Archives for July 2014

AllState is in Gamification’s Hands

Last fall, Allstate Insurance Co. employees were invited to try a new learning supplement offered by the ethics department. Instead of the usual video interlaced with quiz questions, they were asked to pick which superhero identity they would like to assume while fighting the Data Gator, a villain bent on stealing clients’ personal information.

The switch was part of Allstate’s incorporation of gamification into its ethics education program, which had become stale and repetitive, said Lyn Scrine, director of ethics.

“Companies have to find ways to train their employees to their code and their policies, and that information is often really dry,” Scrine said. “If you’re in claims, claims training is totally into what you’re doing for your job, whereas we have an obligation to train every single employee in the company on ethics and compliance matters, and sometimes that topic is viewed as boring.”

After hearing employees reference the annual learning program as the same “talking heads” every year, Scrine decided the department should offer a revitalizing take on a yawn-inducing system. The company worked with LRN Corp., an ethics and compliance education products company that has worked with the Northbrook, Illinois, insurance company on its training initiatives for almost a decade.

Christyl Murray, LRN’s engagement executive, said Allstate’s interest was somewhat surprising. “Allstate as a company is very conservative, but they were really looking for something innovative to shock their learners out of learning fatigue,” she said.

That happened to be in the form of a game. Nicolas Carr, LRN’s mobile and gaming product manager, said the technology was already available to fulfill Scrine’s request, so conceptualizing relied on working with Allstate to match its objectives with game play and fitting it into the template.

Before releasing a new game, Allstate had to make sure the technology would work. Carr said it’s also important that such games fit within existing learning management systems.

Creating the game was a learning experience in itself. Encountering and resolving a technological snafu regarding the leader boards and other small hiccups helped programmers better understand the technology they were employing. But the game’s creative elements also were under scrutiny. Allstate’s heavy regulation required everything to be legally approved — including the scripts, characters and design work — to make sure nothing infringed on copyrights.

While the game was in production, Allstate tested Resolve, an LRN-made program on conflict of interest, to see if it would work with its LMS, ensure it was on the right path to getting employees re-engaged in learning, and learn more about what potential players were looking for in a training game. Although the course wasn’t customized for the company, employees exhibited major interest — Scrine said some players took it until they got a perfect score because leader boards publicized how each player performed.

Thereafter, hopes were high for the Allstate-specific game. After more than nine months of collaboration, the company released a game tailored to its compliance training needs.

Game On

“PII Protectors” rolled out in fall 2013 as an option for employees to refresh their knowledge on privacy protection. Scrine said it was “just one arrow in our quiver, or one piece of the pie” among many other teaching techniques — including speakers, online training, webinars and an active employee blogosphere — used in her department.

Allstate employees have to be constantly vigilant about clients’ privacy, and since Target Corp.’s data leak caused it and many of its customers financial losses, the insurance company has major concerns about making sure its clients’ information is safe. The company had a policy it wanted employees to understand and use as the core content area for “PII Protectors.” From there, creation relied on the creators’ imaginations, which resulted in an adventure inspired by the resurgent popularity of superhero stories.

The game begins with a video showing the player being declined a mortgage because of identity theft. Thirsty for revenge, the player joins an agency to fight an evil conglomerate trying to steal other people’s data and chooses from four alter-egos: Captain Confidential, X-Ray Bex, Firewall and Raisa Sharp.

Once players choose an identity, they are faced with dilemmas that they solve by answering questions on Allstate’s privacy policy. The more problems they solve, the more data their character stops from leaking outside of the company. Carr said using such a method means giving Allstate employees a chance to learn the policy and experience how it translates to their day-to-day job while encouraging them to continue growing their understanding of its importance.

“It’s not just putting your headset on and having somebody talk to you and then picking, ‘Should I take the bribe or shouldn’t I?’” Scrine said. “We know, don’t take the bribe.” Although the game asks similar questions, its plot and characters makes it more interactive than a video-based quiz, which in turn increases understanding, application and retention.

Carr said “PII Protectors” also reinforces the behavior of returning to resources instead of blindly choosing answers — or, in the real world, making a decision by consulting company rules. If a player has the privacy policy at hand while playing, it’s easy to win. The same translates to everyday operations, where employees can turn to company handbooks and guides at any time.

At deadline, some 8,000 of Allstate’s 38,000 employees have played “PII Protectors” since its release. Unlike the original test game’s leader board that clocked replays and perfect scores, “PII Protectors” didn’t allow Scrine’s department to monitor the number of people replaying the game.

Because of that, she said she couldn’t tell if there was a measurable increase in people who played it from the number who took the basic course last year. But word-of-mouth feedback and opinions sourced through open-ended survey questions showed the company was right to bring something new to the table.

“People enjoyed how it was different, new, interactive,” said Kendall Rovell, an Allstate ethics consultant. “Some of these people had taken the same kind of course over and over again, and this was refreshing.”

Scrine said a lot of employees liked picking their own superhero. “I had folks who commented that drew them in, that they had a vested interest now,” she said.

