Friday, 21 November 2014

Art of HR, Dubrovnik, Croatia - conference summary

Here are the tweets from the Art of HR conference last week which I helped organise and chaired.

Do take a look - it was awesome!:

We'll be doing it again next year - see you there!

And in the meanwhile, join in the discussion in our LInkedin group:

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Monday, 10 November 2014

The Art of Social Recognition


On Thursday and Friday I will be in Dubrovnik, Croatia for the Art of HR conference.  We’ve got some great speakers on HR artistry and are also discussing the findings of our Art of HR survey which have been profiled in HR Magazine, and you can find out more about at our Linkedin group.

The survey reviewed a breadth of artful activities in order to establish an artistry index and review this against the enablers and benefits of artistry.  And I’ve also provided some detailed results about one of the most artful HR processes we reviewed, social recognition, in this post which is up atWorkstars’ blog.

Workstars is a new sponsor of my Strategic HCM blog and so you’ll be reading more about them here over the next year.  But in brief, ….

Workstars' mission is to make your business a better place to work, and crucially, get your business working better.

Workstars are innovating beyond the very tired, self serving $47 billion reward industry. We are focussed on the future, and the future of employee recognition is social.

A true cloud based business that wraps people services around the market leading employee recognition application, where every line of code is shared by every client, very large or very small.

The first global SME and Enterprise provider to master a free to launch model. Our significant application investment continues to expand our business. We work with HR and when it comes to employee recognition, we are a plug and play innovator.

Workstars bring enterprise level infrastructure and thinking, designed to make managers great and boost engagement across any business.

Friday, 31 October 2014

#SEHRBP Successful HR Business Partnering conference

On 18th November I'll be chairing Symposium's Successful HR Business Partnering conference for the second year.  Last year's event was excellent and this year's looks like it could be just as good.

Speakers include:
  • Graham Salisbury, Head of HR, ActionAid UK
  • Caroline Mellor, European HR Director, Axcess Financial Group
  • Marcus Lee, Director for HR Business Partnering, Santander
  • Craig de Sousa, Deputy Director of HR, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Peter Reilly, Associate, Institute for Employment Studies
  • Sarah Clark, Deputy HR Director, St Mungo’s Broadway
  • Jenn Batey, Lead Senior Business Partner, Grant Thornton UK
  • Daryl Maitland, HR Manager, Cafcass

If you're interested in business partnering, you may be interested in these recent posts I've written on Symposium's site too:

And of course there's my training courses I deliver for Symposium which provide a lot more insight on all of this.

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Friday, 24 October 2014

Of course HR is the Most Important Function

I thought it was interesting that the 'people are our most important asset' came up at both of the conferences I was trying to follow virtually, in between other things, yesterday - at HR Tech Europe and Symposium's Talent Management and Leadership Development summit.

The question at Symposium was how do make this real in our organisations (ie how do we act in a way which demonstrates people are the most important asset).  And the point at HR Tech was that although people might be the most valuable asset, this doesn't necessarily make HR the most important department.

Why not?

Actually I think both points need the same response - HR needs to understand how to leverage this most important asset in order to create competitive advantage.  One we've got this understanding, 'it' becomes real, and HR does become the most important department.

The understanding starts with human capital.  This came up at HR Tech Europe too with Matt Buckland asking ' "Human Capital", "Resources"... what are the other words HR uses to avoid saying "People"?' and David D'Souza suggesting this includes 'colleagues, talent, FTE, staff, employees, workforce, hires, payroll.'

I completely agree that human capital sounds a dreadful term when we actually mean people. But human capital is the main outcome of what we do.  We can't avoid the term and be strategic.

Social capital too, and although the term didn't come up, that's also what Yves Morieux was talking about and Bosch were describing at HR Tech:
Bertrand Duperrin: 'The more people collaborate the more they sacrifice their own performance to the benefit of overall performance'
Marcus Fischer: 'Community Manager will be a leadership function in the future'
Ea Ryberg Due: 'Principles such as self-organisation and transparency by default might sound like start-up, but it's Bosch +250K employees.'

