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FIG 8: Redefine and Redesign Work to Achieve Broader Value (Source: MIT SMR/Deloitte)

BERNARD MARR – The 10 Vital Skills You Will Need For The Future Of Work

Bernard Marr emphasises the importance of committing to lifelong learning in order to succeed in the future workplace, highlighting ten of the most important skills that will be required. These dovetail nicely with the HR Skills for the Future study we did at myHRfuture in 2019.

Start by adopting a commitment to lifelong learning so you can acquire the skills you will need to succeed in the future workplace

VISIER | CHRISTY MARBLE, LEXY MARTIN – HR Trends 2020: The next decade of work

Not content with restricting themselves to just looking ahead to the next 12 months, Visier assembles a cast of customers, partners and their own experts to look at how HR is likely to evolve in the next decade. Ethics, AI, Employee Experience (see FIG 9), Reskilling and ONA all feature in what is an absolute must-read for anyone in our space. Guest contributors include Isabel Naidoo, Russell Klosk, Trent Cotton and Manish Goel.

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FIG 9: Employee Experience takes over (Source: HR Trends 2020: The Next Decade of Work, Visier)


HR is facing unprecedented change and increased expectations from leaders and employees. As such, the skills and capabilities required by HR professionals are also undergoing seismic change. Three articles describing the opportunity for the function – if it can evolve – follow, with the need to be digital and data-driven front and centre.


This paper, which is a collaboration between the WEF, Unilever, Saudi Aramco and Willis Towers Watson, is split into three sections. The first part explores why the Fourth Industrial Revolution has created the impetus to transform HR and people strategies. The second part outlines the six imperatives that form the basis for HR4.0: Developing new leadership capabilities, Managing the integration of technology in the workplace, Enhancing the Employee Experience, Building an agile and personalised learning culture, Establishing metrics for valuing human capital and Embedding diversity and inclusion (not much to disagree with here). Finally, the third part describes how 11 organisations are already responding to the need for change – including Unilever (see FIG 10), IBM, Haier and PwC.

Our success in the future of work will depend heavily on our ability to effectively prepare our workforce – by fostering a culture of reskilling, upskilling and lifelong learning

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FIG 10: Unilever’s framework for the future of work (Source: Unilever)

JOHN BOUDREAU – HR as a “Prediction Machine”

A terrific read from John Boudreau in which he espouses the need for HR to play an active role in the dilemmas arising from the potential impact of AI (“should AI be built to predict an outcome or mimic human behaviour?”). As Boudreau explains, the latter will often be faster, cheaper and more tempting, but may obscure important values, trade-offs, and biases. He goes on to advocate that AI gives HR an opportunity to understand these dilemmas, articulate the trade-offs and lead – not just when it comes to using AI in HR but throughout the organisation.

HR has a golden opportunity to make a strategic contribution by articulating the hidden dilemmas (of AI) and providing needed frameworks to solve them

DAVE ULRICH & IAN BAILIE – What does it mean to be a HR Business Partner Today?

Ian Bailie draws on Dave Ulrich’s new course HRBP 2.0: The Digital and Data-Driven HR Business Partner to outline how the expectations for a HR Business Partner have shifted since the origin of the role over 20 years ago. Ulrich explains that “being a business partner is not about doing HR for HR. It’s about doing HR, so that we (the company) wins in the marketplace.” The course itself outlines thirteen areas (see FIG 11) that HR business partners need to drive impact and value in their organisations. Dave discusses this and a number of other related matters in our Podcast entitled The role of HR in the Digital Age.

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FIG 11: 13 areas required by HR business partners to drive impact and value (Source: Dave Ulrich, myHRfuture)


Ethics continues to be one of the key elements of people analytics, particularly as new and emerging data sources emerge and the use of AI and machine learning in HR multiplies. It’s certainly a topic that we’ve explored in depth at Insight222 where we partnered with 15 of our member companies to co-create an ethics charter and guiding set of principles on the use of people data. Four articles follow that explore this topic in depth.

