Reflections on the People Analytics Forum

What is the "Creep Factor"? "HR Analytics should be built for insights, not reporting"! A summary by Michal Gradshtein, chosen by David Green as one of the 20 best authors on People Analytics & Future of Work articles: Nov & Dec 2017.


Reflections on the People Analytics Forum

It is fascinating to be a part of a professional world that is co-creating itself while moving ahead with enormous speed. There are so many questions to be asked around people analytics, and the answers are not black and white.

The People Analytics Forum held in London two weeks ago was an enriching capsule of time where a community of professionals came together to ask, learn, and co-create the future of the profession and its role in the future of work.

Here are some of my thoughts and takeaways:

#1 “The Creep Factor” and Ethics.

The two days event closed with a great discussion on ethics and the GDPR. However, the closing panel was not the only time this topic has been discussed.

The term ‘the creep factor’ which I heard in sessions and conversations suggests the potential negative effect people analytics may have on people’s perceptions and trust. More importantly however it demonstrates an awareness to that potential effect and the professional responsibility to address the ethical issues inherent to people analytics.

People analytics is an emerging field and its ‘borders’ are not yet established. It is up to us, as a developing community, to ask the questions, have the discussion, and co-create a professional code of conduct.

In establishing these borders I recognized two ‘methods’ – learn by comparison, and learn by regulation.

Learn by comparison.

As humans, one of the ways by which we define our identity is through social comparisons. As ‘people analytics’ we seem to do the same.

In several of the sessions I attended people discussed the differences and similarities between data collection and analytics on customers vs. employees. As ‘consumers’ people keep on using products that collect their data, analyze it, and even sell it. Most people hardly pay attention to the terms of privacy when they wear their ‘cunsumer’ hat. What does that mean for ’employees’ data and analytics?

On one hand, treating employees as customers is becoming the trend, and a positive one overall. If we can study our employees as we study our costumers we can produce a win-win situation in which employees get a tailored experience, and organizations strengthen their brand and performance.

On the other hand, as well said by Ernest Ng of Salesforce in one of the sessions – the impact on people’s livelihood and families is a main differentiator between ‘people as customers’ and ‘people as employees’. While customers’ data can be sold or used for marketing, it cannot take your job away or hurt your career progression.

The possibility that the data collected on employees can be used against them, is a key differentiator between ’employees’ and ‘consumers’. Fear is a powerful force – it helps us survive by sending warning signals which take priority over other signals. As ‘consumers’ we may be upset, angry, disappointed… but as ’employees’ the creep factor is inducing fears. So how may PA overcome the fears? This question relates to the second way in which we learn.

Learn by Regulation.

At the closing panel David Green and Kim Bradford suggested to take the GDPR as an opportunity to learn and grow from. I find this approach very appealing, especially if we think of the meaning of such regulation.


“The aim of the GDPR is to protect all EU citizens… in an increasingly data-driven world”.

Why do citizens need protection?

According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, we experience a global trust crisis in world leadership and low levels of CEO credibility. As trust indicates a willingness to be vulnerable, having mistrust is leading us to be extra cautious and protect ourselves. The GDPR is a signal to organizations, it tells us that people don’t trust us.

Do employees need protection from us?

For me this is the real question organizations should discuss when talking about the implications of the GDPR. This is where the opportunity lies.  I believe the competitive advantage of tomorrow’s organizations lies in ‘taking regulation and raising it’.

As an example, in 2016 Intel Israel came out with an announcement that it provides extra 5 weeks of paid maternity leave, beyond the 15 paid weeks set in law. It took regulation and raised it. This act created waves of talkbacks with people praising and wishing their organizations would have done the same. Intel Israel identified the need for parents to be there with their newborns and responded to that regardless of regulation.

Back to people analytics, I heard the same approach from Gianpaolo Barozzi of Cisco. “Why do we speak in ‘us’ and ‘them’?” he asked at the panel. The approach he presented focused on people and their perceptions regardless of regulation. For example, the GDPR does not dictate the level of involvement people should have in the process, but Cisco decided to get them involved from the get-go. The GDPR doesn’t say employees should be able to learn and grow from the data at the individual level, but Cisco took it there providing insights to employees.