I haven't yet got onto social capital, of the prime importance of HR, but I've provided a summary of why human capital is so useful and how it helps make 'it' real in our organisations over on my new advice column at  After a period of posting every day I've been taking a breather from that but I will be kicking off again with more input on human capital from Monday.  Anyway, these are the current posts:


There you go.  But if you've not got time to look at all these posts, just review the accountability one as I think that's probably the most important, at least in explaining why HR is the most important function.

And actually even if you don't believe this logic, I still think it's useful to believe HR is the most important department.  I like the NLP concept of self limiting beliefs and I think our tendency to see HR as a distinctly unimportant function is definitely self limiting.  I often encourage HR to have more confidence, even a bit of a swagger, as we undertake our role.

I don't think a swagger would actually be helpful, but sometimes we do need to over-compensate and I think it'd still be better than rather apologetic way we tend to carry ourselves today.

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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Technology, Analytics and Workforce Liberation

I'm not at HR Tech Europe this year - after chairing the event the last three years and seeing attendees increase from, I think, about 300 to 600 to 1200 to hopefully over 2000 this year it's time to focus on other things for a while.  However I am still very interested in HR technology and look forward to following the tweets.

If I was chairing I'd be commenting about how HR's perfect storm of social, mobile, cloud and analytics has been progressing with more new technologies starting to take hold the role of the four most important starting to shift, with social becoming more about culture (about time too); and mobile developing into a much greater focus on apps; cloud becoming a less important issue (actually I never considered it on the same level as the others being mainly a delivery vehicle rather than changing the nature of what is being delivered).

The one of the four which seemed to have grown in emphasis, becoming a bit of a prima donna at the HR Technology (US) conference, is analytics and it'll be interesting to see whether we have the same take on its growing importance over here.

Despite my articles during HR Technology I personally think analytics will be a big part of the future world of HR (I just don't think it can ever be the major part of that - so a part of the future rather than being THE future.)  I also think analytics is at an interesting junction, where its use could develop into something really useful, or remain in the background.  And to me, this depends on the use we put it towards.

I mentioned in my perfect storm article that an additional tidal surge was developing out of an increasing focus on usability.  This is about making HR technology something which benefits members of our workforce, not just HR or line managers (see my post from the first HR Tech Europe for more on this.)   That same agenda is now coming to analytics too.

In fact we saw some of this at the US conference where several of the tweets and posts addressed the potential for analytics to further reduce the H (human focus or humanity) in HR.

Analytics will always be something we can use to help manage our workforce but the most interesting data on the workforce is now being generated by our employees themselves - from their tweets, their survey responses, their wearable devices etc.  And we can use some of this data too but the more of it we use, particularly if we do that in the normal rather crass way we tend to do these things, our people are going to rebel.  The more we use their data, the less we're going to get.

The only way to resolve this paradox is to think about using this data and our analytical capabilities differently.  We need to focus on giving our interpretation of our employees' data back to our employees so that they can use it to improve their performance.

Take Sociometrics' analysis at Bank of America as a good example - I"m not sure how they went about this but most employers' attempt to give their employees RFID or other devices is going to be met with some friction, and that's likely to be an understatement.

But as wearables become more popular, led most probably by the Apple Watch, people are going become more used to the idea of the Quantified Self and they're going to understand the rationale for the Quantified Organisation.  But they're only going to comfortable being quantified if they're the ones who get to use the quantification.

In fact I think this is the way we're already seeing things developing outside of HR and outside of business, eg I liked this case study of Disney's MagicBands in this week's Computer Weekly:
The MagicBands allow visitors to choose whether they share their personal data. For example, they can connect their card payment details, so they don’t have to carry a wallet around the park.

Parents can also share details such as their child’s name and birthday to make the experience more “magical”. If a child tapped their MagicBand on a reader when queuing to meet a Disney character, the character would then have information on that child, which could be used to personalise the experience.

“Perhaps she’s meeting Alice from Alice in Wonderland, who can then wish her a ‘happy birthday’ and call her by her first name,”

The article makes it clear that Disney is getting benefits from the devices themselves but the system only works because guests are getting the biggest return.

If we remember this then I do think analytics could be the biggest of the four forces on HR.  Of course it still won't be the future of HR and I still have other concerns which I'll come back and address over the next few days.