ELLYN SHOOK, MARK KNICKREHM & EVA SAGE-GAVIN – Decoding Organizational DNA: Trust, Data and Unlocking Value in the Digital Workplace

This Accenture study examines the risks and rewards inherent in harnessing workforce data and people analytics to unlock organisational DNA. There are a multitude of insights offered not least that if companies create trust – and therefore unlock the value of workforce data – the growth for the 6,000 largest publicly listed global companies alone equates to more than US$3 trillion. The study nimbly balances insights from business leaders (e.g. 77% of business leaders say that new sources of workforce data will grow the business) and workers (e.g. 92% are open to the collection of data providing it improves their performance or wellbeing or provides other benefits). Having demonstrated the criticality of trust, the study then provides guidance on how to elevate people using technology, share responsibility and benefits, as well as maximise the value to employers – and people – of workforce data. Read the full report and check out the Slideshare featuring highlights below.

JOHN SUMSER – AI Risks, Ethics, and Liability | Part 1 | Part 2

A quite brilliant two-part series from John Sumser on AI Risks, Ethics, and Liability. In Part 1, John tackles HR software product liability (‘from tools that could not hurt people to tools that can’) and lays out the ethics questions we should be asking ourselves (e.g. ‘Who owns employee data? How do you monitor the quality of the algorithm’s performance?’ Part 2 sees John dig into the questions you might want to ask your HR technology vendors as well as his own thoughts on how to manage new algorithms.

Some of today’s tools (and all of tomorrow’s) do much more than record and report. They suggest, recommend, decide, evaluate, prescribe, filter, analyse, monitor, and learn. Era 1 tools could not hurt people. Era 2 tools can


TOMAS CHAMORRO-PREMUZIC, FRIDA POLLI & BEN DATTNER – Building Ethical AI for Talent Management

Debate continues on whether AI reduces or enhances bias in talent management. Of course, depending on your approach it could do either. If the training set is diverse, if demographically unbiased data is used, and if the algorithms are also debiased, AI can mitigate human prejudice and expand diversity and socioeconomic inclusion better than humans ever could. However, if the training set, the data, or both are biased, and algorithms are not sufficiently audited, AI will only exacerbate the problem of bias in hiring and homogeneity in organisations. In this excellent HBR article, the authors provide four steps for organisations seeking to use AI for talent management including educating candidates and obtaining their consent plus investing in systems that optimise for fairness and accuracy. For more on this topic, please check out my podcast discussion with Frida on How AI and Behavioural Science can reduce bias in recruiting.

Realistically, we have a greater ability to ensure both accuracy and fairness in AI systems than we do to influence or enlighten recruiters and hiring managers

IAN BAILIE – How can HR tech help users to own their data?

Ian Bailie builds on some of the latest thinking on Employee Experience and his own experience designing EX programs at Cisco, to advocate that HR should aim higher than just service-based excellence and efficiency. Instead, Ian implores HR to design people-centric platforms that create a great experience for the entire workforce that they actually want to use. Ian also urges that EX initiatives need to be linked to business value as well as being focused on fixing the key touch points that matter in the employee journey. Finally, Ian tackles the thorny issue of data ownership, concluding that HR should lead the charge for workers to own their own data, so they can take it with them when they leave and build intrinsic value for managing their careers and promote lifelong employability. 

Most importantly of all, this should be a tool where the user owns their data and can take it with them when they leave their current company


Employee Experience is the most talked about topic in HR right now and provides the opportunity to redefine HR as a people success function in the new decade. An increasing number of the People Analytics teams we work with at Insight222 are taking responsibility for and/or are heavily involved in helping their organisations shape, develop and implement EX programs. Seven articles combining the latest research, case studies and techniques in this field follow.

STEPHEN YOUNG & PATRICK KULESA – Identifying the factors that make a high-performance employee experience

Fascinating research from Willis Towers Watson based on the 500+ organisations and nearly 10m employees they run engagement surveys for every year. In order to understand what elements of EX matter most, the study compares 30 high-performance companies (based on financial performance and survey scores). The results are illuminating. First, they show that the EX topics that differentiate high performers are inspiration, drive, growth and trust. Second, as FIG 12 clearly shows, the research finds that strong EX definitively predicts financial results.

