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Keeping HR human: Finding the sweet spot between data and discernment

January 6, 2020

Nearly every HR professional is guilty of basing decisions on gut feel or intuition at some point in their career. After all, their job is often dealing with the unpredictable realities of human interaction. People aren’t automatons. They bring emotion, complex motivations, and imperfections into the workplace. You can’t always expect them to think and act in predictable, measurable ways. So, HR professionals who possess intuitive insight into how candidates or employees would react to a situation are valuable assets. But is that insight always reliable and realistic?

We’re finding that data and technology can often give us a much better, more reliable picture of workplace behavior. And we can use that data to understand and improve employee engagement and quantitatively measure factors that we previously relied on intuition alone to help us manage. But are we missing something essential when we rely on data alone?

Beyond gut feel

Let’s take a closer look at how data is helping us improve one area of the employee experience. HR used to rely on survey data to track employee satisfaction and engagement. We all know that was an incomplete — and arguably flawed — approach. Employees aren’t always forthcoming. They’ll often answer survey questions in the way they think their employer wants. Now, we can use hard data from other areas (such as reason for turnover) for a broader and more accurate picture of the employee experience. Think of it this way: when you visit a doctor, she asks you how you’re feeling and she relies on your answer — but she also draws blood and uses other tests to complete the picture.

So, better data, a more accurate understanding of performance, a metric-driven approach to improving the employee experience — that’s the good news. The question is: are we now in danger of relying too much on this new approach? Do we risk removing an important human element from HR decisions and strategy, and if that’s the case, how do we avoid that risk?

Avoiding over-reliance on data

Data and analytical tools are quickly becoming essential to HR, but we don’t want to fall into the trap of overreliance on them (the way we relied too much on instinct and intuition in the past). Imagine a scenario where software actually has the power to fire people. It’s not unthinkable, especially in an environment such as a warehouse where we can have hard, reliable data on picking, packing, and shipping activity. But a laser-focus on data from these areas can miss other factors that are just as important. For example, a person may rank low on core performance metrics, but the reason may be that the person has the process and institutional knowledge that other employees rely on. Co-workers may be continually stopping this person to ask questions and get help. This person is spending a lot of time making co-workers even more productive — but that doesn’t show up in the data. Spreadsheets can be lazy. They only know what they know, and they don’t know everything.

To create richer, more rewarding work environments, we need to combine data and discernment. We can’t forget the human context that can help us understand the nuances that aren’t always obvious in raw data alone. We need to personalize the situations where data only provides the broad strokes.

Putting data-driven decisions in context

At Infor, we’re now able to track 26 different cultural, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics to understand an employee’s behavioral DNA. We have data samples from more than 200 million people that help us zero in on the best predictors of performance for given roles. With this granularity of understanding, we can better personalize the work experience, so we avoid scenarios like the one above that rely too much on a cookie-cutter approach based on a few raw metrics.

Another example: we now have the data to identify employees who may be a flight risk. Without the context behind this data, though, an employer could easily mishandle a situation with one of these employees. When we dive into the “why” behind the situation, we may see that an employee is a flight risk because they haven’t taken any PTO in 12 months or they’ve been in the same job for five years. This additional context could help a manager make some relatively easy changes that encourage the employee to stay and help the employer get more productivity from them.

Making it personal

As consumers, we’re already aware of how a company can use data to deliver a more personalized and relevant shopping experience. As we learn more about the employee experience and acquire the type of data that allows us to get to know employees at the “molecular” level, we’ll discover new ways to personalize interactions with employees. Ultimately, it makes good business sense. The more we can personalize and humanize the employee experience, the longer employees stay with an employer and the happier and more productive they’ll be.

Written by: Marcus Mossberger, Senior Director, Industry and Solution Strategy, Infor

Filed Under
  • HCM
  • Trends
  • Global HR
  • Infor HCM
  • Worldwide
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