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Monday, 20 October 2014

Britain Needs a Pay Rise - or at least fair Pay Differentials!

Saturday saw the TUC's 'Britain Needs a Pay Rise' march in London and other UK cities.

I think we saw the effect of pressure on reward after years of low or no or negative pay rises (the Bank of England suggests that average weekly wages adjusted for inflation have fallen 5% since 2010).

Low expectations of pay increases was of course one of the issues identified in my discussion on Glassdoor's Q3 2014 Employee Confidence survey which I reviewed last week and is shown in the graph above.

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Friday, 17 October 2014

Glassdoor UK survey shows redundancy fears receding

It's great to see UK unemployment falling below two million (for the first time since 2008) in the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.

It's also great to see employees’ expectations about the future improving quite dramatically in Glassdoor’s Q3 2014 UK Employment Confidence Survey.  The 10% fall in fear of redundancy is a big change from last quarter and would seem to be due, at least in part, to a reduced level of organisational belt tightening with employees reporting less restructuring, redundancies and hiring freezes.

Whilst it is disappointing that we have not yet seen advances in all of the indicators provided by the survey, the large jump in job security should mean that there are a lot of happier people about, and that businesses are set for improved financial performance.

We can therefore hope that job security is a lead indicator of further recovery in the job market and that we will see further gains in business outlook and job market optimism as well as increased salary expectations during the next quarter.

This is a critical change point for employers.  Whilst employees have been afraid of losing their jobs, or even just been worried about their colleagues’ prospects (as we saw in Glassdoor’s survey for Q1 2013) it will have been much harder for them to really focus on their employers’ and customers’ requirements, rather than on what they themselves have needed from their jobs and careers.

With increasing confidence there is now a much greater opportunity to connect employees with the aims and aspirations of their employers.  Organisations therefore need to find and create more opportunities to help their people engage, for example by involving them in business planning or work-based communities, or just by increasing opportunities to socialise with one another.

Leveraging increasing confidence will be an important means of lifting employee profitability - which as well as being an important business requirement will be vital in dealing with what is likely to be the next big change in the job market - expanding expectations of salary increases.  (Whilst salary expectations are largely a result of firm success and salary payments, there is so much pent up demand for higher salaries at the moment, that expectations are likely to increase at a faster rate that companies’ ability to pay.)

Employers should therefore expect and prepare for rapidly increasing pressure on reward - particularly in those sectors and organisations where there has been little in the way of increases over the last seven years.  The public sector is an obvious example and continuing austerity is likely to make this an increasingly challenging environment over the next few quarters and beyond.

Preparing for this new environment may require better identification of who is really important in an organisation, and in particular who will drive new growth opportunities, or maybe better and more agile succession planning.

However it is still early days and the economic recovery is still fragile so the gains in confidence seen during this quarter could still easily be reversed.

Companies will therefore benefit from continuing to communicate openly with their staff, helping employees commit time to new opportunities but also to be aware of risks and their potential consequences.  Doing this could help businesses address any challenges they experience but should also avoid major surprises for employees if business confidence does reduce again, or if it simply continues to bump along, showing small shifts up and down, for a few more quarters to come.

By the way, I'm acting as Glassdoor UK's HR expert, helping to promote the findings of this research so look out for more comments from me in the press!

This was my report from Q2.
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Friday, 10 October 2014

#HRTechConf #2014NLS The Modern CHRO and the Neuroscience of HR Technology

In fact I've been following the tweets from the NeuroLeadership Summit (NLS) in San Francisco as well as HR Technology conference (HRTech) in Las Vegas.  Not an easy thing to do! - NLS has been replaying the points raised last year about the importance of attention and the negative impacts of tweeting plus the need to pause every 15 minutes to give the brain to take hold of new learnings - well following, tweeting and blogging on two conferences after a hard day's work in the UK has certainly had my hippocampus working hard.