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FIG 12: EX Predicts better Financials – Analysis of EX vs. financial performance across organizations (Source: Willis Towers Watson)

JOSH BERSIN – Employee Engagement 3.0 – From Feedback to Action  

As Josh Bersin writes in this appraisal of the dynamics affecting the market, the evolution of employee engagement continues to gather pace. He reminisces that it was only ten years ago that over 60% of companies didn’t survey their employees at all, and those that did only did it once a year. Now, a large number of companies have created the ability for workers to provide continuous feedback and the emphasis has shifted towards taking action – invariably via managers – as Josh outlines in FIG 13 below.

The new generation of tools are now able to analyse and interpret all this data, and then give managers specific actions to take

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FIG 13: Process for taking action on insights from engagement feedback (Source: Josh Bersin)

VOLKER JACOBS – The Business Value of EX: No Employee Experience impact without the business

Set a challenge by ING’s then CHRO, Hein Knaapen, to explain the business value of Employee Experience (EX), Volker Jacobs pulls it off with aplomb in this terrific article. The model he describes (see FIG 14), shows the ‘What’ of TI People’s EX methodology on the right-hand side, which Volker connects to business value in the ‘Why’ part of the model. The two features Volker highlights is how the approach creates i) an engaging experience at ‘moments of truth’, and ii) an effortless experience of HR. He goes on to reveal that one company TI People is working with has designed their EX initiative around the premise of “Giving 1 million hours back to employees and managers each year”. If you enjoy this article, do download TI People’s The State of Employee Experience research and listen to my podcast with Volker on How to Scale Employee Experience.

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FIG 14: The business value of Employee Experience (Source: Volker Jacobs, TI-people)

PATRICK COOLEN & LUUK SOMBEZKI – The 10 Golden Rules of Continuous Employee Listening

Patrick Coolen only publishes one or two articles a year, but they are always worth the wait. A year on from his last masterpiece, Patrick joins forces with his colleague Luuk Sombezki to share learnings on ABN AMRO’s Employee Experience journey including how they measure EX, how they have implemented continuous listening and how they are using people analytics to create value. If that wasn’t enough, Patrick and Luuk also reel off their ten golden rules of continuous listening.

Employee Experience is not just another simple trick to boost engagement or performance. It takes time to adopt a service design mindset, collect data, measure the right things and work every day to increase the employee experience of your employees


ANDREW MARRITT – A guide to using sentiment analysis on employee text 

Sentiment analysis is increasingly being applied to employee text but how useful is it in practice? If it is to be used what do you need to think about? My go-to on this topic is Andrew Marritt, and here he walks through the different types, uses and challenges of using sentiment analysis.

Sentiment analysis is useful but in most use cases we see with workforce data not of great importance

TOM HAAK – Personalisation in HR: some ideas

Tom Haak presents some ideas on how personalisation can be applied across a tranche of HR programs (see example for learning in FIG 15). As Tom highlights, the way companies tailor services for employees is still eons behind what they do for customers, but there is progress and forward-thinking HR leaders are tapping into the expertise of their marketing cousins.

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FIG 15: The personalisation of learning: Micro learning: small learning interventions provided in the flow of work. Macro learning: learning something new, in the classroom or in another way (Source: Tom Haak)

PRIYA BAGGA – The Future of Work: An Employee Perspective

Wonderfully insightful read from Priya Bagga on twelve factors driving the priorities, perspectives and expectations of today’s employees (see FIG 16). Lifelong employability, an inclusive culture and personalisation all rank high and the consequent need for a different style of leadership, a refresh for HR and a more data-driven approach are all clear pre-requisites.

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FIG 16: The Future of Work – An Employee Perspective: 12 Factors to Create a Star Employee (Source: Priya Bagga)


With companies confronting the shift from a focus on jobs to an approach centred on segmenting by skills or tasks, it is hardly a surprise that Strategic Workforce Planning is undergoing significant change. Five articles reflecting this challenge, evolving methodologies and examples of how people analytics and SWP are increasingly becoming entwined follow.

