People Analytics in the Era of Big Data: A book review by Bob Morris

People AnalyticsPeople Analytics in the Era of Big Data: Changing the Way You Attract, Acquire, Develop, and Retain Talent
Jean Paul Isson and Jesse Harriott
John Wiley & Sons (2016)

Just about everything you need to know to attract, hire, develop, and then retain the high-impact talent your organization needs

I agree with Jean Paul Icon and Jesse Harriott: “Workforce dynamics have always been complex during business cycle changes. However, what’s different in this economic cycle is that human capital executives and hiring managers now have Big Data analytics to leverage in attracting, acquiring, and advancing the right talent throughout the organization…People Analytics is a new domain for most HR departments. However, with the application of newer techniques and new thinking to talent management, the field of People Analytics is becoming more mainstream. Leading companies are increasingly leveraging sophisticated methods to analyze employee and business data to enhance their competitive edge. The old approaches of gut feel and ‘that’s worked in the past’ are no longer enough.”

Isson and Harriott write this book to help as many people as possible to help them and their colleagues to develop high-impact People Analytics that will generate business value from the Big Data and little data available to their organization. “Some of the practices we outline are not easy to access polish, but whether you are in a large company or a small one, you can apply your vision of people of People Analytics and create value from your data.”

Christine Borgman is among the most highly-regarded knowledge leaders in the burgeoning field of data scholarship. It came as no surprise to me that she needed 91 pages to cite the scope and depth of her own research for her latest book, Big Data, Little Data, No Data: Scholarship in the Networked World, published by MIT Press (2016). As she explains, “Big data begets big attention these days, but little data are equally essential to scholarly inquiry. As the absolute volume of data increases, the ability to inspect individual observation decreases. The observer must step ever further away from the phenomena of interest. New tools and new perspectives are required. However, big data is not necessarily better data. The farther the observer is from the point of origin, the more difficult it can be to determine what those observations mean — how they were collected; how they were handled, reduced, and transformed; and with what assumptions and purposes in mind. Scholars often prefer smaller amounts of data that they can inspect closely. When data are undiscovered or undiscoverable, scholars may have no data.”

Two major challenges are obvious: obtaining relevant data in sufficient quantity, and, knowing how best to leverage it to create value.

In their book, Isson and Harriott include interviews of 58 C-level executives and micro-case studies of (in alpha order) Bloomberg, Dow Chemical, General Electric, General Motors (Volt division), Goldcorp, Google, and Monster Worldwide. They draw upon their wide and deep experience as well as these sources when provide an abundance of valuable material. These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of their coverage:

o The People Analytics Advantage (Pages 3-10)
o A Short History of Analytics Adoption (35-39)
o Advanced Business Analytics and Advanced People Analytics (44-50)
o The Promise of Analytics and People Analytics Bridges (50-53)
o The Seven Pillars of People Analytics Success, and, Leveraging the People Analytics Framework (76-79)
o Making an Impact with Workforce Planning Analytics (112-121)
o Talent Sourcing in the Area of Big Data and Advanced Technology (138-152)
o Putting the impact Cycle into Action (169-170)
o Why Should You Care About [Talent] Acquisition Analytics? (179-182)
o Stages of Onboarding (209-212)
o Open Analytical Framework for Effective Onboarding (213-215)
o The Importance of Employee Engagement (225-227)
o Making Employee Engagement Surveys Predictive (229-232)
o Moving Beyond the Survey: Employee Engagement Measures (232-234)
o Benefits of Analytical Performance Management (249-250)
o How to Implement Proactive Talent Retention Models, and, Data for Talent Attrition Predictive Modeling (295-299)
o Why Should You Care About Workplace Wellness? (311-314)
o Rise of Employee Behavioral Data (359-364)
o Quantification of HR (369-371)

I commend Isson and Harriott on their brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices that include the aforementioned interviews and micro-case studies as well as end-of-chapter “Key Takeaways” and “Notes,” and dozens of “Figures” and “Tables.” These resources will facilitate, indeed expedite, frequent review of key material later. I do strongly recommend that each reader highlight key passages (I use a wide-tip optic yellow Sharpie) and having a lined notebook near at hand in which to record notes, page references, questions, etc.

Here are Jean Paul Isson and Jesse Harriott’s concluding thoughts: “There is more work to understand exactly ho0w the quantified HR organization achieves results, as surely many factors have an impact on an organization’s overall success. However, there is enough data from multiple sources to conclude that the data-driven HR organization is real, and that it isn’t tied to a single type of technology, organizational makeup, or industry. Becoming an analytically driven function is achievable for any organization willing to take an honest look at its data and analytics and use that information to make workforce decisions.”

If you and your colleagues have an urgent need of the information, insights, and counsel that are required to establish and then strengthen such an organization, look no further.

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