Big Data


HR and BIG Data

Big-Data2-400x265We get that it’s Data, but why is it BIG?

There’s a lot of talk about big data, and some have talked about the opportunity for HR to make use of greater analytics for workforce data, but we believe there is also more HR teams can do to support the pace of change business is facing.

In case you’ve not come across the term, “big data” is the title given to the simply jaw-dropping amount of information that is being generated, stored and could be analysed across all the systems out there.

From a customer perspective, you’ve got all the data on how someone moves around your website, how they got there, what other sites they browsed, what they buy, how they talk about you on social media, what feedback they then give on your service feedback capture – and the list goes on.

There’s no doubt there’s an opportunity for HR teams to take a good look at the big data available on the workforce.  What questions do we have about our employees, their behaviour, performance, activities etc?  What data is available or could we be capturing to answer those questions?

Beyond HR analytics

Aside from following the trend of analysing data, we see the role of HR – or specifically Talent and OD as one of building up the organisation to be ready for this seismic shift in how business works.  What are we doing in the Talent and OD space to make sure we are attracting and retaining the kind of talent that can take our businesses to the forefront of these changes?  What are we doing to build awareness and develop skills across all departments, so that people can make their own intelligent decisions on what to do with all this change and data?

Building awareness of what big data is and how it is changing the nature of business, could mean an unlocking of new opportunities: To have more people thinking of how to analyse the data available – and use those insights to make informed decisions.

Totem Gummi Bears

As the inspiration for this came from Sir Ian Cheshire’s Retail Lecture, let’s look at particularly what this could mean for HR teams in retail.  What do people across departments and out in stores know about the digitalisation and mobile shift in retail – and the big data that comes with that?  What does that mean to us in our jobs in retail?  How do we need to adapt?  Imagine roadshows where with this knowledge and understanding, your entire workforce can suggest ideas on how the company better respond and lead the way.

Although we’re all customers, shopping online and getting frustrated when the experience is not smooth – or when the app on my phone says something’s in-stock and we get into store and it’s not – that has not meant we have quickly grasped what this means to our work and businesses.  Big changes in the world are communicated throughout businesses to enable people to make choices and decisions – and this is one thing they definitely need to know about.

What could you do?

It’s easy to hold our heads in the sand when the world is changing and we’re not sure what that means or how to keep up.  We recommend exploring with your team – what do we know about shifts in our customer and employee digital behaviour, what big data that may be providing, and what that might all mean to our jobs and business?

Realising you don’t know the answers to these questions can be a great starting point to finding out, challenging the rest of the business to do the same, and seeing where you can go from there.

Happy exploring!

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AI in Recruitment

The robots are coming!

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in recruitment has been attracting lots of attention lately.  But the question remains, is this a useful technology?

Although there have been exciting advancements to this category of technology, it’s still far from perfect. Amazon recently discovered that their AI algorithms were discriminating against women. And if Amazon can’t get it right…

All evidence suggests that was because Amazon’s computer models were built using resumes submitted to the company over a 10-year period – mostly resumes from men, a reflection of male dominance across the tech industry. In effect, Amazon’s system taught itself that male candidates were preferable.

Thankfully, Amazon have shut this programme down, redistributed the design team and have assured us that this algorithm was never used in a live recruiting environment. But it has raised some interesting questions about the use of AI, and its impact in the HR industry in general.

For companies facing stiff competition in the job market, particularly for jobs that attract too many irrelevant applicants, the possibility of using algorithms to do the grunt work is extremely attractive.

Erica Titchener, Global Head of Technology at talent management consultancy, Alexander Mann Solutions suggests. She states that algorithms, “can aid the identification of the right talent, remove a level of human error and reduce the risk of recruiters missing qualified candidates.”

Whilst we’re inclined to agree with her in concept, Amazon’s experience suggests that an AI programme is only as good as its makers – and the data it is built from. Can we remove human error from the source code? Can we accurately describe to the programme what “the right talent” is?

In our experience, when a firm is seeking to recruit to a role, it’s seeking a balance between a candidate’s personality fit within the organisation versus what the candidate has achieved and the skills they possess.

Currently, AI can identify candidates with the right work histories and screen for certain qualifications, educational history, work experience and other limited factors that may be useful in the role. But it’s basically playing snap with job descriptions and resumés.