DAVE ULRICH – From Workforce to Worktask Planning

As Dave Ulrich describes, work is increasingly not just accomplished by full-time, part-time, or contracted workers, but also through automation and technology. This forms the basis of his article, which presents his methodology for a shift in thinking from workforce to worktask planning. This entails routine and standard tasks being allocated to technology and automation with people being assigned strategic, creative and unique responsibilities. This shift means HR professionals and people analytics teams need to broaden their horizon from a sole focus on full- and part- time employees to incorporate contractors, technology and automation too.

HR professionals need to broaden their talent management horizon to recognise that work is not just accomplished by full-time, part-time, or contracted people, but also through automation and technology

RUPERT MORRISON – Rethinking workforce planning for a disruptive age

Inspired by his search for a new CFO, OrgVue CEO Rupert Morrison describes his ‘eureka’ moment where he realised that HR could take a leaf out of Finance’s book by restructuring itself into two distinct parts: HR operations, and Organisational planning and analysis (OP&A) (see FIG 17). Rupert goes on to outline some of the key business questions OP&A would answer (e.g. How should the organisation be redesigned to better deliver the business strategy, Who does what work, who should do it, and what new skills are required) as well as detailing five steps for HR to be future ready. If you enjoy Rupert’s article, do checkout his podcast discussion with me on Rethinking Workforce Planning & Organisation Design.

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FIG 17: As FP&A is to Finance, so OP&A is to HR (Source: Rupert Morrison)


ALICIA ROACH – Why you can’t afford to NOT do Strategic Workforce Planning 

With companies in a perpetual state of transformation and the rapidly changing world of work, Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP) has arguably never been so important. In her article, Alicia Roach provides compelling data (see FIG 18) to back-up her assertion that it is imperative organisations invest in building a solid strategic workforce plan that is not only aligned to but underpins their business strategy.

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FIG 18: The impact of Strategic Workforce Planning (Sources: Alicia Roach, QHR, Sierra Cedar and McKinsey)


ANNA TAVIS – Recalibrating Workforce Planning for the 21st Century Organisation feat: NIGEL GUENOLE & SHERI FEINZIG – Strategic Workforce Planning in Dynamic Business Environments | JESSE HARRIOTT – The Case for Agile Workforce Planning | ANDY PAPWORTH & STEVE SCOTT – Workforce Planning at Scale at Lloyds Banking Group | DAVID WHITEHEAD & MICHAEL WHEELER – Workforce Planning as a Critical Priority for the U.S. Navy

Anna Tavis is a marvel. Not only is she a major change agent in our field, she is helping develop the next generation of people analytics professionals through the MS Human Capital Analytics and Technology program she leads at NYU. Anna also edits the Perspectives column in the People + Strategy Journal. The focus of the Fall 2019 issue was on Strategic Workforce Planning. The lead article from Nigel Guenole and Sheri Feinzig examines the evolution of the classic approach as well as highlighting the emergence of the new practices in workforce planning today (e.g. the shift of emphasis from jobs to skills). The other articles provide counterpoints to Nigel and Sheri’s article. I particularly enjoyed the piece by Andy Papworth and Steve Scott on the advantages of taking an enterprise-wide approach (as opposed to one focused mainly on strategic jobs) and the benefits this allows for resource reallocation, reskilling, and flexibility of resources, including those of HR.

Today’s workforce planning is one of business’s most urgent priorities and HR leaders are stepping up with data-driven and technology-enabled solutions


BEVERLY TARULLI & DAMIEN DELUCA – Evolving the Strategic Workforce Planning Strategy at PepsiCo | BUDDY BENGE – Analytics and Strategic Workforce Planning Increase Leadership Success at Bayer | BRIAN HEGER & ANISHA AULBACH – Building the Foundation for Strategic Workforce Planning at Bristol-Myers Squibb | TANYA MOORE & ERIC BOKELBERG – How IBM Incorporates Artificial Intelligence into Strategic Workforce Planning

Strategic Workforce Planning is the key topic du jour for many clients of our People Analytics Program at Insight222. As aforementioned above, the Fall edition of SHRM’s People + Strategy magazine is a SWP special and is jam packed with great articles including the four here – all written by practitioners and describing work in this area at PepsiCo, Bayer, Bristol Myers-Squibb (see FIG 19) and IBM.

