How to leverage advanced People Analytics with strong ethics upfront?
general business | specialist | expert

How to leverage advanced People Analytics with strong ethics upfront?

People Analytics is a foundation to a data-informed approach that studies employees and their work-related behavior to make them happier and more effective at the organization. Unlike what many people think (and worry about), it’s not about people monitoring and tracking their every move. The focus of People Analytics should be on teams, not individuals. 

After all, it isn’t about improving an individual’s performance, but that of the entire team, which translates into measurable business success. Analyzing behavior on a per-person level creates a risk of violating their privacy. Here’s where the topic of ethics in HR comes in. 

On this note, I’d like to dig into the subject deeper and share my perspective.

How to use People Analytics software in an ethical way?

Using People Analytics tools can be a great way for CEOs, HR Directors, and managers to understand the root causes of and to resolve employee engagement crises and handle workload remotely in the new, pandemic reality. It can become a competitive business advantage, provided that you do it ethically. Otherwise, you need to be prepared to receive fines and to handle employee disagreements

So, what can you do to make sure you’re leveraging team collaboration data to boost employee engagement, productivity and ultimately company performance not violating anyone’s rights?

How to use People Analytics software in an ethical way?

Focus on teams, not individuals 

To put it simply, People Analytics shouldn’t be about profiling individuals as it can lead to abuse. H&M’s record fine is a great example of why ethics in HR matter. The company received a whopping €32 million fine for intruding into employees’ private lives and storing personal data in a manner where it could be accessed by as many as 50 other managers at the company. This wouldn’t have happened if H&M changed their approach from personal to team data collection.

While GDPR has done a lot of good to protect employees’ private lives, it didn’t really change much on the business side. Employees will still often sign privacy-intruding agreements, worried that if they don’t, they won’t be offered a job or will be fired. So, can People Analytics software be designed to protect peoples’ privacy?

The short answer is – yes. At Network Perspective we leverage big data in a way that provides you with insights on the team level only. Our databases don’t allow you to see data on a per-employee level. When our system receives data from individual employees, it is automatically hashed and transferred to the memory, where our algorithms make calculations to produce new data on the team level. 

To sum up, we shouldn’t profile people, we should protect them. Leaders who have insights on a team level can still help out on a personal level, without seeing and manipulating their data.

Can People Analytics software protect peoples' privacy?

It comes down to an active, continuous dialog around our ways of working and actions that can be taken to improve them. When you discuss with the team about the team, everyone is on board, without feeling scrutinized – they can all solve the problem. This way, companies can benefit from the data and optimize the work and employee experience, all the while strongly protecting their privacy.

Focus on collecting data about work experiences

A gaming company HR Director told me recently that leadership should be re-invented to match remote work. And she’s not alone – 9 out of 10 HR directors whom I spoke to named data-driven leadership as the biggest challenge in New Normal. HR management at companies like IBM, Novartis, and NBA also agree. As they aptly sum it up – “remote work is real, and it’s big”.

The problem we are facing now is that leaders aren’t interacting with people in the office anymore, which means they don’t know what’s going on, how they can help, or how to lead teams. They need data to drive change because that’s how business is used to leading the conversation – using unbiased data, not opinions! This can be tricky because HR specialists often lack tools that would give them numbers to back up their claims. Decisions can’t be solely based on opinions – usually, it takes numerous iterations before HR and business can agree on something. The types of data HR should collect include checking if:

  • employees have the right work-life balance, 
  • teams have time for deep work,
  • everyone is included in cross-team initiatives, 
  • they are supported by leaders, 
  • we know how to handle the first critical months of remote onboarding for newbies in the New Normal
  • we use our meeting time effectively.

Provide leaders with the above-mentioned data to give them an understanding of whether teams are integrated, not overloaded with work, and if there are any other issues that might call for leaders’ support. By doing so, you will help your leaders care, listen, and show empathy toward employees, which can help increase their remote work effectiveness.

The types of data HR should collect include checking if

Use big data to collect actionable insights, without compromising ethics 

Traditionally, People Analytics in HR processes data on areas like retention, exit rate, or tenure. However, I’d say that this is just 1% of what you can track, and companies who do only this miss out on the remaining 99%. Think of things that really determine the employee's everyday experience like the number of meetings, time spent on deep work, the employee experience within the first three months at the company, etc. They really provide proper context and you can use these findings to share the knowledge with people leaders. If you’re worried that digging deeper could violate people’s privacy, it doesn’t have to – use the right People Analytics tools. Analyze your employees on a team level and it won’t make them feel that their rights are being violated. If used well, collaboration data have a compelling WIIFM (What’s In It For Me ) for the individual employees, their leaders and the business as such.

When we first founded Network Perspective, we drew our inspiration from NGOs and institutions like the World Bank. When you collect data, make sure that it can have a real positive social impact. In the case of People Analytics, it means you need to democratise your findings and share the insights with the team. Of course, it primarily helps leaders to become aware and make better business decisions. However, its purpose isn’t to put more power into the hands of the few people on the company board – it should serve the entire organization and promote transparency and agile, tailored decision making as regards team and cross- team collaboration design.

How to collect data without compromising ethics?

Closing remarks

To make sure that People Analytics is ethical, there are two things you need to be aware of. Firstly, you must analyze data on a team, not individual level. Secondly, don’t limit yourself to the standard HR data such as absenteeism, work tenure, or retention rate. Dig deeper and focus on the actionable cross analysis of work experience.

If you’ve found the subject of ethics in HR tools and organizations interesting, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to delve deeper into the conversation and discuss how advanced People Analytics should evolve to ensure high ethical standards. 

May 17, 2021

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