It's been particularly difficult because I've been struggling with both agendas.  I don't agree with the prevailing mindset on analytics at HRTech which has made it difficult to learn.  And I'm no expert on neuroscience (yet) so I feel NLS has given me a lot to take on.  In fact I was listening to one of my most fascinating sessions I've ever attended to at any conference quite late last night and which focused on the neuroscience of values but I still fell asleep half way.  No problems though - we know how important sleep is to health, learning and performance.

One of the reasons I found the session on values so interesting was because it focused on the extension of ideas within the brain to the level of the organisation.  Eg we can understand what we value by looking within the brain but doing this can also help the way groups of people in an organisation change what they value too.

I saw this link between quite a few of the things we discussed at both of the conferences.  For example today at NLS we've been focusing on Carol Dweck's ideas about fixed and growth mindsets.  I've got no data for this but intuitively I link this to what I've been seeing as a split in the HR agenda at HRTech between a focus on business and one on people.

The people / growth agenda certainly came up a couple of time at HR Tech with questions about whether analytics reduce HR's humanity and whether there's enough Human in Human Resources.  But most of the agenda was about how we fit in more closely with existing ways of doing things within a business.

For example:
Don't have a seat at the table? Ask if there's something you're not doing right. HR priorities MUST be business priorities.

To become CHRO, must know your HR stuff AND your business. You are a business person, not a support person.

I linked all of this to the fixed mindset because it treats people as essentially static resources which can be moved around to meet business needs - sometimes almost literally ie John Boudreau talked about analytics making talent more like a game of chess.

I saw the same issue come through in a number of different guises.  One was a few comments about the role of women.  Denis Howlett suggests the high proportion of women in HR is one of the reasons why he thinks it's not performing:
If you trawl through the HR hierarchy you quickly find that it is dominated in number by women. As an objective fact, women are massively under represented in positions of power. In technology businesses, there are a pitifully low number of female CEOs and women are leaving the business in mumbers. Fortune reports there are only 24 women CEO’s among the Fortune 500. Given that skewing of the data, is it any surprise HR is often the poor relation in the C-suite?

I think that comes from a fixed mindset.  A growth mindset celebrates the fact that the female balance within HR means that we're more likely to perform now and that we already resemble the type or organisation that most businesses, or at least their leadership teams, will become (see this article in today's HR Magazine.)

There were other overlaps as well.  These relate in particular to values and culture which I started to refer to earlier, and also performance management.  But I'm going to come back and address these two topics separately next week.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

#Analytics, Analytics, Analytics - NOT The Future of #HR #hrtechconf #hrtecheurope

I'm looking forward to the tweets from HR Technology (US), and then later HR Tech Europe, as I can't get to either of them this year (in fact I've not been to HR Technology (US) for three years now since I last presented there.)

Both are normally great conferences - helped by the space they operate within as there is so much new and highly impactful within HR tech.

However as I'm not chairing HR Tech Europe this year (three years was quite enough for a while) I have a bit more freedom to say that I think one aspect of these conferences needs firmly squashing down into place.  Yes - it's the Analytics, Analytics, Analytics focus which kicks off HR Technology (US) this year.

I do understand the link.  Technology often generates a lot more and more useful data and insight than we've had access to before.  We should use that potential.  But that doesn't mean it's the future of HR.  Even HR technology isn't THE future, though increasingly it's a large part of it.  But analytics isn't even close to playing the role that HR tech can play.

Basically, it is important, it's even something we should focus on more than most HR functions do, and I try to play a role in moving it forward eg I'm currently planning a two day session with an HR Analytics team for early next week.  But other than filling a conference room, all of this hype around the topic does us (HR, and HR Analytics professionals) no good what so ever.

Here are ten different reasons why I suggest this:

1.   We shouldn't confuse a big thing for an HR technology vendor with a big thing for an HR function

HR analytics is a big thing - a big part of the future - for HR tech vendors.  Cornerstone's acquisition of Evolv is a good deal for them (even at $42.5m) but that doesn't mean it's a big thing for HR.  In fact the way these things go often means losing a lot of the functionality (at least for companies using a competitor HR system) which made the acquired technology so exciting anyway.

