Creating Organizational Agility Through the People Analytics Function

August 6, 2020

Creating Organizational Agility Through the People Analytics Function

The Human Capital Analytics Action Group for Teams reconvened on July 15, 2020 for an interactive practitioner panel led by Dr. Anna Tavis, Academic Director and Clinical Associate Professor of Human Capital Analytics at New York University.

Joining Anna on the panel were:

  • Bennett Voorhees, Associate Director, Data Science, Workforce Analytics, Merck
  • Michael Moon, Director, DataCloud, ADP
  • Beverly Tarulli Former Vice President, Human Capital Strategy & Workforce Analytics, PepsiCo; Program Lead for Human Capital Analytics and Technology at New York University

The Masterclass also featured breakouts and candid dialogue among participants, with the practitioner panel portion captured below (edited for clarity and length).

Bennett Voorhees, Merck: These past few months have been the most intense and rewarding time of my career as a people analytics practitioner. Our initial task in February was to develop a standard reporting mechanism to track employee safety and continuity. We wanted to provide our senior leaders with a worldwide geographic view of our workforce so that they could see what is happening at our facilities and to our employees as they transitioned to working from home.

We very quickly stood up a cross-functional team with our Safety & Crisis group and our Real Estate group, drawing in data sources that we typically do not use in HR. As we were all working from home, we were forced to use Microsoft Teams. This was completely new for us. We’ve traditionally been an email culture. It was interesting and refreshing to see the rapid adjustment to this new technology.

With the dashboards in place, the second thing we addressed was our employee listening strategy. Through a series of pulse surveys, we asked our people about their top concerns and their perceptions of management’s support. All questions were asked through a D&I lens.  We supplemented the surveys by observing dialogue on internal and public social media. Our data science team (in an anonymous way) surfaced conversations on Yammer about COVID-19.

Voorhees (continued): The third major initiative in the crisis, and the most recent, has focused on productivity and collaboration within the virtual environment. We sampled about 5% of our office workers, anonymously observing their calendar and email traffic to analyze how their time use is shifting. We also examined networks of collaborators. We wanted to know if people are doing more collaborating within their teams and outside of them. It’s not a full Organizational Network Analysis, but a more focused approach.

Dr. Anna Tavis: It’s really impressive to see your team’s progress since the early part of the pandemic. Your visibility and status within the organization has increased because of the quality of the output.

Dr. Michael Moon, ADP: We’re seeing and doing a lot of similar work at ADP. Many of our clients are still in the responding and reacting phase. When the pandemic broke, our customers first needed to know where their employees were. Who is in higher risk areas? We built a heat map that overlays Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 data on company data. Using agile, we went from ideation to production within 10 days—getting the tool rapidly into client organizations.

Now, we’re working on how we get our clients to re-align, be agile and respond to whatever happens next. We are working on a product called ‘Return to Workplace,’ that combines transactional data with survey data. How do your employees feel about coming back? Can they return to work? And for those who cannot, why?

From there, we are helping clients identify groups and individuals that are ready to return to on-site work. We even have a facial recognition component that helps with contact tracing.

From our internal perspective, COVID has shifted our priorities. We’ve seen the acceleration of existing disruption. We had long been talking about digital transformation, but suddenly we had no choice but to embrace it rapidly at scale. For example, we have a lot of employees in India and Brazil who had never worked from home prior to the pandemic. But, within two weeks, we had everyone working from home without any major problems. I believe we will see the same thing with A.I.

I like to look for the positive outcomes, and one is that we’re seeing a larger effort and more focus on wellbeing. Companies are really paying attention to how their employees are adapting to this new virtual environment.

Dr. Beverly Tarulli, NYU; Formerly PepsiCo: It’s very encouraging to see people analytics come front and center in the HR world amid this crisis, but I think we have to acknowledge that using data analytics in HR is not new. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton wrote about Evidence Based Management in the Harvard Business Review in 2006. Today, companies are at different stages in terms of the scope and function of their people analytics organizations. Some are more focused on HR Information Systems. Others have different models.

Tarulli (continued): I led the people analytics function at PepsiCo for the past six years. I also led Human Capital Strategy, which was a powerful combination. When I built the group at PepsiCo, I looked for discipline diversity. I had a team of about a dozen people along with some matrix teams within our groups. I had a chemist, sociologists, a marketing analyst, an economist, a music major—it was intentionally designed to bring different people in with unique analytical mindsets.

