Another View of HR ‘Big Data’

topdown3Last week I read this article explaining that “Big data knows when you’re going to quit your job before you do.” The article relates how VMware is using Workday to predict when and/if certain employees are in danger of leaving the organization. Workday’s Insight Applications, summarized here, are rolling out in 2015 and are designed to predict future business outcomes. Leaders with access to both internal and external data should, of course, be able to take advantage of opportunities while also cutting risk levels using the data patterns, predictions and recommendations that are embedded within the Workday system.

As the original article pointed out “By combining company data on employee hiring, promotions, relocations, compensation, employee satisfaction surveys, managerial decisions and job cuts with public data sets like the standard of living in the region and workforce demand for certain skills, Workday can spot patterns. Businesses can input decades of historical staff data into Workday to inform and customize the system’s recommendations. In one case, Workday analyzed more than 1 million data points for 100,000 employees across 25 years to come up with employment suggestions. To train the software, companies must look back on worker-retention predictions and give the software an electronic pat on the head for ones it got it right and a virtual swat with a newspaper for those it got wrong. The system learns over time how each company works and, like an experienced HR employee, develops a gut feeling for which people the company needs to keep a closer eye on.”

The evolution of HR. The stuff many of us get giddy reading about, discussing and exploring. For those HR practitioners who are able to realize the benefits of technology and big data, such as this, it’s like a whole new world; we feel like we’re sitting with the big boys (finally) when we have this information at our disposal.

Unfortunately though, when Ginormous Corporate Conglomerate A and Large Regional Bank Holding Company B start using this sort of technology, it doesn’t set so well with Sally Lunch Bucket and Joe Six Pack.

Using absolutely no data, algorithms, or regression analysis whatsoever I present to you, unedited, a few of the reader comments (505 as I type this) from the original article:

  • “It’s not a problem for those rare companies that actually value their employees properly and compensate them fairly.”
  • “Yeah, like they care if you’re going to quit.”
  • “Pay your employees better, train them well and treat them well and maybe they won’t quit!”
  • “This will only make employees less trusting of their employers.”
  • “A better idea might be to figure out WHY someone is going to quit… and how to fix the problem they’re quitting to get away from. Bosses won’t like that, though, since 90% of us don’t quit our jobs, we quit our bosses….”
  • “Does it also predict when your company quits you?”

There’s also lots (and lots) of HR bashing….

  • “HR becomes less human everyday”
  • “Over the last few years HR “professionals” have been trying to gain more and more power and influence in the corporate world. They sell unproven or ridiculous ideas and philosophies to upper management or board members and then completely destroy a company from within.”
  • “HR has ruined getting a job in this country, They created a cottage industry on uselessness.”
  • “HR = a parade of clowns”
  • “The ironic part of this whole thing is that this machine will probably be operated by someone in “Human” Resources.”
  • “How about HR just do their jobs? There is no need to rely on a program, they just have to get off of their butts and be active.”
  • “Human Resources. Neither human, nor resourceful.”

Ouch.

So how do we prepare for this tsunami of distrust when rolling out a new technology such as this? Something that brings to mind, for a fair number of people, an Orwellian society?

We pay attention to keeping the human element in mind, that’s how. We communicate across the organization – not just with the C-Suite execs who have given the blessing to our endeavor. We share the why, what, and how with Joe and Sally. And then we share it again.

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Earlier this year I had a conversation with a VPHR for a large regional company that was looking to hire a Regional HR Manager. This position, based in a large metropolitan area, has HR responsibilities (primarily employee relations) across a 3 state region and also serves as an HR Business Partner for a company-wide line of business.

Big company. Big data.

And, as part of this movement to using data to more effectively manage initiatives and projects, the VPHR outlined her expectations that her HR team be viewed as, well, business partners. She didn’t believe a need existed for her HR team to travel to company sites or meet with employees. Unless, of course, it was necessary as part of an investigation.

“We’ve got the technology and the systems and the data,” she summarized. “I don’t need the HR Managers spending their time in the field.”

I wonder what Joe and Sally would think of that? “Human Resources. Neither human, nor resourceful.”

 

3 comments

  1. With respect to your last point, a wise manager of mine once said, “You know, I’ve never figured out how to have an hour meeting with an employee in any less than an hour.”
    People need to talk, and part of the HR role is to listen. And listening to people takes as long as it takes.
    Big data is important, but only goes so far. As you say, the human element is critical.
    Sara Rickover

  2. John Gunawan says:

    Love the post! I definitely agree that the human element is essential, even if we (organizations) have taken out the “Human” in the department name.

  3. Ben Slater says:

    I think people are always going to get enamoured by big data/tech. I think it’s pretty hard to replace that personal touch though… (We need Joe, Sally and their friends)

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