Artificial intelligence (AI) is taking over the mechanical tasks performed by humans over the centuries. For humans, this means there’s new — infinitely more valuable — work on the horizon: human work.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution relies on human capability more than ever, including empathy, complex problem-solving, creativity and, of course, innovative thinking. Because work is changing, the way people work also needs to change. This means investing in a better and deeper understanding of employee needs, wants and desires, and, importantly, devising new work structures based on the resulting intelligence about your workforce. While it’s been an under-utilized asset thus far, employee data will be the key to finding and retaining top talent; fostering productivity, performance and well-being; and driving agile, flexible attitudes toward human-to-human and human-to-machine collaboration that unlocks innovation. However, as with any scenario where personal data is used, privacy needs to be accorded a high degree of importance.
The great workforce reveal
Just as consumers generate data with every click and swipe, employees also create a plethora of information about themselves, from how they feel about their employer, to hidden talents, to which coworkers or workspaces optimize their productivity. This data, both structured and unstructured, can be surfaced through a variety of mechanisms, including systems of record (such as human capital management systems), employee surveys, productivity apps, social media, sensors and more (see Figure 1).
Businesses can achieve the following with insights gleaned from enhanced workforce intelligence:
Gain a real-time understanding of worker sentiment during times of change or turbulence.
Respond with agility to the need for fast-changing skills.
In the near future, businesses will advance to new capabilities using workforce intelligence, such as:
Protect employee well-being.
Build intelligent teams.
The future of work relies on evidence
Workforce intelligence is not just an HR concern; its impact spans the business, addressing the cornerstones of today’s successful digital enterprise: rapid cycles of innovation, agility and human-centered approaches to work. In particular, workforce intelligence can support business efforts to:
Enable a skills regeneration mindset. Insights gleaned from both employee data and external labor market data can enable skills regeneration across the workforce, which is particularly crucial in today’s world of fast-changing and hard-to-find skills.
In our recent report “People — Not Just Machines — Will Power Digital Innovation,” we revealed that the main driver for digital skills acquisition across the workforce is to accelerate innovation. More than just “one-off” digital skills acquisition, skills regeneration is the ability to upskill and reskill iteratively to ensure continuous innovation.
Increase retention of top innovators. Workforce intelligence can also propel talent management from a gut-feel endeavor to an evidence-based function that is trustworthy, authentic and reliable. This will ensure that organizations not only find but also hold onto top digital talent. Top talent can be identified by using employee data gathered through analytical methods, such as organizational network analysis (ONA).
While AI is great at “the science of the job” (data analytics and pattern recognition), people are great at “the art of the job”; for example, visual cues, emotion, empathy, judgment and social context. ONA helps quantify these qualities by analyzing the relationships and networks employees build. Business analysts can reveal essential qualities of high-performing employees that, until now, have been difficult to quantify, such as collaboration, influence and respect. They can do so by analyzing data from virtual sources (email, IM, Slack, videoconferencing, etc.) and even physical sensors (ID badges fitted with location or voice sensors or infrared technology to monitor in-person interactions).
Build agile teams for collaboration and co-creation at speed. ONA can also be used to enhance collaboration by revealing in real time how people work together across the company. Through a better understanding of this “natural network”, or wirearchy (as opposed to the traditional org chart), businesses can begin to break down restrictive structures and processes and bring the right people together at speed.
We expect more businesses to begin applying workforce intelligence to team building. It may soon be the norm, for example, for companies to tap into neuroscience analytics to understand personality traits and bring opposing, yet complementary, workers together.
The modern workforce demands a reimagined employee experience
The employee experience (even before such a term was coined) has traditionally followed a “one-size-fits-all” policy. From onboarding to performance management, employee processes have historically been designed for HR expedience rather than being tuned to the individual’s needs.
This simply will not cut it in the future. Organizations must tap into the data surrounding employees to hyper-personalize employee experience, which will help them attract and retain the modern workforce, and get the best out of them, too.
Workforce intelligence will have a sweeping impact across the business by helping to redefine how workers need to work. Here are a few ways for businesses to start realizing the potential hidden in employee data:
Know your starting point.
Conduct a thorough audit of data sources and workforce intelligence efforts currently in use in your organization. Always align workforce intelligence efforts with real business problems that need solving, such as low productivity or high staff turnover.
Invest in infrastructure.
A robust technology infrastructure is needed to enable easy and efficient access to employee data. The application of cloud technology to workforce analytics enables organizations to effectively process huge amounts of employee data.
Don’t forget the workforce intelligence team structure.
A great place to start is partnering data analytics experts from the business with HR professionals. Consider where the team sits — don’t hide it within the HR function. Empower the team by exposing it to the wider business as its own function.
Tap external data sources.
Create an evidence-based culture in talent management. Integrate data from learning programs, performance analytics and external sources (e.g., social media platforms, demographic and economic data) to validate assumptions and tackle human bias head-on.
Connect into the wider business.
Connect the dots from workforce optimization to business outcomes. Instead of just tackling employee engagement, prove the impact this has on business goals such as revenue growth and capital efficiency.
Develop employee profiles.
The modern workforce is unwilling to put up with experiences at work that don’t match up to the simplicity and relevance of their digital interactions outside the office. Weave data insights into talent management processes rather than relying on gut feel. Build a culture where every people decision is justified by data.
Beware the “Big Brother” burden.
The personal data debate is growing with every data breach news story, every General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) email and every full-screen cookie warning. The modern workforce is increasingly aware of its data and how it can be used. Ensure there are open lines of communication and a clear mutual understanding of what data is being collected and why.
Unleashing employee potential
The modern workforce is defined by autonomy, self-awareness and control. As millennials step into leadership positions (the oldest millennials are now 37), organizations must turn to Gen Z to discover and understand modern workforce expectations. These individuals have grown up with access to infinite sources of information, personalized experiences and an influential voice that can be broadcast across the globe in a matter of seconds.
Across the workforce, the heat is on for organizations to unleash employees’ potential for uniquely “human” work, and achieve the agility levels required in today’s fast-paced business world. Workforce intelligence — fueled by people data — will unlock new levels of human understanding and bring about essential improvements to both employees’ lives and business performance.