This in itself is hugely useful in reducing the work load of sifting through potentially thousands of CVs. With each CV being given a fair assessment based on its content, without bias to the ethnicity of the name on the CV, the individual’s age or the school they attended. Reviewed by a programme that doesn’t get tired, have “bad days” or spill tea all over a pile of CVs.

At the heart of recruitment lays this insightful quote from Chris Nicholson, co-founder and CEO of AI firm Skymind, “the question everyone’s trying to answer through all the interviews, screenings, tech and coding challenges, is, ‘How can I predict someone’s performance?’”

Does AI have the ability to establish what an employee’s performance will be? We don’t think so just yet. But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the technology.

The main benefit of AI in recruitment is that it will save your organisation’s HR department time – certainly in the initial hiring phase. This saved time can then be spent working to improve the later stages of your recruitment process.


There’s a great article in the Harvard Business review by Satya Ramaswamy that dives deeper into the concept of AI in the recruitment space, it’s well worth a read!

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Getting Commercial

totem-commerceCombining learning, digitisation & commercial leadership

All this talk of technology (see our recent articles on the topic here) could be distracting us from the desired outcome.  Are we helping our people deliver better results?  Are we helping to build sustainable growth in the business?

We’re finding that many of our clients are looking at their priorities to improve their technology or digital service, improve their commerciality or people’s profitability and to improve people leadership.  Rather than seeing these as three separate priorities, what if we combine them?

Most if not all businesses need leaders to engage their people with the digital age, deliver great, profitable service to customers and lead high performance.

What does this mean in terms of actions for the talent, learning and leadership functions?  We’re finding more and more clients are needing to do more with less and that includes getting smart with how learning budgets and projects are used.

In one organisation we found that people were not engaging with digital products or talking to clients about the wider service on offer because they thought they needed to be experts before they could mention it.  Sound familiar?

Totem Gummi Bears

Most people have a fear of looking stupid or being considered unhelpful, so we can relate to the idea that people need to be the expert or at least feel they know more than others before they can speak about products or services.  This raised an interesting question – do we need to give people more knowledge or help them realise they already know enough to be helpful?

It could have gone either way, but in this instance the latter turned out to be true.  We needed to help people feel more confident that they already knew more than their clients and could refer interested customers to the relevant experts when required.

Why is this example so important?  The story highlights that a need for people to engage with the digital age may not simply be a cry for technical training.  What can managers and leaders do to understand the blockers and help their people engage?  If we can show people managers how to explore these ideas with their teams, then we can start addressing the need for digital development in a different way.  And the same goes with commercial thinking.

What can managers do to understand the blockers to more profitable or commercial-thinking?

If we shift management and leadership development toward conversations on commercial, digitally-engaged high performance, will we see a shift?  Will we get better value from our learning programmes?  We’re certainly seeing that shift in the work we’re doing, so maybe it’s an interesting starting point for the year ahead?

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Is Tech Taking Over?

matrixThe ugly truth?  Is Tech taking over?

We all could probably have guessed that the day would come when CEOs would put technology over people as their top priority.  But seeing the data from Korn Ferry that today is that day is still a hard pill to swallow.

For years CEOs have stated people, talent, the leadership pipeline and general leadership capability as their top concern, but now technology is topping the list for over 60% of global leaders.  It’s understandable given the rapid pace of development in the tech world and the fact that most companies are still racing to keep up whereas before they may have been market innovators.

However the fact remains that technology alone does not make a successful and sustainably growing blue chip business.  Well, not yet anyhow.  Over 40% of business leaders believe that technology will one day make the human workforce obsolete according to Korn Ferry’s surveys, but we’re certainly not there yet.

So what does all this mean for the discerning business leader, HR or learning professional?  There’s certainly a risk that it means tighter budgets.  If CEOs are pushing toward greater investment in technology, then it could mean money is pulled from people attraction, development and retention.  Or it could simply mean we need to get smarter about how we link our people development with our technology.

Working with one client recently there was a realisation that customer service staff were not using the highly intelligent online tools that their customers were using.

Totem Lollipops

This meant that customers were better educated than staff on product price comparisons and reviews.  That’s easy to fix, but you need to know where the problems are in order to fix them.  We can be very guilty in the people function of putting out information and hoping people use it, when in fact we need to be marketeers to grab attention.

