HR is hitting a second wall

Towards continuous analytics and maximizing your employee experience

Authors: Patrick Coolen and Frank van den Brink 

People who follow us on Linkedin know all our posts have been on either HR analytics (Patrick Coolen) or Employee Experience (Frank van den Brink). In this post, we are combining these two HR concepts, predictive HR analytics and Employee Experience. We strongly belief that the combination of the two enables us to do something called “continuous listening”, allowing us to maximize our employee experience. But before we dive into our framework for continuous listening first a few words separately on HR analytics and Employee Experience.

About HR analytics

The Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report 2018 showed that 70% of their respondents are in the midst of major projects to analyze and integrate people data into their decision making. Carefully we can say that (predictive) HR analytics is beginning to get mainstream. More organizations are using statistics or data mining techniques to create insights in order to support their decision making. So for more organizations it is becoming true that they are breaking “the wall of Boudreau”, going from descriptive analytics to predictive analytics.

Within our organization we found about 600 different insights using predictive HR analytics in the last four years. These insights are spread over all business lines and are collected by a variations of modelling techniques like (logistic) regression, random forest decision trees ensembles, multi-level analyses and more recently survival modelling. Below you see a screen shot of some of our business research targets (on the right) and their relationships with the different input variables (on the left). As you can see, over the years we looked at client satisfaction, sales or other financial metrics, the quality of work, efficiency of work et cetera. But also at more HR topics like absenteeism, engagement, purpose and collaboration.

Our team grew to 10 people, combining analytical consultants, data scientists and product owners for people analytics, strategic workforce management and survey management. It is appropriate to thank our partners, who as always support us along the way like Willis Towers Watson (survey management), BigML (machine learning) and specifically iNostix by Deloitte. With iNostix we celebrate this year our five year partnership in HR analytics. Both Luk Smeyers and Laura Stevens inspired and influenced us on various topics discussed in this post.

So, back to the wall of Boudreau. Again more organizations are making that transition from descriptive analytics to predictive analytics. But to my opinion HR is hitting a second wall. Most of the predictive analytics work is done on an ad hoc or project basis. Insights from predictive HR analytics projects are not (yet) automated or productized. In order to have a more continuous approach for data collection and research and to be able to convert those insights and innovations in existing and new products, you need a more continuous analytical approach. In other words we have to move from predictive analytics to continuous analytics. This is one of our ambitions for the next two years. But this ambition is strongly related to another ambition we have, namely maximizing the employee experience.

About employee experience

For us employee experience has been at the center of our HR strategy and transformation for the last year. Our purpose is to design and engineer a high value, integrated and relevant experience for all our employees and new hires. We strongly believe that when we are able to increase the employee experience, we will create a more engaged and productive workforce that helps our business to achieve their goals. A study from IBM and Globoforce found that there is a relation between a positive employee experience and higher work performance, discretionary effort and lower turnover. We will evaluate the impact of a higher employee experience on our business goals in our organization as we move along.

The same as within many other organizations we organize employee experience around the employee life cycle, by creating employee journeys. This includes everything from creating a “Best Start” for new hires, to supporting “Meaningful Growth” for employees’ careers and their personal life, to modernizing the way we recognize and reward great contributions of employees and teams (“We owe You”) to creating “Great Ambassadors” when employees leave our organization. It is exactly on these “moments that matter” that we want to make a difference for our employees and maximize their experience.

A year ago we did an extensive research to find out what our employees think about the journey and to see when and what they are actually using in terms of HR contact, HR information, benefits, HR services, HR reports et cetera. This resulted in a list of topics as presented above. We categorized them in five phases and prioritized them so we could start to improve the most important employee experience topics according to our research in an agile way.

One example is that we had too much information on our HR portal. So our HR colleagues from HR Contact, HR Shared Services and content owners from Employee Experience started working on reducing the number of intranet pages (800 of them) and creating a more user friendly interface, making it easier for our employees to find the right information as quick as possible. And there are more examples like improving our onboarding experience, fixing the basics in our learning platform and hiring processes. So we are making a good start but we know we are not there yet. We need to increase our maturity and capability to process the different information we have from our employees and convert them in to actions and innovations. In other words we need to combine our employee experience and analytical efforts to create a continuous listening strategy in order to consumerize HR and create more employee and business value.

About Continuous listening

Before we elaborate more on how we look at continuous listening within our organization it is good to have a definition on this topic. Because some organization refer to continuous listening when (only) talking about survey management, others refer to it in a much broader perspective using all types of employee data. All definitions are fine to work with, we however strongly build our definition on the definition created by Laura Stevens (The 4 guiding principles of a successful continuous listening program), so credit where credit is due. – Continuous listening is a coordinated and cross-functional effort to continuously collect, combine and analyze a variety of employee data sources to maximize the employee experience and ultimately drive and enhance company performance – by applying a customer centric mindset and analytical techniques.

So in order to really understand what drives the needs and ambitions of our employees we need to improve our ability and willingness to “listen” better. In the previous years within our organization we mainly listened to our employees by the use of an annual engagement survey. Where many organizations already moved away from an annual performance management approach to a more continuous dialogue between manager and employee, most organizations are still using an annual engagement survey to listen to the feedback of the employee. This is slowly changing and some organizations like Adidas (Stefan Hierl) have already successfully implemented a survey strategy where different topics are surveyed on a more continuous basis.

