‘People Analytics’ Through Super-Charged ID Badges

Humanyze helps companies make surprising connections about what makes employees effective.

What if “people analytics” were able to bring new clarity to the hidden patterns of why some people are more successful at their jobs than others? What if managers could essentially read people the way they read statistics?

Those are two of the questions that drive Ben Waber, the CEO and a cofounder of Humanyze. Using a sort of turbo-charged company ID badge to track all sorts of data points about employees, Humanyze helps companies find surprising connections and insights in data about what its most effective employees do differently. The company is a spinoff of the MIT Media Lab, founded by a group that includes MIT professor Alexander “Sandy” Pentland.

Waber says the inspiration behind Humanyze was “Moneyball,” which, he notes, “everyone thought was crazy at the time.”

Many people know the story, but it’s worth reiterating: “Moneyball” — the 2004 book, and then the 2011 movie — tells the true story of how the Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane successfully rebuilt the baseball team using computer analysis and statistics instead of wads of cash. Beane and his analytics team found connections and significance in certain player stats that had not been considered particularly relevant before. Baseball analytics unearthed patterns that seemed irrelevant and even counterintuitive — patterns no one would have believed if the evidence wasn’t there to show them to be true.

“I think business as a whole is, ironically, in a similar state to where baseball was over a decade ago,” says Waber. “We’re finally starting to have the ability to collect data on what we actually do when we’re at work — because we carry cell phones around with us and we have email, IM, phone call data, internal social media data and now, increasingly, sensors that tell us how we actually collaborate with each other.” All those data points paint a picture, he says, of how people in companies talk to their customers and how those behaviors relate to outputs.

In a conversation with Gerald C.