HR and the Big Data Opportunity

Earlier this year I was involved in a conversation on LinkedIn about employee surveys. Someone was asking how to implement them and who they should use. My answer (which led me on a completely unexpected journey which I’ll come to in a minute)?

Don’t bother. No seriously, bear with me.

We live in a shifting world and at the core of that is social – or perhaps more appropriately – real time. The corporate world, having led the way for all of us – consumers and employees alike – when the internet dawned now finds itself lagging behind these two groups somewhat. And the HR function, due to a combination of fear and ignorance is sitting some way at the back of the proverbial class, either wringing its hands in nervous anticipation of change it doesn’t understand, or continuing to press on with traditional HR approaches in blissful ignorance of the shift in the landscape and the rather significant consequences that come with it.

The crux of my conversation on LinkedIn was that in this real time, online, socially connected and peer to peer driven environment, asking a set of fixed questions in a linear format, once a year (or even more frequently) is beginning to look clumsy, inaccurate and completely inappropriate. Not only that, from a big data perspective, these surveys present only 1 slice of the data sets we use or own which all currently co exist but are never considered as a whole.

This was brought home to me last year when I attended The Inspire Conference in London and saw Nick Halstead, CEO of DataSift talk about big data. (I recommend you watch the video its very good and a great insight into big data.) What really made me sit up and think was his reference to hedge funds using twitter sentiment to guide their investments. Yep, it turns out that the average sentiment of everyone on twitter correlates ahead of the stock market to an accuracy of 87%! And you were wondering about ROI?! (I have the research on this – if anyone wants it please contact me via this blog and I will send it to you.) So you see, take random or sets of unrelated data, and analyze it together in the right way and you get real insights. Cloud computing and the platforms that much of this social data sit on, in particular, are enabling this kind of analysis.

Back to my story. After my LinkedIn conversation I received a connection request from a very bright lady called Natasha Srulowitz, who was working with Canrock Ventures an early stage technology VC fund that incubates a number of start ups in this area. They already have products which focus on the external brand and customer including one called General Sentiment, but they were bringing the same approach to the internal organization. Next thing you know I’m signing off an NDA and having look under the hood of their latest product For obvious reasons I can’t go into detail here about the product and what I saw, but suffice to say its very interesting and this kind of analysis could be, as mentioned in an earlier post on this blog, the key to turning HR into the new cool.

This really confirmed my thinking that organizations need to start pooling their data sets, and in particular they really need to press the button on putting conversation back in the organization through conversational/social/collaboration technologies. And no, I’m not talking about share point or other existing enterprise knowledge management type infrastructures. I’m talking about social conversational platforms like yammer, Jive and others, and even opening up twitter use internally. Build joint customer and employee communities and ecosystems and start to look at the conversation.

HR really needs to get with this program. As a profession we are wasting time worrying about irrelevant detail around policy or control, or perpetuating old models of analysis that deliver nothing other than sanitized news that has no relevance to the employees whatsoever and that ultimately will not serve to increase the holy grail of engagement or improved performance.

If there are sharp suits in the City of London, betting hundreds of millions of pounds of fund money on the unfettered outpouring of our souls on twitter – our social conversations (which do indeed include what I had for breakfast) then I’m pretty sure there is gold buried deep in the conversation within the walls of our organization too. We are just looking to closely to see it.

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