Sometimes the best solutions aren’t the most sophisticated

Sometimes the best solutions aren’t the most sophisticated-01.png

Last week I was at Tucana’s People Analytics World 2018 in London. I have a special affinity for this conference as I co-chaired the first three years from when a hundred or so people came together in a small space in Canary Wharf (and when the Tucana team was tiny) to today with several hundred of Europe’s top practitioners met in the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster.

Over the five years that the conference has run we’ve arguably seen three phrases in the analytics approaches presented:

  • The decision whether to do People Analytics
  • The academic – an approach to People Analytics where the objective was to run a project like academic research
  • The value where the time / effort concentrated on identifying business value.

This year was the first where I had seen value being cited as the prime driver.

I’ve written about this before. In 2016 I wrote “The greatest mistake for many in people analytics” where I discuss the need for a loss function to convert the statistical model to business value.

In the past too many presentations discussed finding statistical relevant findings but didn’t extend this analysis to the business impact of the change. At People Analytics 2018 two presentations especially made the necessary leap from this, rather academic approach to one centred on identifying value.

Michael Tocci of P&G even joked that his previous academic peers would challenge him because of his ‘less-rigourous’ approach. However, through his excellent presentation he showed how P&G analysed the value created through the global mobility program and refocused it to ensure it was being used effectively in a way which was highly mature. It was always value-led.

Pressed with a challenge, presented to investors of pulling cost out of employment costs P&G used analysis to understand how to do this in a way which minimised the long-term disruption to the organization. Make no mistake, this was not cost-cutting for the sake of cost-cutting, but an economically-led approach that ensured that mobility assignments were being used effectively, with the right people going on the right assignments to the right locations to maximise value. 

The techniques that Michael described were not what we would describe as ‘advanced’ but the clarity of thinking, and understanding of the business showed a maturity that we wouldn’t have seen even 2 years ago.

Similarly Swati Chawla of Syngenta described how they used People Analytics to analyse sales force effectiveness in APAC. Again, the analytic techniques weren’t advanced but the focus on identifying value as well as (the usual) cost enabled them to optimise on the correct variables for the business.

As with P&G, the techniques that Syngenta used aren’t ‘advanced’ but the maturity was achieved via a carefully selected and balanced set of measures. She demonstrated a strong understanding of the business trade-offs between trying to minimise cost-per-employee and balancing this with productivity.

The final characteristic that both presenters demonstrated was a strong understanding of the need to build wide support for action through a robust change management approach. It might (possibly) be easier to build a convincing case with simpler analytic techniques due to the ease of comprehension. However the focus always has to be on action, not clever analysis on a PowerPoint presentation.

As I flew back to Switzerland on Thursday evening I reflected on the lessons any CHRO could learn from these presentations.

  • Focus People Analytics efforts on the net value of the topic that is being analysed.
  • Business understanding is the most important factor, both to ensure the right thing is being optimised but also that analytics teams are able to motive leaders to change
  • Sophisticated analytics doesn’t necessarily mean sophisticated results. Pick the right tools and techniques for what you want to achieve.
  • These approaches can be used regardless of the size and complexity of the organizations. Whereas some sophisticated approaches require a decent size population to find meaningful trends, clear thinking is applicable to all
  • People Analytics, at least in some firms, feels like it is becoming mature. I hope People Analytics World 2019 shows this to be true.