In a totally different organisation, the challenge was getting people to work across brands and across old and new tech systems, to provide a more seamless service for business clients.  Again it’s the people making best use of the technology that makes the difference.

What are the tech developments in your business and market?  How are you connecting your people with those advances to maximise their value?

Korn Ferry’s research shows an understandable yet concerning shift in CEO attention.  The role of the people function in future (as if it hasn’t always been so) will be to keep people at the forefront of business leaders’ thinking.

That’s how we maximise the developments in technology.

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The Digital Shopper

Digital-Shopper-400x265How Digitalisation is Affecting Retailers

At the British Retail Consortium Retail Lecture with Sir Ian Cheshire, we heard that the world of retail has not really changed that much in decades – and the change that has happened has been relatively small and slow.

But now all of a sudden the pace of change and the size of the change happening is alarming.  And we have the digital revolution to thank for that.

Retail is no longer about sitting in a store and waiting for a customer to walk in, the point of sale has completely shifted.  And retailers are being challenged more and more to move at pace, just to keep up.

Sir Ian made recommendations on what retailers can be doing in response, and we add to that list here with some suggestions for how Talent, OD and HR can support the business.

What’s the context?

Consider that smartphone and tablet purchases have jumped 83% in just two years and that smartphone browsing on retail sites is growing five times as fast as laptop/desktop browsing – so there’s a clear prompt – make sure your sites are seamless, engaging and easy to use across all media.

Because what’s to stop a customer visiting your store to view a product, only to check online who the cheapest supplier is – probably whilst still in your store?  How are our staff and our sales processes going to adapt?

There is a wealth of online data out there, and about 90% of that data has only been generated in the past two years.  A lot of that data has been generated by the customer through Facebook posts, google searches, navigation through webpages, – there are two million google searches and 700,000 Facebook posts per minute.

The bad news is that with all that data, we don’t know where to start.  So far only 1% of all that data has been meaningfully analysed.

Jelly Bean Diversity

What we can say from that early analysis is that retail firms, their HR teams and their entire workforce will need to shift too – but how?  Retailers need to make sure every touch point with the customer is positive, informative and encouraging a purchase.

How can retailers respond?

Oracle research shows 80% of customers expect companies to adopt new technology to make their shopping experience easier and in line with their other everyday uses of their smartphones and tablets.  65% also expect stock transparency – so retailers need to have seamless systems talking to each other, showing customers how many items are available and where.

Andy Street of John Lewis Partnership has often been quoted with the line, “Operations and IT are the new competitive battleground” – as it is the online experience over coming years that is likely to drive higher competitive advantage than the in-store experience.  So the suggestion is that higher investment in these areas could pay dividend in our digital future.

What can Talent/OD/HR teams do to support this shift?

This move from focusing heavily on the retail estate to looking more at operations and IT is a massive shift from certainly our experience with our clients, and many others’ stories about focusing on people in stores.  The majority of people recruitment and development spend has been on getting the right people in store, doing the right things in the right way.

Totem Lollipops

Whilst that is still of course important, we now need to make sure that we have people in operations creating and delivering systems and processes that make everything smoother – for accurate stock management, ease of transition between someone buying online from a warehouse to in-store and connecting customer service between the two.

In IT we need people doing analysis on that big data – and these are jobs that didn’t exist when the people perhaps best qualified to do them were studying; the world is changing that rapidly.  So we need to attract and retain the best talent – which comes from investing in the development and engagement of those teams.

Sir Ian shared his views on people development, highlighting that developing in-store colleagues to handle technology and offer services to support products bought online, is much easier when the good service basics are there.  So whilst this has largely been about shifting a focus to IT and operations, the fact remains that if you don’t already have great customer service, then adding the use of a tablet, or product tracking through the store, is going to be 100 times tougher.  If the service basics are not there, you have a challenge to address.  Fast.

Thinking a little more long term, how do we invest in the IT department to retain talent and attract better talent in future.  And don’t forget, that many things we’ll be recruiting for in 5 years are skill sets that don’t currently exist, like the expertise to deliver Big Data analysis and responsive IT design as the internet of things develops.

HR professionals have always had the opportunity to support and challenge the business in what its people needs are and will be, to deliver a vision and the required results.  Now is the time for HR to be pushing a renewed focus on attracting and retaining talent in IT and operations, to prepare the business to keep up with the seismic shifts occurring.

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