Even if you’re not at the level where you’re bringing in biologists on your team, you do need people who understand human behavior as well as the data scientists. The crisis is proving this. If you’re just focused on the data scientists, you’re missing the boat. I think analytics teams should see themselves as leaders within the broader HR team to redefine or alter the employee brand, talent and experience. It is a different employee experience now for everyone, that’s for sure.

Tavis: Thank you for this excellent overview. We have question from the group for Bennett: How are you navigating privacy concerns related to the Organizational Network Analysis work you’re doing?

Voorhees: We’ve had deep conversations with our privacy office. We have an HR governance privacy committee within that office. We talked to them about what we are trying to do and why it’s important now with this massive shift to remote work. Obtaining the business justification was the first critical step. We then worked within data laws to exclude certain populations. The study we’re working on now is in aggregate. And we only allow a small team see the data. The short answer is that we are careful to respect privacy and regulations, with a focus on the business case.

I cannot share what we’re finding, because of privacy concerns, but I can point to some excellent work done by Worklytics founder Philip Arkcoll. He is great person to follow on LinkedIn because he posts a lot of metadata. As Philip has published, workers in newly-remote settings are losing some of the time normally set aside to do knowledge work. He also writes that time in the workday has extended. Without a commute or lunch meetings, people are logging in early, skipping breaks and logging out later. These observations from Philip are related to the kinds of things we are looking at with our analysis. Another thing we are looking at is how people are collaborating: namely the breadth and diversity of their networks in terms of departments, geographies, job levels, race and gender.

Tarulli: We did some Organizational Network Analysis work at PepsiCo. I used to say that I had my employment attorneys on speed dial. We always did it on an opt-in basis, which is one way to get around some of the more difficult attorney concerns. I do think you can get value out of ONA, but you do need to have a good business case to get it through the lawyers.

Tavis: We have another question from the group: Who drives Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP) in your organizations? What tools do you use and how has that shifted amid the crisis?

Tarulli: We did SWP pretty extensively at PepsiCo at the business unit level. It was always a three-legged stool—the HRBP for the business unit, the business unit leader and the Workforce Analytics team. I am sure there are software programs out there, but we did it internally with labor market mapping. How many people are coming into the organization? How many are getting promoted? How many are leaving? What kind of skillsets do we need? Where are we going to get them? In the U.S. right now we’re at 18 million unemployed. That’s a pretty amazing talent pool when you think about it. People that have been doing the SWP are in a good position to take advantage of the talent that is out there.

Tarulli (continued): One of things companies struggle with in terms of SWP is understanding the skills that you have. How do you build a skills taxonomy? I got a question once from the CEO: What type of dairy skills do we have at Pepsico? There was no way of knowing, so I couldn’t answer. IBM has skills badging. It’s the best model I’ve seen, but it remains more art than science. I think skills is where we are going.

Moon: I agree 100%. We’ve built a new job taxonomy. Now we’re trying to match the skills to it. How do you match skills to people? Is it surveys? LinkedIn? Instead of trying to attack the whole organization, we’re starting with the most critical areas first—the jobs and skills that we need the most or are the most difficult to replace. In the future, I think we will see more People Analytics and SWP functions converging.

Voorhees: Even if you have an internal skills taxonomy, how do you match it to external ones? How do you determine who really has what skills? The third part of this is how often do you update skill taxonomies? One of the biggest challenges with skill measurement is identifying the gap between a current skill and a needed skill. I would love to see who is doing that work right now. This is why I think People Analytics teams need a strong relationship with Learning and Development teams that better understand the depth of the skills.

Tarulli: I think this is an opportunity moment for People Analytics to be a bigger contributor in SWP and really everywhere. HR is struggling with so many things right now. People Analytics is perfectly positioned to help define this new world of work. If you are in analytics, I would lean into it and push the organization along.

Tavis: We are a fairly small community in Human Resources Analytics. And it is the most helpful community I have found in any area. Do not hesitate to reach out to any of us. We’re all within in two degrees of separation.

Thank You

Our third Masterclass will be on August 10th at 10 a.m. EDT.

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