2.   We're not IBM or Google

Forget what they say - it's great, but it doesn't apply to the rest of us. We don't have Watson.  And Google, with Project Oxygen etc (sold by Rahat Harfoush as her best example of an Engineered Ecosystem) isn't completely reinventing HR, it's reinventing HR at Google, that's all.  Even there we'll have to see whether trying to treat people in the way they treat engineering problems is a good idea or not.  But in my view caling their HR department People Operations doesn't inspire confidence that they have a clear, strategic approach to HCM.

3.   There's no data about the future and it's often difficult / impossible to extrapolate

Businesses and HR are going through huge changes.  Recruitment, learning, performance management, pretty much everything we do are going through huge transformation - what we did in HR years 10 or even 5 years ago has little relation to what we're going to be doing in 10 or even 5 years time.  So understanding what we've been doing over the last few years often has very little relevance for the next three.  The need is often for big scenarios mapping out the range of possibilities at high level rather than big data plotting out the detail of one potential future which is unlikely to take place.  And yes I know that analytics can help with scenario planning but if that's what we're suggesting then it's scenario planning which is the future, not the analytics!

4.    There's little data about what's important - so don't build your strategy around your data!

Assuming there's no major changes going on (when was the last time that happened?) it's still difficult to generate really useful insight from data.  The more important something is within HR generally the harder it is to measure, and the more likely it will be that you'll need to use qualitative and subjective measures.  The more you can use quantitative and objective metrics, generally the lower the level of value.  It's why it's so dangerous when people suggest things like 'I believe we should be able to calculate the ROI on everything we do and if we can't calculate it, we shouldn't do it'.  And why McKinsey have it backwards when they suggest that if the CEO and head of HR haven’t recently discussed ideas for using data to generate a talent strategy that’s more closely linked to business results, it’s time to start.  This isn't the right place to do this.

5.   Qualitative information about complex issues needs Wisdom Artists

Analytics is often associated with the quants.  It needs to be redefined to be much broader than this.  Often it's the qualitative information which can offer the most intelligence, and is in any case  the only the thing can be measured.  The panel at HR Technology (US) have been suggesting that analytics support storytelling, but if stories are what are important then just collect stories.  HR also operates in an environment of greater complexity than most of the rest of the business - and understanding complexity needs synthesis not analysis.  So we need wisdom artists not data scientists (see the work we've been doing in the UK and Croatia on the Art of HR.

6.   Most current case studies are rubbish, and that tells us something!

I think it's because of these concerns that most (make that nearly all) case studies I read on analytics leave me completely underwhelmed.  I am pursuaded by big data - I think the potential insight which can arise from examining unsuspected correlations, and not worrying about causation, is real and significant.  But again we tend to only have this data about very operational things so although the financial value of big data analytics can be quite high its strategic value is always going to be very low.  The case studies on the more normal predictive analytics are usually embarassing.  Qantas conducting regression analysis to understand it wasn't a great idea to get rid of its best people is one example that sticks in my mind for its inanity.  We often need better strategic thinking, not better analytics, though both together is obviously best.

7.   It's not worth doing it just to have the data

Sometimes it's suggested that it's worth putting up with all this malarkey ie doing analysis to get insight you already know just so that you have the data.  That's complete rubbish or at least very expensive.  And at some point you're still going to have to have a conversation with your stakeholders to explain that not everything needs to be measured to be manageable and that sometimes it's not worthwhile.

8.   We need to challenge current business paradigms, not fit within them

A linked argument for analytics is often that this is the way business works and therefore that's how we need to present our conclusions.  Well, yes, that's true but if that's all we do we've missed the plot.  We need to fit into the existing paradigm to establish credibility but then once we've done that, help change the paradigm.  Where we can measure and analyse we should do so, but we also need to develop comfort in managing without measurement.

9.   Good analytics requires integration across the business

Although other business leaders are interested in getting more insight on HR and do seem to love criticising our lack of analytical capability (forgetting that they've stopped us investing in the HR technologies we need to do analytics effectively), HR often isn't their main priority (yes of course it should be) and concerns about boiling the ocean will often restrict the level of analytical investment which will go into HR.  We'll have to wait our turn.

