People Analytics – The Future of HR

An interview with Littal Shemer Haim, People Analytics consultant. People Analytics involve best practices in the organization, behaviors and expectations of the employees, and of course, lots of data

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Q: Hi Littal, please tell me a bit about yourself and how you are involved with “People Analytics”

A: I’ve been a consultant in the field of People Analytics for more than 15 years, long before the terms “Data Science” or “People Analytics” emerged. My business pivoted throughout the years, although my main activities were always in applied research. My vision today is to bring data science to HR groups without any geographical, cultural or language barriers and to guide organizations to base their decisions on employees based on data.
My background education includes studies in the Technion – Israeli Institute of Technology, where I graduated in Economics and gained my MBA. These studies encompassed a variety of courses in Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Programming, and were focused on management of technology-intensive companies. I also graduated in Psychology and Positive Psychology, in the Tel Aviv University. My whole career is on the spectrum between People and Business and the domain of People Analytics actually mediates between these two poles.

Q: In lay terms, please, what is “People Analytics”? Is it anywhere like “evidence based medicine”?

A: There are many ways to define the practice of “People Analytics”. I think that the best way to understand it is to look at a sample of my work: I Explore employee data patterns, and communicate significant results to business leaders in order to initiate and support decisions related to people in the organization. In a sense, it is like evidence based medicine, because it involves best practices in the organization realm, behaviors and expectations from the employees, and of course, a lot of data.

Q: What kind of problems does it solve?

A: Consider the whole employee life time cycle, and you’ll find many motivational examples for People Analytics projects: Where do top employees come from? How do top-performing employees engage? Who will leave the company and who will stay? What ROI is gained in organizational development? How effective are gender and cultural diversities? What key qualities make up an amazing team? What do most successful leaders in organizations do? Yet, the answer to your question is hidden in the question itself. We talk about specific questions that we want to answer by data analysis, instead of managerial intuition.

Q: Can it cause demoralization among the employees? I mean, it looks like technology is taking over basic human trust?

A: I believe that the influence of “People Analytics” is positive. People want to thrive at work. They want to express the best version of themselves, develop and deal with challenges, work with great teams and be supported by great managers. With People Analytics it is possible to plan ahead people’s careers in scale, plan and create better work environments and opportunities, for the benefit of both the individual and the organization. It should not damage morale, on the contrary. The technology, or as I see it, the use of data, is only a tool that meant to support decision. It does not come instead of culture and values.

Q: What tools are used to collect data and who will be in charge of it?

A: This is a huge question. Employee data is everywhere: in HR core platforms and apps, in HR tech innovative solutions, in operation apps of business units, on social networks, even on your mobile. Yet, behaviors and attitudes are dynamic, and there are many traditional methods to collect them too. The secret sauce in the recipe of People Analytics is to combine data from different sources. This requires cooperation of many in the organization: Business leaders, HR, IT, but first of all – Employees. The People Analytics leader is the one who collects all this data, and it is not a simple task. This professional must have – Besides business expertise, statistical modeling knowledge and hacking skills – The ability to be an influencer, a person of people.

Q: Is it used instead of employee continuous performance (enabled by HR tech apps)?

A: I see the domain of People Analytics as a practice that includes both innovative HR tech solutions and traditional aspects of applied research. Performance is one of the main challenges of organizations, perhaps the most important one. The purpose of People Analytics is to help managers to define the right questions first, for instance, questions about performance. According to the business questions it is possible to decide what technology to use.

Q: What are some of the challenges and pitfalls to overcome in adopting “People Analytics”?

A: I think that a prominent mistake is to start analyzing data without first thinking and understanding what kind of issues we are trying to tackle and instead directly search for interesting findings. When you work with data, you always find interesting stuff. You can handle data for months and point to countless patterns. But not every pattern is significant for the business. So don’t overwhelm your management with lots of data, or else, you’ll damage long-term attention and your analytics will be perceived as a waste of time and resources.
Another challenge is when you think you don’t have enough data, or when your data is incomplete. Don’t procrastinate your journey with data. Work with what you’ve got, while you struggle for data integrity. Understand what is missing, and how you can create processes for data collection in the long run.

Q: Are there any cutting edge companies implementing it?

A: People Analytics is a new profession in the organization, co-existing with the traditional roles such as recruitment, learning and development, and employee experience. Most large organizations worldwide have a director or VP People Analytics, and depending on their scale, sometimes it is a team, a department or Excellence Center. In fact, Google HR operations were the first to use the term “People Analytics” and this organization offers a huge amount of case studies in this field. A short list would also include Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, along with many global companies in the finance, services, foods and retail industries.
Large organizations have many challenges, a lot of people data and of course resources. It is only natural that such organizations will be pioneers in the fields of People Analytics. However, these practices are applicable also to fast growing companies. I had the privilege to work with 2 remarkably successful global Israeli startups, Taboola and Feedvisor and they, too, successfully conducted People Analytics projects.

Littal Shemer Haim brings data science into HR activities, to guide organizations to base decision-making about people on data. Her vast experience in applied research, constant exposure to HR-tech, and genuine interest in people lives and the future of work, all led her to focus on People Analytics. Connect with her on Linkedin.

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