When we talk about data related to employee experience we make a separation between actively and passively collected data. Both type of data are vital to better understand employee needs. With actively collected data we mean all employee feedback we actively ask from our employees. This can be via annual or pulse surveys or via polls or panels questionnaires. Passively collected data is in this context employee data that is already in our systems like transactional data (e.g. use of benefits, pay, learning, click behaviour), contact HR data (e.g. questions, number of complaints) or social media information (e.g. glassdoor data, blogs on internal social media).

Both type of data need to be managed. Gathering active employee data should be managed by a survey management strategy together with corresponding and highly necessary guidelines to avoid GDPR breaches, survey fatigue, bad survey design or simply creating invalid data. The passively data is managed via the existing HR IT projects that improve data quality and integrate data in a more efficient way. This is why continuous listening in the broadest sense of the word is a joined responsibility of HR Employee Experience, HR Service Delivery and HR Analytics.

Having the technical ability to listen better and more continuously to our employees is one thing, using it on a frequent basis is another. Basically it is about understanding and treating your employees as you treat your customers. HR should position itself more as the employee marketeer. We need to better understand the different groups of employees (personas), their needs and the opportunities to increase their employee experience and their performance.

This requires a different mindset from everyone in HR, specifically from our process and product owners who are responsible for an end to end experience. A mindset that is built on curiosity to understand our employees on a regular basis, the ability to identify and act on employee leads, the ability to work with tools and data and the ability to turn the employee feedback into usage.

The employee can be different people. It is helpful to think and work with defined (or new identified) personas. For example you can talk about a new joiner, a manager, an executive manager, client facing employees, first-time-managers and so on. Based on these personas, their career phase, family situation, needs et cetera we are better able to focus on specific solutions for a specific group of employees.

Finally, continuous listening is not only about creating or improving employee data. This is the main focus in the short term but we should not forget to invest in creating smarter and more relevant insights in order to drive innovations in new and existing products. This is why we think continuous listening should be divided in three steps.

1) Creating employee experience data (short term). This phase is about collecting active employee data from survey, panel and pulse software and passive employee data from our transactional systems in order to immediately improve parts of the employee experience.

For the active listening part we are using a self-service survey platform of Willis Towers Watson. Most surveys are supported via this platform. We are creating a calendar that spreads the different HR topics over the year to allow more dedicated and smaller surveys on HR topics like engagement, leadership, diversity, collaboration or performance? .

For the panel and pulse software we are working with IBM connections and we are working with our colleagues from Customer Experience (CX) to use platforms they are already using. Here we are for example at the verge of experimenting with a community of volunteers (employees) who are willing to instantly answer a single question we might have on any possible HR topic or service.

2) Creating insights on employee experience (short and mid-term). This phase is about applying predictive analytics on integrated data sets. Because it is the data integration that is driving innovation. By integrating data and analytics we are more likely to find insights like the following;

  • ‘What do new joiners need to do to speed up their productivity and to get that best start?’ – Combining feedback or engagement data with sales or performance data
  • ‘What are the specific needs of employees who move into a manager role for the first time?’ – Combining feedback or engagement data with transactional data (move into manager role)
  • ‘How can we best retain employees in specific critical roles? – Combining feedback or engagement data with job role data
  • ‘How can we help our sales force to efficiently select the right learning intervention?’ – Combining feedback or engagement data with learning usage and sales or performance data

The approach, in our case, to integrate employee data sets is an experimental and agile approach. Per use case we need to assess the feasibility and potential value. In terms of analytical tooling we are using a mixture of SAS, Python and BigML.

3) Creating innovations (mid and long-term). This phase is the most difficult one. In the end you want to convert (productize) your insights to innovations in new or existing products. This is where the real potential is to maximize the employee experience in a more disruptive way. Most HR organizations are only at the beginning of the continuous listening journey, starting to understand the potential value of an Employee Centric approach and not able yet to harvest the possible benefits of all the insights gained from integrated data analyses. This is also true for our organization, but we hope we are on the right track. The following examples illustrate some possible future innovations.

  • If we are able to find the specific needs of employees who move into a manager role for the first time, we can bring that intelligence back to the employees involved via e-Career Coach or Portal Chat bot.
  • Let say we found that having a daily or weekly meeting with a buddy (colleague) has the highest impact on the productivity of a new joiner, we could potentially send ‘nudges’ (notifications) to the new joiners, their buddies and managers involved via WhatsApp, email, apps to ensure these buddy conversations actually take place.
  • Feedback from client facing roles in retail in combination with NPS scores may reveal that specific learning intervention do not contribute to NPS as much as for instance closed loop feedback interventions do. E-Learning Advise the moment you log in our learning system (T2G) may push you in the direction of the most impactful personal learning intervention.

We do hope that you appreciate us sharing our thoughts on this topic. By no means we claim this framework to be the only right one. But we do hope our thoughts inspire you to start thinking about continuous listening in order to maximize your employee experience. Please feel free to engage with us and share your comments and thoughts.

About some valuable sources

During the last year we are inspired by many highly appreciated thought leaders whom we spoke to, worked with or followed on social media and blogs on the topic of people analytics, continuous listening or employee experience. Again with the risk of leaving out relevant influencers, in which case we apologize, we like to mention the following people, Laura Stevens and Luk Smeyers (iNostix by Deloitte), Sanne Welzen (Deloitte), David Green (Zandel), Jonathan Ferrar (Insights222), Tom Haak (HR trend institute), Dave Millner(HRCurator), AnalyticsinHR, Elliott Nelson (KennedyFitch), Jacob Morgan(thefutureorganization).

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