Tech Savvy

Taking a Rigorous Approach to People Analytics

What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology.

Imposing order on the morass of people analytics: HR execs are being bombarded with sales pitches for people analytics that promise to improve every aspect of workforce management from recruiting to what HubSpot’s execs so charmingly called “graduation.” But how do you weave this rather bewildering assortment of digital tools together in a way that is aligned with and supports your talent and corporate strategies?

Jean Paul Isson and Jesse S. Harriot, respectively VP of business intelligence and predictive analytics and former chief knowledge officer at Monster Worldwide, take a good shot at answering that big-picture question in their new book, People Analytics in the Era of Big Data. The authors encapsulate their approach in a framework that organizes people analytics into 7 “pillars” that are broadly based on the responsibilities of the HR function: workforce planning; sourcing; acquisition/hiring; onboarding, culture fit, and engagement; performance assessment and development; churn and retention; and wellness, health, and safety. “The ultimate goal of this framework,” they write, “is to focus your organization’s attention on those areas that are keys to talent analytics success and will lead to greatest return on investment.”

As you might expect, a comprehensive overview of people analytics leads to a pretty thick and sometimes dense book. But the authors ground the pillars in practice using case studies and interviews. One of them describes how Société de Transport de Montréal, the city’s public transport agency, which serves 2.5 million riders per day, is implementing and using people analytics. It is featured in the excerpt below.

A cost-benefit analysis of virtual shareholders’ meetings: As much fun as Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders’ weekend seems, you have to wonder why the 5,300 or so annual shareholders’ meetings held in the United States haven’t gone virtual. Actually, 90 companies did in 2015, according to NYT's Deal Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon, including Intel, GoPro, SeaWorld Entertainment, PayPal, Fitbit and Yelp.

“Not one shareholder showed up to Intel’s shareholders’ meeting last week. In person, at least,” writes Solomon in an NYT “DealBook” column. “Instead, Intel’s annual meeting was entirely virtual. There was no in-person gathering site, the questions were submitted in advance, and management and the board made all of their presentations online.”

Solomon, who also teaches law at UC Berkeley, goes on to list the many advantages of virtual shareholders’ meetings. Lower costs, higher attendance, more accurate tracking — to say nothing of the opportunity to better “manage troublesome shareholders and their often uncomfortable questions,” and eliminate protests and PR debacles.

Sounds good, right? Not so fast, says Solomon. He thinks the in-person interaction of the traditional shareholders’ meeting is the only chance shareholders have to engage management — and put execs on the spot. “And in difficult situations, the repeated resistance of shareholders can make a difference,” he writes. He also suggests that such meetings are a chance to win over investors and build brands — a finding that Warren Buffett would surely second.

So Solomon gives virtual shareholders’ meetings a thumbs down, even though there seems to be no reason why virtual shareholders’ meetings couldn’t be designed in ways that enhance both attendance and participation. The problem, of course, is that management must want both.

The robotic workforce is here and now: There’s been a lot written about workers being displaced by robots, but a lot of what’s written is written in the future tense. Suddenly, however, the future — which is typically portrayed as dystopian — seems more like the present.

For instance, Apple supplier Foxconn reportedly already replaced 60,000 workers with robots, according a story by Mandy Zuo in the South China Morning Post. “The Foxconn factory has reduced its employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000, thanks to the introduction of robots. It has tasted success in reduction of labour costs,” said a government spokesperson in the province of Jiangsu.

(Update: Reports about Foxconn replacing 60,000 workers appear to be mistaken, per more recent stories.)

Meanwhile, in Crain’s Chicago Business, Micah Maidenberg reports, “This year, Wendy's might roll out customer-facing ordering kiosks in as many as 6,000 stores around the U.S., while McDonald's and Panera Bread are experimenting with them.”

Finally, in Fast Company, Sean Captain writes about Siemens spider bots, which work autonomously in teams to learn and complete tasks in and out of factories. “The spiders know their capabilities and limitations,” explains Captain. “Each is fitted with three gyroscopes and accelerometers, plus actuators in the legs that measure force — all in order to determine the spider's position and how it is moving from one spot to the next. The team can even figure out how to cover for a robot if it breaks down or its battery dies.”

It’s interesting that companies seem to be looking for excuses for replacing people with robots. Foxconn’s move is linked to the safety of Chinese workers, and in the U.S. quick-service restaurant sector, it’s all about those draconian minimum wages. In any case, if the job apocalypse is closer than we thought, it may be that more execs need to be considering a near-term plan for employing the fast-growing robotic workforce.