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FIG 19: SWP Supply and demand risk factors (Source: Heger and Aulbach, Bristol Myers-Squibb)



As companies increasingly become more agile, more collaborative and less hierarchical, Organisational Network Analysis can shine a new lens on how work really gets done – and specifically help maximise the value of a company’s social capital. An indication of the interest in ONA is the fact that the most read article I’ve published in the last two years – The Role of ONA in People Analytics – continues to generate around 250 views per week. Five articles themed around ONA follow, and I also recommend listening to my podcast with RJ Milnor about How McKesson uses ONA to identify what drives high performance in sales.

ROB CROSS, TOM DAVENPORT & PETER GRAY – Collaborate Smarter, Not Harder

Most knowledge workers and leaders spend 85% or more of their time on email, in meetings, and on the phone. Furthermore, as the authors also highlight, people have, on average, at least nine different technologies to manage their interactions at work. The result can be overwhelmed and unproductive employees, sapped creativity, and employee attrition. Fortunately, through relationship analytics, companies can reduce overload, attrition, and other costs of collaboration — and increase its rewards. The article shines a light on five examples including from GE, Booz Allen Hamilton (see FIG 20), General Motors and W.L Gore.

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FIG 20: Network Drivers of Retention at Booz Allen Hamilton – Collaboration data analysis shows that new hires who stay with the company are those who engage in these behaviours (Source: Rob Cross et al, MIT Sloan Management Review)

ETHAN BERNSTEIN & BEN WABER – The truth about open offices

Ethan Bernstein and Ben Waber outline some of the unintended consequences of open offices on collaboration (“A major consumer products company found that people on the same team were six times as likely to interact if they were on the same floor, and people on different teams were nine times as likely to interact if they were on the same floor”). Guidance is also provided on experiments that measure how employees really interact within an organisation to inform workspaces and technology that best support employee needs and lead to better business outcomes. There are also several examples from the likes of GSK and Mori Building.

Just as high-frequency A/B testing is common in marketing and sales, rapid experimentation is key to workplace design


Culture is easy to sense but hard to measure. The workhorses of culture research — employee surveys and questionnaires — are often unreliable. The authors of this HBR article, studied the language employees used in electronic communication (email, Slack and Glassdoor) to provide a fresh lens on organisational culture. The article outlines the methodology and key findings of three studies. The first assessed the degree of cultural fit between employees on the basis of similarity of linguistic style expressed in internal email messages. The second study analysed the content of Slack messages exchanged among members of nearly 120 software development teams to measure whether the impact on team performance. Finally, in the third study, the authors partnered with Glassdoor to analyse how employees talk about their organisations’ culture in anonymous reviews to examine the effects of cultural diversity on organisational efficiency and innovation.

Algorithms make estimates, but it is ultimately humans’ responsibility to make informed judgments using them

PHILIP ARKCOLL – Using ONA to Analyse how Managers Impact Employee Experience

With studies suggesting that 80% of employee experience can be attributed to managers, Philip Arkcoll explains how ONA can be used to provide fresh insights on the critical relationship between manager and employee.

JOE FREED – It’s Time to Move Beyond “Digital Exhaust”

A thought-provoking piece by Joe Freed, which points towards a possible future direction for ONA. As Joe highlights, the growth of ‘passive’ ONA is currently restricted primarily to metadata from applications such as email and calendar, which he categorises as ‘digital exhaust’. Whilst acknowledging the challenges around privacy and NLP, Joe advocates a shift towards also analysing content (‘digital relationships’), which he argues will better serve and empower employees as well as the business. The vision Joe paints is enticing, and although the vast majority of companies (and employees) probably aren’t quite ready for this yet, the approach Joe recommends of complete transparency and building value for the employee first makes his ideas eminently feasible.

