"We have charts and graphs to back us up. So f*** off.” New hires in Google’s people analytics department began receiving a laptop sticker with that slogan a few years ago, when the group probably felt it needed to defend its work. Back then people analytics—using statistical insights from employee data to make talent management decisions—was still a provocative idea with plenty of skeptics who feared it might lead companies to reduce individuals to numbers. HR collected data on workers, but the notion that it could be actively mined to understand and manage them was novel—and suspect.
Today there’s no need for stickers. More than 70% of companies now say they consider people analytics to be a high priority. The field even has celebrated case studies, like Google’s Project Oxygen, which uncovered the practices of the tech giant’s best managers and then used them in coaching sessions to improve the work of low performers. Other examples, such as Dell’s experiments with increasing the success of its sales force, also point to the power of people analytics.
But hype, as it often does, has outpaced reality. The truth is, people analytics has made only modest progress over the past decade. A survey by Tata Consultancy Services found that just 5% of big-data investments go to HR, the group that typically manages people analytics. And a recent study by Deloitte showed that although people analytics has become mainstream, only 9% of companies believe they have a good understanding of which talent dimensions drive performance in their organizations.
What gives? If, as the sticker says, people analytics teams have charts and graphs to back them up, why haven’t results followed? We believe it’s because most rely on a narrow approach to data analysis: They use data only about individual people, when data about the interplay among people is equally or more important.
People’s interactions are the focus of an emerging discipline we call relational analytics. By incorporating it into their people analytics strategies, companies can better identify employees who are capable of helping them achieve their goals, whether for increased innovation, influence, or efficiency. Firms will also gain insight into which key players they can’t afford to lose and where silos exist in their organizations.
Most people analytics teams rely on a narrow approach to data analysis.
Fortunately, the raw material for relational analytics already exists in companies. It’s the data created by e-mail exchanges, chats, and file transfers—the digital exhaust of a company. By mining it, firms can build good relational analytics models.
In this article we present a framework for understanding and applying relational analytics. And we have the charts and graphs to back us up.