Friday, 19 May 2017

Skillsoft / Sumtotal EMEA Perspectives 17

I was up especially early on Tuesday to attend Skillsoft's European conference , mainly to participate in a pre-conference roundtable reviewing new research from David Wilson from Fosway. There were a few quite interesting findings in their report, including that:

  • 87% of HR practitioners see skills gaps continuing to increase. This includes soft skills just as much as it does digital. Leadership skills are seen as slightly less lacking, probably because the people completing the survey saw themselves as leaders.
  • Learning will therefore continue to increase in importance, becoming the most important part of an employment value proposition.

Most of the roundtable focused on the need for employees to learn more quickly, which I agree is a growing requirement. However I think a still deeper need is to learn more, and more deeply. To me that puts a focus on 'search to learn vs learn to retain' and the evolution of mini into micro and now nano-learning in some doubt. I'd have liked to have raised this point.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, I wasn't there to participate in the roundtable at all but just to report on it (so I suppose I'd better do so). That led to my second main insight from the event which was a reinforcement of the importance of giving control of the learning agenda to the people wanting to learn, and involving them in steering their own learning process. Having a small group of people speaking and another group listening and asking a few questions at the end strikes me as rather bizarre in today's social world.

The speaking group also talked quite a bit about the need to give HR credit for the learning that people do as this is not often recognised. Really? I think that as long as HR / Learning acts strategically and effectively it will get the credit it deserves. More metrics may help but they tend not to be the main cause of business concerns about learning, or  a main way of dealing with them.

Learning and the rest of HR also need to be less siloed, which I completely agree with. However I disagree that using reward is the way to deal with it. Start with organisation design, linked performance objectives, whole group meetings - that will sort the problem in the vast majority of cases.

And a lot of the change is being driven by millennials, who value meaning and like taking sabbaticals apparently! (Actually we all value meaning and I took a sabbatical in 1990.)

There was nothing wrong with the research but I didn't enjoy my role in the session and so didn't hang around for much of the rest of the conference to see whether 'Percipio' would have much impact on any of the above, but the Twitter stream looked quite positive.

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Friday, 12 May 2017

Tucana People Analytics World 2017

I’m late in providing my summary of Tucana’s People Analytics World 2017 and have struggled to find a topic that others have not already written about. However I think one useful perspective may be the level of variety within analytics at the moment.

This applies firstly to analytical approaches. Most of the presentations, not unnaturally, focused on quantitative analytical approaches. My favourite from these case examples was Microsoft’s use of social traffic metadata to suggest best practice behaviours of the most effective managers. Becky Thielen and Jeremy Tyers explained that this has shown, for example, that effective managers maintain larger networks than their reports:
  • Employees reporting to managers with large networks are 7% more engaged and have networks up to 85% larger
  • Employees with networks 110% larger than their managers are 50% more likely to be disengaged.

However, I also enjoyed the qualitative examples, eg Adidas’s analysis of employee experience during key moments that matter, following the same approach used for the company’s customers, and applying across HR / management activities, workplace and the digital workspace. This involved an an automated employee response system providing a Net Promoter Score, but also open text comments, and textual analytics to help see summaries and patterns across the business. Stefan Hierl suggested that to really need to understand what’s going on for people you need to read this stuff and hence gave leaders access to the comments of their people. He often talks to leaders about the numbers but you also need an equal focus on the qualitative side - what’s in the minds of people as this provides a better feeling for what’s going on. At Adidas, listening to people is a core competence of HR - we should not outsource this.

Similarly, some of the presentations focused on very data oriented approaches. I liked Experian’s example of flight risk modelling, taking data on over 200 employee attributes from multiple sources and plugging it into Experian’s business modelling tools. This has delivered circa 20 key statistically significant attributes.

But what I really liked about this particular conference was its heavy focus on a strategy based approach. This started with Alec Levenson’s session noting that the tasks and behaviors that do not improve strategy execution vastly outnumber the ones that do. Therefore analytics needs to start with strategy not data. The point was at least partly supported by Peter Howes noting that incremental improvement on traditional data reporting tends not to work that well.

Even more important than this level of variety about analytics was the variety about people management itself. This includes different views about the direction of causality between culture and behaviour, and engagement and performance. Peter Howes asked us whether we are making decisions about people with the same intellectual rigour as our decisions about other business factors: Finance, Sales, Production, Supply Chain. Whilst we don’t even fully understand the role of something as central as engagement this struck me and at least some other delegates at the conference as a rather ludicrous suggestion.

I think the amount of variety I have described above has a couple of important consequences.

1.   There cannot be a single maturity curve which all organisations need to follow. I much prefer Deloitte’s and 3n Strategy’s approach of identifying different aspects of analytical maturity each of which can be strong or weak independently of each other (eg Deloitte’s categories of strategy, people, process, technology and data).

However, for many organisations, the best approach may be a combination of the various approaches. For example, Eden Britt at HSBC presented a heavily quantitative, data oriented  approach, involving, for example, several smart analytical approaches for providing insight on attrition:
  •    Clustering - which are the areas of high attrition?
  •    Machine learning - who will leave?
  •    Text mining - where will they leave to?
  •    Markov models - when will they leave?

But Britt also emphasised the importance of deciding upon:
  •    What is the question you are trying to answer?
  •    What is your hypothesis?
  •    What data do you have?

His suggestion when requested to provide yet more data is to always ask: “How’s that data going to help you make a better decision or to do something in a different way?”

2. I think the variety in our approaches also raise broader challenges to emerging or prevailing wisdom:
  • It means there is limited use for standardised taxonomies. These may be OK for whether someone has a driving licence but not for eg employee engagement, or for analytics itself. These may help keep the lights on cheaper but they also interfere in the search for competitive advantage.
  • It may also mean there is limited use for benchmarking models and tools. For example, when comparing cultures, is hierarchical opposite to delegating?, or professional the opposite to social? - they’re not in my view of the world.
  • It means that setting up a professional body for people analytics would be largely unhelpful. At this point in the evolution of the people analytics field we need to encourage conversation on different perspectives rather than to see these constrained.

Thanks to Tucana and all the speakers for sharing their various approaches.

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