Thinking outside of the regulation box and driving a work environment where ‘they’ do not need protection from ‘us’ is a great opportunity for PA to play a key role in driving the employee experience and the organizational brand.


#2 O-N-yAy!

As a networks addict I was thrilled to see Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) as a key focus of interest in the forum. Ross Sparkman of Facebook placed ONA as an advanced PA practice, the room was packed for Gianpaolo Barozzi presentation on ONA at Cisco, and TrustSphere won both the judges and the people awards at the forum.

The ONA tool is an exciting one. It enables us to understand complexity in a simple, intuitive way. It cuts through levels of analysis enabling organizations to take actions towards the same goals and from various perspectives. It can help us work as a dynamic, agile network rather than rigid, constant hierarchy. And it is applicable to various domains such as onboarding, productivity, mobility, engagement, diversity and more! Exciting it is!

However, despite the interest and the opportunity, my experience and conversations shows me only few organizations are currently using ONA in their organization. Why is that?

I believe it is because ONA is a tool used when having a certain mindset.

As an example – the title for Cisco’s presentation on their ONA system was – ‘From Hierarchies to Networks of Teams’. The title emphasized the mindset. ONA was the tool used to practice the new mindset.

But how many organizations today have adopted the mindset? Drawing from my experience, the majority of organizations still think ‘human capital’ (i.e. individual entities) and neglect ‘social capital’ (i.e. interconnectedness of individual entities), and still equate ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ failing to consider emergence and self-organization processes.

But this is not a permanent situation. The 21st century with its complexity, rapid changes, and underlying transformation in the relationship between ‘people’ and ‘organizations’ necessitate a network mindset in order to survive.

As for the tool – organizations can choose to use ONA once they went through the mindset shift but I believe there is a huge potential for using ONA as a data-driven, action oriented tool for helping with the journey. Those organizations adopting ONA tools today put themselves a head not just with the PA practices, but more importantly, with their mental model about how work is getting done in today’s world.

But running an ONA is not enough. The way the data is used is the mindset differentiator that provides a competitive advantage.


#3 Insights and Conversations

We collected and analyzed our data. Now what? What do we do with our results? The obvious thing would be to create nice graphs and make a presentation of the results to key stakeholders. But reporting is no longer enough.

HR Analytics should be built for insights, not reporting said one of the participants. “Data is a conversation starter” said Ernest Ng, and Gianpaolo Barozzi talked about creating intelligence – real time insights to enable people to be successful.

This is a key takeaway as often times I see PA treated as the ‘savior of the softies’ – providing hard numbers to the humanistic, soft function of the organization.  Such mindset is often leading us to the ‘reporting’ side – showing off the numbers. But PA’s potential is far greater.

Insights and conversations are about growth, learning and development. As I suggested before, people analytics can play a critical role in steering the organization and shaping the employee experience.

This is another angle to the same claim. I believe ‘helping people succeed through data’ (i.e. shaping the employee experience) should become a PA focus, and then we might see less reporting and more insights and conversations.

There were many more interesting debates and ideas at the enriching #PAForum17 so this is in no way a comprehensive summary. But above all summaries and thoughts on PA practices, the main thing I was left with is a sense of a community. Being a part of a community which is eager to grow, learn, bring value and change the organizational reality is exciting and fascinating. I am looking forward to April’s People Analytics World and if you plan to attend, please let me know.



Michal Gradshtein
Michal Gradshtein

Michal Gradshtein is an organizational psychologist with a network perspective. Michal focuses on the relationships between people and perspectives as the core mechanism to drive performance, engagement, creativity, agility, and other desired outcomes for organizations. As an independent consultant, Michal helps organizations and their people create a culturally directed space for emergence; leverage existing network structures; and build inclusive mental models. Michal is also the founder and CEO of the startup company StarLinks, which drives the networked organization bottom-up by providing people analytics directly to the people. Michal has work experience in global organizations such as P&G and Bosch PT, and in a variety of industries (e.g. communication, higher education, agriculture, and government). She holds a M.Sc. with honors in Organizational Psychology from The Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago.


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