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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