We’re Taking Off! A New Era Of People Analytics

Dr. Sarah Zelt

Today, everybody is talking about it: digitalization and the future of work. We are shifting the way we work from hierarchies to networks, from rigid to agile, moving from the past into the future. To support this shift, we need to advance our knowledge in people analytics.

Companies such as Amazon, Foodora, and Uber are using data to create tremendous value. The same is true for the HR function: by leveraging people analytics, HR can bring more clarity and support into our volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. It allows us to look ahead, to analyze broader patterns and networks outside our field of vision, and to personalize the solutions we provide to truly create value for employees and managers.

To realize this value for our consumers, we need to think about three things:

  • Think future
  • Think network
  • Think personalization

Think future: Advanced analytics to predict, simulate, and optimize

The VUCA world brings a lot of challenges that are difficult and can’t be solved only through personal experiences and gut feeling. HR has often been perceived as being “reactive” – solving issues after they arise.

Advanced analytics provides a huge opportunity for us to be more “proactive” by using data to predict outcomes in the future to simulate the potential effect of a decision and choose behavior that provides a higher chance of success. Example questions that can be answered with advanced analytics are:

  • Which candidate profiles lead to greater success?
  • What groups of employees will most likely be high performers?
  • What interventions drive higher employee engagement?
  • What groups of employees are most likely to voluntarily leave?
  • Which leaders will potentially be better leaders?

Think network: Network analysis to understand the bigger picture

In the future, organizations are much more likely to have soft boundaries, with people collaborating both inside and outside the organization. HR can provide value if we understand how knowledge is acquired in these networks, how information is shared, how innovations are driven, and how value is created. None of this can be answered by looking at hierarchical org charts.

Organizational network analysis (ONA) helps analyze and understand networks and relationships between individuals and teams to unlock innovation, drive productivity, improve well-being, and ensure both individual and organizational performance. Example questions that can be answered with ONA are:

  • Which teams are critical to drive change and serve as a catalyst for innovation?
  • How can we best staff temporary projects with people from different functions?
  • Where will attrition put us at risk of losing knowledge and connection?
  • In which areas do we have an increased risk of burnout?
  • How can we improve onboarding of new hires?

Think personalization: Intelligent solutions to create value for individuals

In a world that is getting more complex, we all require different solutions depending on our situation and personal preferences. If we look at the solutions we know from our private lives, they are very much in line with what we are interested in, and they leverage more than just one data source for that. For example, we receive personalized ads and recommendations based on previous behavior and preferences.

Intelligent solutions (e.g., leveraging huge amounts of data and machine learning algorithms) are multi-dimensional, collect data from multiple data sources, and are improving over time. With this, they provide personalized solutions that create more value than usual one-size-fits-all approaches.

Example questions that can be answered with intelligent solutions are:

  • What trainings should I attend that fit with what I have done so far and have a high chance of making me successful?
  • Which jobs could fit into my personal profile?
  • What recommendations should I follow that increase my leadership skills?

If we think future, network, and personalization in people analytics, we can look ahead, analyze data beyond our field of vision, and provide personalized solutions that create much more value to our people and the organization in today’s VUCA world.

For more on how analytics is affecting HR, listen to the Digitalist Flash Briefing “Employee Experience In The Age of ML, AI, And Bots.”


Dr. Sarah Zelt

About Dr. Sarah Zelt

Dr. Sarah Zelt is HR Senior Consultant at SAP SE. She is working in the Chief Operating Office in HR on thought-leadership initiatives related to the future of work. One of her focus areas is the move towards a data-driven HR organization and the use of HR analytics to make smarter talent and organizational decisions. Prior to that role, she worked as a process consultant within SAP HR, consulting process managers on different aspects of process management. She studied Psychology at the University of Mannheim, Germany, and the San Diego State University, USA. She holds a PhD in Business Economics from the University of Liechtenstein.