10.   Where value does exist it's often not for HR itself

This point is a bit pedantic but I still think it's important to recognise that where analytics does provide insight it's often not for us.  The panel at HR Technology (US) talked about the Board and pension planners but to me the key need is to provide information to employees.  Take wearables - you can use Evolv's solutions to understand your call centre agents movements and shift patterns and manage them better.  But in most organisations that's going to result in a break down of trust and lots of dysfunctionality.  Much better to make this information available to employees and help them use it to improve their own wellness and performance etc.  So if analytics is the future, it's the future of workforce liberation, not of HR!

Of course there are ways to generate value from analytics fairly quickly but that involves throwing out all the maturity curves (which are hopelessly self  limiting) and focusing hard on your people management strategy, then working out which metrics and what analytics can provide insight on the execution of this strategy for you.

But that's about strategy not about technology so I don't see much arguing for it going on at HR technology conferences, however great they are.

By the way, I really mean the point about the poor case studies.  If you know a good one - that really did influence a company's HR strategy - please do let me know! (I won't criticise it, but just try to learn from it.)

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Monday, 29 September 2014

Datafication of HR and the Need for Wisdom Artists - #EBLive2014

Here are my notes from my keynote presentation from Employe Benefits Live last week:


Datafication - a horrible word (not my choice for the session - and I blame Josh Bersin) but an important idea.  However I interpret the concept differently to Josh and don't see a need to 'datafy' HR.  To me datafication simply recognises the HR has been 'datafied' and seeks to respond appropriately to this new environment.

Key issue is big data - volume, velocity and variety.  Despite criticisms and questions on whether big data exists within HR this is a big deal, and it does exist - maybe not in the strict sense of the volume of data (although SuccessFactors calculate their average system contains 5.5 bn data points which is pretty big) but certainly in terms of variety etc.

That's not to say that small data isn't important but big data requires particular attention.

The big shift is from causation to correlation.  Big data says we don't need to worry about ensuring something is causal anymore, correlation is enough.  So it's not really about the 3 V's at all, it's simply about a different way of treating data (and OK, I know many HR people have never been that worried about distinguishing correlation and causation but let's let that pass for now.)

But big data is only one part of the big picture.  The most critical point is that the more important something is within HR generally the harder it is to measure.   It's why I'm so against quotes like 'I believe we should be able to calculate the ROI on everything we do and if we can't calculate it, we shouldn't do it' are so dangerous - they send us in completely the wrong direction.

This leads to three very different zones for measurement and analysis:
  • The main focus is adding value - traditional HR.  In this zone our focus needs to continue to be predictive analytics - trying to understand causal links between items of the HR system
  • At the most important levels in HR, we often can't measure what's important, at least not in quantitative terms and this leads us to qualitative analysis.  Analytics need to be qualitative as well as quantitative.
  • But at the lowest level of value where there's lots of data we can start doing analytics in new ways where we don't care about causation, we simply look for correlation, that's enough.  This is the result of the datafication of HR.

What's Been Happening?

What's been happening is the datafication of business.  We can look at this to understand what's currently driving change within HR.

The first driver has been social media - every tweet is a data point.  The same applies within businesses as more organisations start to use enterprise social networks.

The second driver in business has been the internet of things - so it's not just people who are communicating together, it's our fridges and other devices as well (help, my fridge is full of spam!)

It's why big data is such an important issue in business - and why McKinsey's suggestion that we're so short of data scientists is such a big issue - obviously for HR as well.

What's Happening Now?

HR is now responding to its own datafication - but slowly.  The fact that CEOs rate HR's analytical capabilities so low is a problem.  It's not all our own fault however - we've had decades of rubbish technology and it's only in the last five years that this area has been sufficiently invested.  But until more organisations have good HR systems in place it's actually very hard for us to respond to HR datafication.  But we do need to respond.

The same issues which have driven change in the rest of business and transforming HR as well.  Social recruiting generates the same level of data points and these are being used to provide new insights by systems like Talentbin, Entelo and Gild, plus in the US, Glassdoor Job Explorer (Mervyn Dinnen had spoken about social recruiting in the morning session of the conference but had actually talked about ieTalent rather than these.)

A bit nearer to the employee benefits space you've got the same thing happening in social recognition - giving thanks, kudos, badges (a Josh Bersin slide) and rewards.