Build the value for the employee first, and the value for the company will follow


GREG NEWMAN – Moving from counting Diversity to measuring Inclusion

One of the emerging use cases for ONA is in measuring the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion initiatives through a social capital lens. This is the focus of Greg Newman’s terrific article. Citing research from Boris Groysberg, Greg describes how female and male employees tend to build stronger external and internal networks respectively and the impact this has when they move job. Greg also provides insights from some of TrustSphere’s clients on how networks can affect promotability, trust and collaboration. One example (see FIG 21) includes an organisation where if an employee had more than ten years tenure, they had virtually no strong working relationships with anyone with less than five years tenure. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the negative impact this will likely have on innovation, problem-solving and ultimately business performance.

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FIG 21: Example of ONA analysis showing the strongest relationships of employees with 10+ years tenure at one company (Source: TrustSphere)


LASZLO BOCK – Your Culture Will Make or Break Your Business 

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is the infamous phrase from the revered management guru Peter Drucker, and as Laszlo Bock writes, failure of culture has become the biggest destroyer of value in business. He provides three reasons why culture matters more than ever and highlights that a single intervention at Google (a nudge to help new hires settle) was worth $400m per year.

The union of computer science, people science, and a strong foundation in ethics and privacy, can help leaders make measurably better, more fair decisions


GEORGE WESTERMAN, DEBORAH L. SOULE & ANAND ESWARAN – Building Digital-Ready Culture in Traditional Organizations

As the authors state in this long but rewarding article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, culture change is the biggest challenge of digital transformation for legacy companies. How can a company become more agile and innovative without alienating its best employees or wrecking the best of its existing practices? In this coruscating piece, the authors define four key values of digital culture: impact, speed, openness and autonomy, how digital and traditional practices overlap (see FIG 22) and provide a series of excellent examples including that of DBS Bank.

Developing a digital-ready culture does not mean doing away with all that is good in a traditional company’s culture. Instead, it’s a matter of communicating the desired values and then introducing some new practices while fine-tuning others

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FIG 22: The Spectrum of Digital and Traditional Practices (Source: Westerman et al, MIT Sloan Management Review)


LAURA STEVENS – Building a Data Culture: Lessons from the science behind habit formation

Laura Stevens highlights that the absence of a data-driven culture is the biggest factor impeding real business adoption of data and analytics. Breaking with traditional convention in this area, Laura argues that the missing piece of the jigsaw is that most cultural change programs fail to recognise that changing culture is essentially about changing human habits. In her article, Laura outlines how to translate evidence from the science behind habit formation into guidelines on how to build an effective data culture.

The real challenge is not in conducting some advanced analytics or fixing the basics, but in changing deeply rooted human mindset and behaviours within your organisation


I’m fortunate to spend a fair proportion of my time meeting with people analytics leaders and their teams through my work at Insight222. There are some seriously smart, passionate and collaborative people in these roles. Following are a selection of articles from people analytics leaders themselves, which taken together demonstrate that the space is in very capable hands.

AMIT MOHINDRA – Particle Physics and People Analytics

A fascinating and educational piece as ever from the cerebral Amit Mohindra in which he ponders whether the emergence of people analytics in the first 20 years of the current century can be compared to the rise of quantum physics in the first 30 years of the 20th Century. It’s a tantalising thought especially as 17 of the 29 people featured in the photo below from the fifth Solvay Conference (a regular gathering of physicists and chemists to collaborate and share – rather like PAFOW or the Wharton People Analytics Conference?) in 1927 went on to win Nobel Prizes. Will we see a similar flood (but albeit a hopefully more diverse group) of winners from the people analytics field? Only time will tell…

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DAWN KLINGHOFFER, CANDICE YOUNG & DAVE HASPAS – Every New Employee Needs an Onboarding “Buddy”

In her second article in the 2019 collection – written together with two members of her team – Dawn Klinghoffer outlines the findings of a program involving 600 employees. The results found three ways buddies help new hires have a successful on-boarding experience at Microsoft. For more on the people analytics journey at Microsoft, you can listen to Dawn’s and my podcast discussion: The Evolution of People Analytics at Microsoft.

