IBM is using software to solve HR problems, and created a new consulting practice for organizational changes: http://t.co/LGpWCjGjZH
— Mohana Ravindranath (@ravindranize) August 7, 2014
I found the wording of this tweet and article summary interesting: What HR “problems” and “organizational changes” will IBM “solve” with analytic software?
From the Washington Post article (emphasis added):
[IBM] unveiled several new technology services that would apply big data and analytics processes to human resources problems.
One service, predictive hiring, would use large volumes of behavioral assessments and other employee data to better understand the traits that are characteristic of top performers, and then comb through candidates to identify potential hires. A predictive retention service would analyze workforce data — exit interviews, for instance — to identify those employees most likely to leave.
What strikes me here is the apparent assumption that job applicants bring high-performance traits with them through the door, or they don’t. Period. Color me skeptical of that assumption – and whether big data analytics is even the right tool here.
It sounds like an example of Maslow’s law: If all you have is a [analytic] hammer, every problem will look like a nail.
First, the analytics themselves described in the article seem logically flawed, based on a read of David McRaney’s blog-turned-book You Are Not So Smart.
For example, since existing leaders will largely decide what the attributes of top performers are, they might well end up defining the ideal employee profile in their own image (confirmation bias)!
And analyzing the traits of perceived top performers who have a long history with the company runs afoul of survivorship bias:
You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other…
[For example,] when a company performs a survey about job satisfaction the only people who can fill out that survey are people who still work at the company. Everyone who might have quit out of dissatisfaction is no longer around to explain why. Such data mining fails to capture the only thing it is designed to measure…
The reality is that workers’ attitudes in the workplace can and do change significantly over time in response to the organization’s own traits, for better or for worse, depending on whether the work environment is proactive or risk averse, collaborative or politically charged, collective or exclusive. And employees don’t need big data or predictive analytics to draw those conclusions.
Liz Ryan, former HR VP and founder of Human Workplace, hit that nail right on the head (bad hammering pun intended, sorry) in this article:
In order to hit our goals in any organization, we need to build positive energy in the workplace. We need people to be excited about their work… Anyone in your organization will be able to tell when the excitement level is high… low, or nonexistent…
Physicists proved a hundred years ago that energy moves in waves, and we see waves around us in the air and water. Still, we pretend that the workplace is a linear place made only of easy-to-measure particles… as though the waves aren’t there.
To her credit, Liz Ryan doesn’t pull any punches sharing her disdain for technocratic measurement of employee engagement (and by extension, performance). She calls for other much more effective ‘low tech’ methods:
If we really care what our employees think, it’s easy enough to find out… We could ask them how they’re doing… We all have enough creativity and intelligence to move our organizations without unnecessary, fear-fueled micro-management practices…
The more formal, rigid and hierarchical an organization, the less easily waves of energy and trust will flow… Give up the Employee Engagement survey, drop the junk-science patina on stupid HR practices and learn how to be human at work. You’ll be amazed how the team’s energy will power your success once you let it start flowing.
Business intelligence, when created and used appropriately, can be a powerful force for success. But analytics are not the only arrow in the technology quiver. New tools such as gamification platforms actively engage employees and helps cultivate employee positivity and productivity. For just one example right here in Boston, the WeSpire platform engages and energizes employees around company sustainability and social responsibility programs.
Making a conscious, personal effort to build an energetic, collaborative work culture should yield much better employee outcomes than passively poring over predictive analytics based on past history and potentially flawed assumptions. “The best way to predict the future is to create it” is an old saw, but one that still rings true when considering the right actions and technologies to improve employee performance and successful hiring.