The Future of People Analytics
By Bradley Wilson - May 23, 2019
While people analytics once looked backwards to measure what was happening and understand people’s perceptions, over time it has gained the ability to explain why things were happening. Predictive analytics now allows predictions about what will happen to be made with a high level of confidence.
The next frontier is making interventions to change the likely future that has been predicted by the data—a shift to how to make desirable outcomes happen. This ability to positively impact the future is the end goal of a fully mature people analytics program. At our annual Perceptyx Innovation Conference, I presented my view of the future of people analytics (if you’d rather watch than read, click on the video below).
People Analytics: Where We Are Now
Analytics capabilities vary from one organization to the next, so it’s important to assess where you are now and understand that you can build on it over time. Most companies measure perceptions and what is happening; those who have integrated the data they collect from census surveys, onboarding and exit surveys, HR demographic data, and other sources already have the ability to understand why things are happening and make reasonable predictions about what will happen in the future. For instance, using these various sources of data, it is now possible to predict future attrition, including the number of employees likely to leave within a certain time frame, with a confidence interval of 80%.
While there will always be the possibility of measurement errors and other challenges to making accurate predictions, predictive analytics can prepare leaders for likely scenarios. In addition, it gives them options to make interventions with a positive impact.
The Future Of People Analytics
Predicting the future is useful in preparing for it, but the real value of predictive analytics is in using data to create the future we want. (Tweet this!) This involves moving from a predictive and prescriptive use of data to a purpose-driven approach. An intentional approach is not only more likely to produce the outcomes we desire; it is also more likely to avoid the privacy concerns and ethical pitfalls inherent in collecting and analyzing the burgeoning amount of data that is now readily available.
Why? Because a purpose-driven people analytics approach avoids fishing expeditions and the impulse to “see what we can see.” By focusing on specific business problems to solve, an intentional approach not only separates the signal from background noise; it can also prevent privacy issues by narrowly targeting the question that needs answering and formulating a plan to get that specific data.
This has become particularly important due to the increase in opportunities for passive data collection. Available technology already allows physical tracking of employees through ID badges, relational network mapping through metadata gathered from phone calls and email and messaging and social media platforms. Some of these new technologies even allow the tone of phone conversations to be measured. While the substance of the call isn’t being recorded, just the fact that the call is being monitored can feel intrusive.
Remaining focused on the purpose for gathering the specific data needed to answer legitimate business questions can help in avoiding these privacy concerns. In addition, transparency with employees about how and why data is being gathered and how it will be used can reduce the “creepy” factor. If the employee knows that his or her data is being used to generate personalized feedback and recommendations for increasing productivity or career development opportunities, the data collection is likely to feel benign rather than intrusive.
Preparing For The Future Of People Analytics
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once noted that the key to building a business was relying on things that are stable. As technology advances, dramatically changing the workplace and the nature of work, people analytics practice can stay on track by focusing on constants: the need for employees to feel respected, valued, and included. Other elements of business that can be expected to remain constant are competition and change itself.
The changes that are coming are massive. An estimated 47% of today’s jobs will no longer exist in 10 years, thanks to increasing adoption of automation, bots, and other forms of artificial intelligence. Intricate, specialized skills and people skills will become more important than general skills. Careers will be less structured. As rare as it is today for employees to have been with a single company for their entire career, in the future, career-long tenure with a single employer will be nearly non-existent.
While it can be overwhelming to try to imagine this future, we can depend on constants to help us prepare. Keeping respect for the individual front and center will help us avoid a Minority Report future, reminding us that we will never be able to predict the future with 100% accuracy. There will always be some disconnects and measurement itself will always have some impact on the outcome. The central focus as we attempt to predict the future from the data we collect should always be the responsibility to intervene wherever possible to create a positive outcome.
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