Another key need for HR is to integrate with data outside of HR.  Finance, external vendors (particularly for employee benefits) and others eg Glassdoor's new benefits comparison functionality - using the power of big data to help people make decisions about prospective employers based upon the benefits they provide.  (It's early days and I couldn't find any information for EBLive case studies up there - eg Maersk, Sheffield University Juice etc - but it will come.)

The internet of things isn't a big driver for change within HR, but it's near relative, human augmentation certainly is.  Augmented reality devices such as Google Glass are going to substantially expand the amount of data we're generating and using.  And augmented performance - I was wearing my FitBit and it's interesting to see how quickly it and particularly Nike's Fuelband have moved out of the most innovative into the nearly defunct category with new devices, particularly the Apple watch.  

But these are all producing and enabling analysis of data.

And all of this is providing benefits.  The best case study I'm aware of in employee benefits is Caesar's Casinos.  They've tracked thousands of variables about how tehir 65,000 employees use health insurance medical services, such as their choice of cheap or expensive medical facilities and whether they choose a generic or brand-name drug. Eg they found that at Harrah's in Philadelphia only about 11% of emergencies were being treated at cheaper facilities, versus 34% across all of Caesars. Taking action upon this they reduced this to 17% and between 2009 and 2013 made savings of $4.5 million.  I like the case study because it's not a complicated analysis of data, but does provide a high financial value (if low strategic value) benefit.

So basically, HR's experiencing the same enablers, the same requirements, the same potential benefits.  We've been datafied and we need to learn how to use the opportunity this provides us.

What's Next

What's next is HR getting on top of this new environment.  However, we need to be careful not to be led astray by all the hype.  Business has been through peak big data hype but HR is following on behind and we're still climbing up to the top.

We're not afraid of big data as a recent CIPD report suggests, we're just cautious about over investing in an area that is still developing and in which our technologies are still not that mature.

But we do need to develop our capabilities in this area so that we know what we don't know.  Eg all HR people should be able to use R (and all the other technology that supports data analysis.)

The good news is that there's a MOOC for that! (actually, there's quite a lot of them.)

But this isn't our only data challenge.  PwC's report points out the high proportion of decisions that are still made by gut and we need to influence these decisions too.  And just because a decision has been made using data doesn't automatically mean it's going to be a good decision.

The same applies in HR as well eg see UCL research in the proportion of selection decisions which are made by gut.

So yes, we need HR science but we need art and a dollop of magic too.

See this article and the Art of HR feature in October's HR magazine.

We may need HR data scientists in our teams but this isn't the future of our profession - what we need more than this is wisdom artists - people who can extract meaning from data and other information  - including the sort of fuzzy information provided to us by our intuition, and develop great, innovative, tailored strategies that drive our organisations forward.
people who can extract meaning from data and information – including the sort of fuzzy information provided to us by our intuition, and develop great, innovative, tailored strategies that drive our organisations forward. - See more at:
people who can extract meaning from data and information – including the sort of fuzzy information provided to us by our intuition, and develop great, innovative, tailored strategies that drive our organisations forward. - See more at:
people who can extract meaning from data and information – including the sort of fuzzy information provided to us by our intuition, and develop great, innovative, tailored strategies that drive our organisations forward. - See more at:
people who can extract meaning from data and information – including the sort of fuzzy information provided to us by our intuition, and develop great, innovative, tailored strategies that drive our organisations forward. - See more at:

Actually all data scientists need to be wisdom artists - the value is always in the questions and the story telling, not in the quantitative analysis itself.  But this is much more true within Employee Benefits and the rest of HR as big data correlation only provides one piece in what we need to do - we need to be able to combine in gut hunch and qualitative analysis as well.  And all of this needs to be integrated together.  It's not as if we'll be able to improve one process just by correlation and another just by semantic analysis - or at least it's much likely that both approaches will be necessary for both processes.

Therefore you may want to have a couple of data scientists on your team, depending on its size, or of course you could just borrow these quants from the rest of your business.  But if I was you, I'd want your whole team to be wisdom artists.

So maybe wisdomification would be a better (if even more horrible) word to use?

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