We know big data is powerful. We also know the future of HR is in flux. But pinning down the animal that is “people data” is something else entirely. A simple Google search returns 1.1 billion results for “what is people data?” But very few of them really get to any kind of definition. We know it’s the wave of the future, but what is people data, and how can companies apply it today?
Simply put, according to OrgVue, people data “can be defined as datasets describing people in organisations.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell us a lot about what people data can do. People data is closely related to a concept called big data; one difference is that big data often focuses outward, towards potential markets, whereas people data focuses inward, applying analytics to groups of people who already are or may eventually become employees of the organization.
People data is also different from big data in that it’s often “messier” than big data. Partly due to the longer standing of big data and partly due to sheer volume, statistically speaking big data is smoother and provides better analytics. People data isn’t as organized, and may not follow as standardized formatting like big data typically does these days. But, much like nuclear fusion is to fission, the potential power in the more volatile form of people data is worth the potential problems involved.
Applications of People Data: Internal Applications
So how can HR departments make use it? If the ultimate goal is to manage day-to-day HR operations, as discussed in an article by Deloitte, there are a few ways it can be applied. Remember, data analytics is used to detect patterns and changes in behaviors, so HR directors and managers should ask what kind of information might be good to know about a group of employees or potential employees.
It can provide answers to questions regarding internal questions like employee attendance. Capitalizing on people data shouldn’t be looked at as a way to give your employees a slap on the wrist, but rather as a way to inform HR directors of trends. For example, people data can tell you if certain times of year, types of weather, or days of the week have greater statistical likelihood of workers calling in sick. Monitoring people data like productivity versus allotted time for lunch, or meeting times versus project completion dates can help HR directions make informed decisions. With the right application, it can make a highly effective impact on internal processes for companies.
External applications of people data began with the advent of sites like Linkedin and Facebook. As soon as employers began realizing they could look up their potential hires and filter through them in ways that answered more questions than the interview could, social media websites had an incredible amount of power in the data they were scooping up. In fact, Linkedin makes a profit on people data it sells to HR organizations and recruitment companies.
External applications are focused on making hiring decisions and keeping abreast of retention risk and job-seeking behavior. Deloitte University Press published some of their findings in 2015. Using the power of the internet, companies are able to monitor social networks to keep an eye on patterns of external job seeking, which can be more reliable than any internal data. Companies can also maintain a clearer idea of their competition as people data for well-known job sites like Monster.com and Indeed.com is crowd-sourced. Users can input information about their workplaces, which means company information becomes more and more public and accessible by competitors.
The final application of people data is using it to develop tools which modify the behavioral patterns discovered by the analytics. Analytical reports generated using this data can only do so much. If you find out your employees routinely skip out an average of 38 minutes early on Friday, there’s not much use in the figure unless something can be done about it.
Take Vishal Naga, who worked on a team responsible for developing an “Early Warning Signal” tool in his company designed to predict attrition. They found that certain employee behaviors could predict attrition, such as whether or not a manager was on an employee’s friends list in social media. If people data harvested from social media confirmed this was the case, retention improved. Because of this, the company developed training programs designed to enhance and facilitate friendship between employees and their direct superiors.
Tools fueled by this data can improve more than employee relations. If people data is predicting an upcoming day where most of the company is likely to take off, it may be more prudent to simply declare a non-working day, or hold an event to encourage attendance or reward employees who come in.
The Power of Millions in the Palms of Our Hands
Regardless of how you choose to use it, people data is one of the most valuable growing resources available to HR professionals today. Don’t let your company sacrifice opportunity cost by ignoring this increasingly vital source of information. In the 21st century, the power is with the people – with people data, that is.
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