Onboarding buddies provide context, boot productivity and improve new employee satisfaction

ALEXIS SAUSSINAN & SHWETA MODGIL – People analytics should be a part of company’s DNA

Alexis Saussinan is the Global Head of Strategic Workforce Planning and People Analytics at Merck Group, and is an accomplished leader of one of the more advanced functions I’ve come across over the past few years. As such, this interview in People Matters where Alexis shares his reflections on key trends and how organisations can leverage people analytics to drive true business value is a revealing read. Like Alexis, I’ll be speaking at the upcoming People Matters Tech HR, Singapore conference on 19-21 February.

People analytics can help position and support companies during their digital transformation in several ways

KEITH McNULTY – The technologies that every analytics group needs to have

As Keith McNulty writes here, building a great analytics function isn’t just about having the right people. Having access to the right technology is crucial to getting the most out of your team. Keith’s article then goes on to describe a multitude of technologies across four areas: collaboration (e.g. Slack and Circuit), agile management (e.g. Trello), document and app sharing (e.g. R and Python), and version control (e.g. GitHub). Keith covers this topic and much more in his podcast discussion with me on HR 3.0: more data driven, more agile and more business focused.

World-class analytics team MUST be agile. It’s a necessity given the nature of the developing world around them

KATARINA BERG – Spotify’s People Analytics Journey

CHRO Katerina Berg walks through the three-year journey of building people analytics at Spotify, outlining the three beliefs (“be data-informed, not data-led”), four bets (“dare to simplify”) and beacon (“framing the work by bravery, responsibility and openness”) that has underpinned their impressive progress. Hear more from Katarina on the challenges involved in leading HR in a hyper-growth organisation in Spotify’s CHRO on Leading HR in a digital world.

The data should be continuously discussed, challenged and pressure tested. Helping us to take better and more informed people and business decisions

STEFANIE BECKER & MATTHIAS HEINZMANN – Showcase for a data-driven HR: Understand the business impact of employee attrition

I was fortunate to spend a day at the end of 2019 with SAP’s internal People Insights team at their HQ in Walldorf, Germany to learn how they are making HR more data-driven. This article by two of the People Insights team outlines the methodology (see FIG 23) that enabled them to identify the key drivers and reasons behind attrition in three pilot countries. The combination of driver and cost analysis also guided the team to provide evidence of the monetary business impact of people leaving the organisation.

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FIG 23: The combination of Driver Analysis and Cost Analysis enables the business to identify better investment decisions to reduce attrition (Source: SAP People Insights team)


CANDICE CHENG & GREG LEWIS – 3 Factors Strongly Linked to Better Employee Retention, According to 32 Million LinkedIn Profiles

Some fascinating research by LinkedIn where analysis of 32m profiles on the platform found that there’s a 76% chance of an employee still being at a company after 12 months. Perhaps most interesting is the three key factors LinkedIn’s analysis found were most strongly linked to improved retention: mobility (lateral or upward), open and effective managers (see FIG 24), and empowering employees all lead to better retention.

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FIG 24: Retention at companies rated for open and effective management (Source: LinkedIn)


ALLAN H. CHURCH & SERGIO EZAMA – 6 Truths about using Personality Data for Talent Decisions

Despite the continued rise in use of personality tools in talent management, the authors describe how they still confront major misperceptions in how these tools work, what they do/don’t measure and when to use and not to use them. Based on their combined 50+ years assessing and developing leaders and internal research from their team of I/O psychologists at PepsiCo, Church and Ezama present six truths about the use of personality tests. These include: i) Personality predicts future potential far better than current executive performance in role (see FIG 25), ii) Hiring people using personality can be more inclusive than you think, iii) Just because someone tells you a test is valid, it doesn’t mean it is for your organisation. Read the full article to learn all six.

