IMAGINE if your boss could take pre-emptive measures to retain employees who show signs of wanting to leave. Or if companies could get a handle on which potential hires would be the best fit – even before meeting them in person.
Sounds like the stuff of science fiction? Scenes like these are already playing out at some companies in Singapore, where a technological revolution is underway in the usually sedate field of human resources (HR).
While HR departments typically run on gut instinct rather than hard data, a growing number of companies are trying to apply a data-driven approach to managing staff.
Data analytics can help companies decide who to hire, tailor training programmes to suit staff requirements – even predict which employees are likely to leave. The data can come from a wide variety of sources, including employees’ leave applications, key performance indicator reports, email traffic, and social networking activity.
How are data and technology helping companies manage talent and retain staff? And how far should employers go in their efforts to learn more about employees?
Tech giant Google was – of course – among the pioneers in people analytics. In a bid to “build better bosses”, Google embarked on a plan code-named Project Oxygen in 2009.
The data-mining giant hired statisticians to trawl through performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards.
This analysis yielded a list of common behaviours among the best managers: employees value bosses who are good coaches, do not micromanage, and take an interest in employees’ lives and careers, among other characteristics.
While the findings hardly seem earth-shattering, it made a big splash mainly because the insights were backed up by hard data – revolutionary in a field that has traditionally relied mainly on intangibles. Interest in people analytics has exploded in the years since.
HR analytics roles in the Asia-Pacific region have more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to data from professional networking site LinkedIn. It estimates that there are now almost 40,000 HR analytics professionals in the region. And in the Asia Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore have the highest penetration of data or analytics skills in HR functions, LinkedIn data says. In Singapore, close to half of HR professionals are equipped with data or analytics skills.
Companies are clearly starting to pay attention to the potential that analytics holds for people management. Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report – which polled 10,400 business and HR leaders across 140 countries – found that 71 per cent of respondents see people analytics as a high priority in their organisations.
Recruiting is the No 1 area of focus, followed by performance measurement, compensation, workforce planning and retention, the report found.
“The types of decisions that can be made using data range from micro decisions like how to recognise staff and how often, to enterprise-wide considerations like whether or not to downsize a particular division and the likely impact on productivity,” says Leong Chee Tung, co-founder and chief executive of employee engagement platform EngageRocket.