Executive summary People Analytics World 2017

I’m not sure if it is a honeymoon thingy, but my first time at People Analytics World was a blast. I feel honored to sit among the highly skilled professionals in the room.

For those who aren’t quite sure what people analytics is, it is NOT about dashboards and reporting the usual people metrics. Instead, think about improving your sales figures with several percentages. Think about cutting 12% of your customer facing employee costs. Think about a proven ROI of times five during year two, and times ten during year four.

People Analytics should be on the board agenda.

My own brain becomes a sponge and for a moment I’m taking a breather from my own work (being a trainer, a consultant, coach), becoming the one who is getting insights on a conveyor belt, learning, adoring, in awe. What I value most are the great speakers who knew their content, had worked with complex cases themselves and were openly sharing everything, despite competitors. What we have heard, though, is that the real deal of cognitive, AI and analytics is happening strictly incognito. Who would share the groundbreaking insights, which give their company a couple of years of edge? Exactly. This is the new hush hush innovation area.

Here are my first business insights in five key points. These will need more digesting, but are valuable in short snapshots, too.

1. People analytics is the new black for business development

“HR is not the client for People Analytics. Once you make the case, when you show what can be done with people data combined with business/operative/sales/customer data, it is a no brainer for the business to demand this”. This is an untapped potential in most companies. If you won’t start with it now, it will become a continuously growing business risk. There are several companies on a mature level of PA, mostly multinationals who started small, but in 3-5 years have grown their PA function to be several tens of people. Now the PA team is overbooked with requests from the business to solve business issues and assist with decision making. Some of the companies who have worked with PA a while, are now stating “Evidence based HR” as their strategic must-win-battle.

2. Scientific critical thinking should be mandatory to learn. For everyone.

Critical thinking does not mean feedback and criticism. It means you can through scientific reasoning deal with your dataset and evidence, have self-criticism, use peer evaluation, know about population numbers and statistics, knowing the limitations, validity and accuracy of the data. If you are speaking about PA speak like a scientist, please. I was surprised some speakers used i.e. “performance data” as if that was a good metric. Most often, “performance data” means the biased rubbish happening annually in the forced ranking performance assessment circus. Another example is a speaker presenting findings from an HBR article “top performers spill-over effect, 10% performance impact to close by individuals”. This was shared, without mentioning the population examined, the limitations or caution around the statement. Easy digestible popular people science does not fit into People Analytics. Be better than pop-science. Be science.

3. Management runs too much on tweet-long-beliefs

Is what you are saying an opinion, a “truth” based on your experience, or do you have data and facts, evidence to back this up? What kind of evidence? Have you tried to counter-prove your opinion with countering evidence or are you falling into the confirmation bias trap? How long haven’t we heard that “Employee engagement determines performance”, “Culture eats strategy…” and other snappy memes?

I loved how the keynote speaker, Alec Levenson, busted the first one with one question: “When has your employee engagement data predicted that the business is going to go south? Never. That is when.”

This is wonderful news for the consulting business. Bullshit bingo meme consultants will have to start proving the real business impact of their work. Management fads are going to be busted. And the CHROs can finally start impacting people decisions with robust evidence. And me? I’m in heaven. (Well, TBH, not yet, but closer)

4. You are going to be asked to implement People Analytics, soon.

Digital and data science, cognitive and artificial intelligence within the people domain will put enormous pressure on operations leaders very soon. Soon, very soon, the CEOs will during their golf rounds be hearing about how they gain millions, save millions and move the needle in their field of competition, because of smarter, evidence based people decisions. I guess pretty ticking soon after that round of golf the CHRO, CDO or COO, will be sitting in the corner office asked to start doing something about this untapped potential. It’s just a matter of time, really.

5. Start strategic and focused, not small, and not all-in

If you haven’t had this on the radar yet, but this tickled your curiosity, bare in mind that there is just one way to do this. Start somewhere. Many of the best professionals agree on starting people analytics with something that makes a difference, is important and valuable for the business. Small nitty-gritty will leave you behind in development, and a massive implementation can be too of a large investment. Start with something that matters, but build the foundation with more robust analytics in mind.

Of course there were tens of more geeky and techy insights, which I continue to incubate a bit.

We’re going to do amazing things in this field. Tremendous things. Believe me. We’re going to make HR great again. But let’s call it people operations, instead, ok?

Thanks for reading and please take a look on our “service menu” for inspiration!


Riina Hellström is working with creating modern, healthy and evidence driven organizations. She draws from the latest findings of three fields: modern people operations and management, applied neuroscience and agile/lean. With her engineering-scientific brain, people experience and creative paradigm-breaking curiosity she works with complex people projects helping creating simpler stepwise change. She is an international speaker, wanted facilitator/trainer and digital people leader. She’d also want to make progress in surfing, but clearly made learning a bit difficult for herself, living in Finland

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