The future of data is changing — DON’T fall (even further) behind!
Toby’s back with a brand new rap on data — and how you’re probably not getting the most out of it.
“I can see into your future…”
If you picture someone “telling the future”, what does it look like? Do you see a mysterious robed stranger, hands roaming over a crystal ball? A foggy vision in a dream? An enigmatic message in a fortune cookie?
Here’s my prediction: the image you’re conjuring in your mind’s eye is not a spreadsheet full of data.
Putting smoke and mirrors to one side, data is incredibly helpful when it comes to assessing human behaviours (in the long term, short term, and nearly-now retrospective). It can be wielded as a very powerful tool to predict outcomes, suggest patterns of activity, and make better decisions going forward.
Yet when it comes to the HR or People functions, data remains a sorely underutilised tool — and these functions risk falling further and further behind as the ways in which we can use data advance and people take back the power of their activities. Read on to learn how consumer-facing organisations are using data to make better decisions — and how this can be easily applied to the world of people-management (through… you guessed it… Human Centred Design).
Data in the moment
Let’s start by looking into the world of organisations that serve or design products for customers, where sales (i.e. customer behaviours) dictate failure or success. These companies have long been studying consumer habits to design and iterate their product offering. A great example is Capital One, who uses customers’ spending data to track their habits — and predict when they’re likely to leave. This then informs unique targeted, timely strategies to get in touch and incentivise the customer to stay (e.g. a personalised product offer). Customers feel valued and brand loyalty increases. Their spend may even go up.
Capital One isn’t hiring Mystic Meg to achieve this. They’re just looking to the data. And that’s just one example of millions of consumer-facing companies who are using readily available data on human behaviours to drive tangible business successes.
Now, picture your average HR department. Aside from people surveys (induction, pulse, appraisal, exit interviews)… what other kinds of data do they use to inform their people’s behaviour? They’re probably tracking turnover and training spend, somewhere. But apart from that… the information they get from their people? Surveys.
Surveys, of course, do have their place; they’re a valuable source of information. They can help in the decision-making process and can offer good insights. But they have some flaws:
They’re mostly based on opinions, not facts; and
Those opinions can be prejudiced or skewed by those undertaking the survey.
There is a wider boatload of performance data available, primed for analysis, ready to shape strategy and direct decision-making. But… hardly anybody is using it!
All of us know, when we visit a website, that our activity is being tracked. Our internet service provider keeps a log of every site we visit. Cookies bounce between our devices and websites to improve our browsing experience. Social media apps and sites have long been tracking our activity — and using the data (in most cases with and in some cases without our conscious consent!) to generate targeted ads or suggest next actions.
This kind of data is gathered live, it’s unbiased, and it’s factual. It’s personalised, time-stamped, and reliable. And it’s collected in the background — with our consent, but without us really noticing. We just assume it’s happening.
How strange that we don’t carry this assumption over into the world of work! Instagram can track how long we pause scrolling to view a particular image, in order to generate similar images we might like… why do we assume our working digital tools cannot be used in a similar way?
Take Microsoft Teams, for instance. Login and logoff times, performance usage, screen-share time, meetings organised, job roles, team sizes… it’s all there, begging to be used. Is a particular department consistently seeing evening login times? Does this suggest a workflow issue — is the department overloaded, or is this their agreed working pattern? Is further resourcing required to support with the completion of work in a timely way?
The data gives us the power to investigate and get the full picture of what’s going on right now — so we can put actions in place to shape how we want things to be in future. This is immediately more powerful than a survey, where a colleague may feel unable to share their honest views of how their manager is handling departmental workflow… so those in HR never really get the full picture.
So what’s it got to do with Human Centred Design?
I did promise a link to human-centred design, didn’t I?
Performance data gathering and analysis play an integral role within a few different steps of the design process. They feature prominently up front, where data is used to really get to the heart of a particular challenge people are facing. This might be through feedback surveys with people — but it could also be monitoring their performance on a particular system, for example, to see where they’re experiencing issues.
These data also play a crucial role in the Develop, Deploy, and Iterate stages of our design process — check out 5DiSolvd.com to download the toolkit. Gathering and indeed analysing as much pertinent data as possible helps us create a solution that’s fit for purpose, and then make employee-led improvements to help it become even better over time. We put a lot of work into creating powerful but simple data dashboards to provide us and our clients with streams of relevant data that can inform solution improvements going forward.
Or, to put it another way… we collect and analyse the data from the past… to tell the future. No fortune cookies required!