People at the Anhangabau Subway Station, Line 3 - Red, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
PHOTO: Diego Torres Silvestre

Digital workplace and employee experience (EX) professionals are turning to the practice of “people analytics” to learn more about how their employees work, much like how marketers use analytics to measure customer experience. Although companies have analyzed worker habits in the past, leaders are doubling their efforts now to learn even more by using people analytics. Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends research (PDF) indicates that people analytics is currently one of the top 10 global trends for employers. However, while the desire is there, Deloitte researchers reported very few organizations have reached the stage at which people analytics plays an integral role in talent and business decision-making. 

What Is People Analytics?

People analytics is an analytical method that helps leaders in organizations improve processes, practices and ultimately the way their employees do work. Practitioners apply statistics, technology and expertise to large sets of talent data to deploy these solutions and practices, also known as talent analytics or HR analytics. The practice of HR analytics, focusing on the transactional HR, “is morphing into people analytics, purportedly to provide HR with more sophisticated big data insights,” according to CMSWire author Laurence Lock Lee

“HR groups can now capture the metrics needed to understand how their employees engage with certain content and tools, and more importantly, why,” said Brad Orluk, strategic alliances manager at Nintex, a workflow automation provider. “Traditionally, implementing analytics and EX tracking tools were the providence of IT. But with today’s powerful SaaS based tools, with convenient and economical per user pricing, this can be handled by power users in the line of business."

Related Article: Are People Analytics the Answer to Your Employee Engagement Woes?

Data-Driven Management

Khiv Singh, senior vice president of global sales and marketing at Sapience Analytics, which provides a people analytics solution, said typically a manager will get the data she needs to manage and mentor her team more effectively and make it more productive while other managers get data to make data-driven decisions. 

“In this way,” he said, “people analytics facilitates evidence/data driven management.”

Capacity Utilization, How People Work

What kind of data will the practice of people analytics bring today? The primary goal of a good people analytics tool is to provide visibility into how the most important asset of the organization — people — functions. According to Singh, a people analytics tool can provide the following reports:

  • Capacity utilization - What the capacity of the team is and how much is being utilized.
  • What the team is doing - What activity the team is engaged in when they are working.
  • How we are doing work - What process do we use to complete work that is assigned.
  • Where are we doing it - What tools, applications we use to do the work.
  • Who is doing it - Compare teams to understand trends and benchmark teams.

Those findings can feed into multiple organizational functions in the organization to provide insight. Here are some examples.

  • HR can identify hiring and training needs, plus avoid over-utilization of the team.
  • Operations and process teams can look at the data to identify process inefficiencies or deviations.
  • Lean and six sigma teams can find wastage in the processes.
  • Facility teams can identify usage patterns.

“In using people analytics, companies have created rules around hiring, workload allocation, work-from-home policies, flexi HR policies and software assets metering,” Singh said.

Related Article: How People Analytics Helps Businesses Retain Top Talent

Providing Relevancy for Content, Improving Search

Nintex’s Orluk said that content improvement is an important outcome for people analytics functions. "Having spent time in the intranet and publicly facing website space in corporate America,” he said, “I have seen how user analytics have been captured and used to help teams improve relevancy of content that they are generating as well as how that content and related processes and workflows are surfaced to users.” Examples he cited include redesigned portals and sophisticated search functionality.

What if Employees Think Big Brother Is Watching?

How do organizations distinguish people analytics with employee monitoring and surveillance? There is a fine line, Orluk said, between capturing people analytics and simply performing dragnet data surveillance on employees. “In the enterprise, there should be strong lines of communication between all of the constituents involved in these types of data collection activities,” Orluk said. “The C-Suite, IT — specifically the information security team — and the line of business should have a strong plan in place and governance around who is using the data and for what purpose. Misusing this sort of data could run afoul of data privacy laws and potentially expose sensitive data to external actors as well as increase the potential for litigation."

Singh said that in the past, organizations have used tools such as keyword logging and screen scraping to monitor employee work/activity, and some mistake people analytics tools to be or do the same. “Thus, there is a perception problem,” he said, “but once organizations see and understand what people analytics really is, then they are quick to adopt it.”

Just Let the Engine Run

What are the first steps organizations can make if they feel they're ready to infuse a people analytics program into their workplaces? “The beauty of good people analytics solution is that organizations do not have to change anything to start using it,” Singh said. “In fact, the best use case is to deploy people analytics and let it run in the background for few months and then see the trends. It’s like installing sensors to measure what your electricity or water consumption is; you don’t have to change anything, just install the tool to understand the patterns.”

Related Article: People Analytics: Big Benefit or Big Brother? 

Map Out Your Objectives

Map out the process and objectives, Orluk said. Rationalize the needs to allow for meaningful understanding of needs and desired outcomes. “Additionally, this type of due diligence will help accelerate the ability to gain buy-in from leadership, as well as other stakeholders that will be required to ensure the success of the project."