Analyse this…

Data comes in many forms. Yet our obsession seems to be clearly focused on consolidated numerical information. Often called BIG data, but ultimately more analytics.

Other than the wonderful ability for the profession to follow a trend, I can’t help wondering how much the data argument is a result of the deconstruction of our profession.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the use of analytics and data in helping to understand and resolve challenges and issues. I’m not against the use of them to help us to identify trends.

I just wonder whether we’re trying to get back, something that we needn’t have lost.

The trend of HR structures has been fragmentation and the repeated calls is for more. Resourcing want to be a stand alone function, learning want to be one too. Talent, leadership, OD, what’s next?

The fragmentation of the HR model is something that I’ve written a lot about before, but is another consequence of it a loss of understanding of the state of an organisation and a need to somehow compensate through apparent “intelligence”?

Evidence starts with what we can see, hear, feel and experience. It starts with our understanding of the environment, when we segment that understanding, we lose knowledge and intelligence that cannot be compensated for.

When I started my HR career we used to know the people that we worked with and supported, we knew who they were, where they came from, what they were paid, how they performed and what they wanted to do. We recruited, trained, supported and developed. We knew which roles were hard to fill, why and what the organisational implications were.

But I fear much of that is now gone.

As we move inevitably forward, we need to ask ourselves how much is really new, how much is really advancement and how much is trying to reclaim the things we’ve thrown away before. Looking back has negative connotations, but sometimes it is the only way we can make sense of the right way to step in to the future.

The missed opportunity in resourcing

Recruitment and resourcing fascinates and perturbs me in equal measure. Of all the areas of the HR lifecycle it is the one that tends to have the highest volume of opinions per capita and the lowest proportion of data. Which is peculiar, because it probably contains the richest opportunity of all to really hone the science of Human Resource Management.

At the recent TREC conference I was talking to Matthew Syed the author of Bounce and Black Box Thinking. He made a point which I found compelling and scarily obvious at the same time.

Consider a key hire:

We go through our recruitment process, we measure our KPIs, we long list, short list, assess and finally appoint. Three month later, six months later, the manager is happy with the hire.

That’s good right? We’ve made a brilliant appointment?

But compared to what?

What about the person you didn’t appoint? Surely that is the best comparator? Where are they now, what are they doing and how will their career progress? Do you measure the lost opportunity and what is the vested interest in measuring the “successful” candidate, successfully?

I also see this closed mindset in relation to technology, candidate experience, candidate management and pretty much every single aspect of resourcing. We are quick to make opinions, quick to justify opinions and slow to challenge our own preconceptions about successful or unsuccessful interventions.

I witnessed a debate on Facebook about using interview on demand technology (video interviewing). Left and right there were opinions being launched, most of them damning. The thing that struck me was that no-one there was offering any experience or data about usage, just their own opinions. Which is fine, but in a world where we are trying to show the relevance of our profession, shouldn’t we do better than, “I think”?

Measurement and data in the field of HR is notoriously difficult, we are awash with the bad and the dodgy. That will only change if we are willing to be open minded, curious and willing to challenge ourselves and our own preconceptions – nowhere more than in the field of recruitment and resourcing.

In order to get better, we need to listen and learn as much as show and tell. That requires a specific mindset and approach – one that we need to be checking for when we hire people to recruit in our name.

Beware your confirmation bias

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I love data.

I love data, I love data analysis and I love evidence. Maybe not as much as Rob Briner, but that’s a tall order – we can’t all be that weird.

I hate assumption.

I worry that in the HR profession we’re increasingly happy to throw relevant information to one side and follow arguments that we personally value, even when the data suggests to the contrary. I’m especially worried that the whole “Human focussed HR” is being used as a cover all for sloppy, stupid thinking.

Two conversation happened last week that made me reflect on this in more detail. Now, the conversations in themselves weren’t stupid and the proponents were well meaning, but the arguments being made exemplified this risk.

I tweeted this:

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I’m increasingly interested in the psychology of technology and the way in which our behaviour is manipulated by technology companies. It isn’t new, retailers have been using behavioural manipulation for years, but it is naive of us to assume that technology is purely about liberation. We are given the sense of being super connected, when in fact we are depriving ourselves of many other types of social contact and integration. You can look at the research on this and there is an increasing body that shows the potential dangers.

A number of people responded to me that this wasn’t the case, that I was talking rubbish and that in fact we were all more connected than ever. I asked for evidence, I got none. I asked for data, I got none. We are more connected, we just can’t prove it.

Then I saw this,

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Both of these were being used to argue that compensation was really unimportant when compared to culture. It’s an argument that I hear a lot, it isn’t the money, it’s the culture. Ok.

But let’s reposition that data.

“Work life balance is unimportant compared to the senior leadership of an organisation”

Because, the data also suggests that. I’m not sure I hear many proponents of this argument in the world of HR. I don’t hear people arguing that no-one cares about work life balance as long as you’ve got top quality (well paid?) senior management.

The point is this. We need to be careful of our confirmation bias, we need to be careful of seeing the information we believe in and not the information as a whole. The arguments are rarely simple, they’re complex. They’re rarely linear, they’re multi faceted. And we need to be able to explore complexity and make appropriate conclusions based on evidence.

I believe in a more human workplace, I believe in making things better for employees and employers, for society. We will only do that by approaching this in a scientific, detailed and thought through way. Not by making bland assertions based on our gut instinct and personal beliefs.

If we want this, the evidence is there, we just need to be thoughtful enough to discuss all of it – even the bits we don’t agree with.

Technology, analytics, data, life – start from the beginning

I’ve just got back from the HRTechFest in Washington. Last time I went to one of these, I wrote this about Technology being HR’s biggest asset. I still think it is – so take a look.

This time, I was struck this time about the commonality of a lot of the themes that people were talking about inside and outside of the sessions. I heard a lot about:

Transparency – the increasing expectation from employees that they can see the workings of an organisation beyond their own personal experience. Whether that is of compensation, decision-making structures, or promotion opportunities – to name but a few.
Customisation – no single person is the same and we therefore need to create employee experiences that recognise the different choices that individual employees will want to take at different stages of their lives and careers.
Experimentation – we need to be more comfortable with being less perfect and in trying things out to see how and if they work. Whether it is data, technology or traditional interventions, we need to love and embrace the pilot.
Analysis – data, data everywhere….and we need to start using it sensibly. Almost every presentation or conversation I had talked about the data underpinning decisions, but used it in a practical and sensible way – not for show, but for real, purposeful thinking.

But the biggest thing that I realised was that the companies talking about this were drawn from right across the board. The likes of Twitter and Hulu and Google and Hootsuite were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Barclays, Cimpress, NBC and health and education providers.

The challenges and themes were the same, but the routes to the mountains were different. And I think this is a factor that we sometimes overlook. If you want to develop transparency of compensation, then you’re going to take a different route in a company which has been in existence for less than 10 years and has a couple of hundred of employee to one that has thousands of employees and a lot with a length of tenure two or three times longer than the other company.

Our skill is in understanding our organisational starting place and identifying the path to take. That’s a significant part of what we bring to the table. Sometimes change is fast, sometimes change is slow. Sometimes things aren’t achievable right now because a whole load of other things need to be done first. And that’s ok.

We all need to aspire to be better, we all want our organisations to change and develop, to create better working environments for our employees and better workplaces for society. To do that we need to constantly take a step forward from the place that we started. Recognising the challenge is as important as recognising the goal. That way, we make long-term sustainable change. The sort that really, really makes a difference.