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Can big data help increase the performance of your workers? A new report from Evolv claims it can.

The company's Q4 2013 Workforce Performance Report found adoption of “a big data approach to workforce performance leads to measurable improvements, such as higher customer satisfaction, increased sales, more efficient recruiting and better retention.”

For the record, Evolv is a big data company that focuses on solving workforce performance issues with a configurable cloud services platform. So the findings are not too surprising,

Performance Factors

As an example, the report points to business process outsourcer The Results Companies, which used data analysis to create efficiencies that allowed the same number of customer transactions to be handled by 20 percent fewer employees.

To see the factors impacting workplace performance, Evolv looked at customer satisfaction because customer-driven strategies are increasingly common. Employees, the report noted, represent a brand in their interactions with customers.

The performance of employees has a direct impact on customer satisfaction — and therefore on marketplace advantage. The report's analysis of data points to several key factors for developing the best employee performance:

  • Workplace relationships between employees and managers
  • Employee traits such as the appropriate personality for the job role
  • Job characteristics
  • Macro-economic trends
  • Company practices, such as overtime policies

Shattering Myths

Data analysis shows common wisdom does not always provide the best options for choosing and managing the best workforce. The report cites the experience of an unnamed “top cable services operator,” which used big data analysis to help improve its customer satisfaction scores.

The cable operator found work experience for a specific role, which the company commonly used in its hiring, was not necessarily the best predictor of the best person to hire among hourly workers. The more important things were aptitude and work style. Customer outcomes remain the same even when an employee in a customer-facing role is inexperienced.

Other interesting findings: job hoppers and the unemployed “often make great workers,” highly organized trainers aren’t necessarily the best communicators, great managers are the biggest positive impact on employee performance and workplace relationships had a stronger impact on attrition rates,   which can be very high in some industries, than all other factors combined.

If customer satisfaction is so heavily impacted by employee performance and if employee performance is most heavily affected by great managers, the a key question to unravel is: What makes a great manager?

Data to the Rescue

Again, data to the rescue. Unfortunately for innovative managers, the reports found “the higher managers score on the innovation and creativity scale, the worse they do at keeping their employees.” The report doesn’t indicate why, but adds that multitasking managers have even worse retention rates.

Helpful traits for managers who want  to retain employees include “an aptitude for leadership and teaching,” staying on the job with the same employees, higher education and adaptability.

This report is less an objective assessment of using big data analysis to unlock workforce performance, and more of a presentation about the value of Evolv’s Workforce Big Data network, which uses half a billion data points from internal human resources systems, publicly available macro-economic indices, and Evolv’s own “proprietary psychometric instruments.”

Nevertheless, the report points to an interesting use of big data, which has more commonly pointed to insights about customer behavior, business processes, market intelligence and the like. On the positive side, big data could help managers become better managers and employees enjoy their jobs more so that they stay on the job and are good to customers.

But in a week when Microsoft is abandoning its numbers-based stack ranking system — which encouraged workers to compete rather than collaborate — it’s also worthwhile to recognize that data-driven decisions about employees need to incorporate the human part of human resources.