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FIG 25: Predicting Future Potential by Level (Source: Allan H. Church, Sergio Ezama, Talent


ALEXIS FINK & DAVID LUDLOW – How to Implement People Analytics in The Workplace

The second part (see also Part 1) of a series where David Ludlow interviews Alexis Fink, who leads people analytics at Facebook, about implementing people analytics. As ever, Alexis provides some salient advice on overcoming challenges such as disconnected data, which should help those seeking to create and grow a people analytics function.

You can do brilliant research, and have compelling, intuitive visualisations based on supremely accurate data, but without an organisational culture that is willing to bet on data over instinct, you are not likely to see much impact

MAX BLUMBERG – People analytics: Why some companies are making a fortune while others are losing out 

Max Blumberg continues to be one of the most passionate, knowledgeable and candid experts in our space and in this article, he argues that the approach most companies take explains why only a small number are generating real value from people analytics. Max outlines four approaches (infrastructure obsessives, reactive data waiters, data miners and proactive business analysts) to frame his analysis on what separates the winners from the losers. If you are in the process of setting up or expanding your people analytics capability, this is a must-read.


HR Skills of the Future (with Jonathan Ferrar and Ian Bailie)

The HR profession needs to change. It must become more digital and analytical to deliver greater business value – and as the findings of the 2019 myHRfuture HR Skills of the Future study reveal, this is recognised by HR professionals themselves too. FIG 26 shows the that People Analytics was the highest ranked one skill HR professionals want to learn.

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FIG 26: The top six skills HR professional want to learn (Source: myHRfuture, HR Skills of the Future, 2019)

This is why data is now more essential than ever in HR  (with Lars Schmidt)

In this Fast Company article, I collaborated with Lars Schmidt to provides analysis on the surge in adoption of people analytics and outline how if implemented correctly, it can radically improve a company’s bottom line.

How can you scale People Analytics in a Global Organisation? (with Guru Sethupathy)

Guru Sethupathy shares with me his two-year journey of scaling people analytics at Capital One. He has built one of the leading people analytics functions on the planet, so there is plenty to learn from here.

 Insights are insufficient: converting insights to action is of utmost importance

People Analytics for Good (with Dawn Klinghoffer)

This article with Dawn Klinghoffer examines the role of employee trust in creating and sustaining an advanced people analytics function.

A really good people analytics leader knows how to be innovative without eroding employee trust

How to help HR improve its literacy in data and people analytics (with Patrick Coolen, Jaap Veldkamp, Ingrid Bienefelt and Martijn Vosz)

Creating a culture of data-based decision making is key to achieving sustainable success with people analytics. In this interview with ABN AMRO, I learned about a fun and innovative training exercise that helped HR professionals improve their data literacy and understanding of people analytics – The Escape Room.

Four Strategic Imperatives for People Analytics

My analysis of the key discussions at last year’s PAFOW conference in San Francisco identified four key strategic imperatives for people analytics: Connecting the C-Suite, Enhancing the Workforce Experience, Developing a Data-Driven Culture and Advocating People Data for Good.

How Can You Use Technology to Support a Culture of Inclusion and Diversity?(with Stacia Garr)

In this interview with Stacia Garr, we analyse the exciting and insightful research RedThread Research has conducted in the D&I space, which includes the emergence of a new category of HR Tech providers.

10 reflections from the Wharton People Analytics Conference

My reflections on the 2019 Wharton People Analytics Conference in Philadelphia, where three themes came to the fore: Diversity and Inclusion, Organisational Network Analysis and Nudges.

Putting the ‘H’ back into HR – 10 Predictions for HR in 2020

How is HR shaping up for the new decade? I’ve taken my annual peak into the crystal ball and identified 10 trends and predictions that all help put back the ‘H’ in HR.

Digital HR Leaders Podcast

2019 saw the launch of my Digital HR Leaders Podcast show on myHRfuture. By the end of the year, we’d created 25 episodes and had close to 60,000 listens. Thanks to all our brilliant guests.


Finally, thanks to all the authors featured here and also across the monthly collections from 2019 – see January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December – your passion, knowledge and expertise continues to inspire.

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