But not everyone was satisfied. Some users in production areas of the company commented that they didn’t have time to play games, which interested Scrine because testing showed the game to take the same amount of time as traditional video training. She said maybe because it felt like a game, the unenthusiastic employees felt more like they were playing rather than completing a job requirement. Others wanted to know why they couldn’t test out of the game like they could in other courses — they didn’t want to spend 30 minutes relearning something they already practiced every day.

But the biggest complaint was the gamification idea was too juvenile, something Scrine didn’t expect but that wasn’t entirely a surprise, either. “My guess is that any larger corporation with an employee base as large and diverse as ours is going to find that.”

Leveling Up

Despite a technologically challenging creation process and less-than-unanimous satisfaction from users, this is just the beginning of gamification at Allstate. Although “PII Protectors” wasn’t commissioned by the learning and development department per se, its final product caught the eye of those in charge of education for the company, and LRN is slated to make three to four more games on other topics.

Because it was part of Allstate’s contract with LRN, Scrine couldn’t put a dollar amount on the company’s initial gamification project, but the cost is secondary to educating her employees. “This is really much more than how much money we have to spend on creativity, technology, getting it on employee records,” she said. “We’re not just buying coursework. We’re actually creating it.”

About the Author:

Kate Everson is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

3 Ways to Help Employees Cure ‘Benefits Information Amnesia’

Some things tend to stick in the mind.

Like the lyrics to the song you played on repeat the first summer you were in love. Or, on the flip side, the not-so-sweet thing you overheard a co-worker say about the sound you make when you sneeze.

However, for better or worse, most of us forget far more than we remember. Things like Internet passwords, basic recipes, how exactly to use the old coffee machine at our new job and employee benefits information.

Yes, employees — even the fantastic, intelligent ones where you work — forget a whole lot of what they learn about some pretty basic aspects of their benefits during orientation. And if the research of “Working With Words” authors Ruth Gairns and Stuart Redman can be believed, 80 percent of what we all forget will fly out of our ears within 24 hoursof us first learning it.

For our purposes here, we’ll call this phenomenon, as it applies to benefits communication, “benefits information amnesia.”

Though benefits information amnesia might not be listed in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” it’s a real thing. There are three strains of this common but underappreciated problem: plan amnesia, resource amnesia and options and details amnesia.

What Is ‘Plan Amnesia’?

You and your crack human resources team live and breathe the fine points of health care plans, but for many employees, picking a plan is something they did quickly, and maybe not thoughtfully, a long time ago. Some people forget what type of plan they have, period.

Likely you’ve heard people say things like, “I think I have a PPO” or “It’s the one where I pay less upfront, I forget the name,” or “It’s the same one I had last year.” This confusion isn’t anything that a quick chat with you or these employees’ insurance provider can’t quickly straighten out, of course, unless these employees also have “resource amnesia.”

What Is ‘Resource Amnesia’?

Believe it or not, despite all the care you take to explain benefits to employees when they begin a job or during open enrollment — not to mention the care you take to seem approachable and nice and funny during orientation — some employees who find themselves in need of benefits answers months or years later might have actually forgotten who you are altogether, especially if you work for a large company.

Now, it’s possible these employees suffer from face blindness, but most likely it’s just plain-old resource amnesia. And even if they do remember you, they might have forgotten things like where on the company intranet the link to their benefits rundown is. Or what their password is, if needed, to access that information. Which — let’s get real — is reason enough for a lot of people to give up on investigating the thing they were considering checking out, and just rolling with whatever they already have.

What Is ‘Options and Details Amnesia’?

The most pervasive form of benefits amnesia, however, is probably options and details amnesia, which isn’t that surprising considering all the granular information included in any single insurance plan.

According to a study Jellyvision Inc. commissioned last year (Editor’s note: The author works at Jellyvision), “ALEX Asks: What Employees Think About Your Benefits Communication,” employees are unsure about — or totally unaware of — many options within their plans … and the circumstances under which they’re allowed to make changes to their health plans. For example:

About 29 percent of employees aren’t sure whether their company provides critical illness and/or accident insurance.

Just under half (45 percent) are under the false impression that they have to pay something extra to participate in their company wellness program.

And though 87 percent of employees say they “somewhat agree,” “agree” or “completely agree” that they know when they can make changes to their health plan, less than a third (about 30 percent) actually understand that they’re only able to change enrollment information during open enrollment or qualifying events.

Benefits amnesia in all its forms is a real problem, and not just in a “Hey, this bruises my benefits-nerd-ego” kind of way. Employees who aren’t on top of their health care plans can get sideswiped when unexpected medical events land in their lives or when the structure of their plans changes year to year.

“The impacts of this problem can be pretty far-ranging,” said Robert Peters, Principal at Pritchard & Jerden, a privately owned risk management and insurance services company. “Employees can miss out on opportunities to use critical benefits they might not even know they had or get hit with costs that they didn’t plan for. It’s a major issue.”

So, now that we’ve identified the problem, what can HR departments like yours do about it?

Here are a few simple ideas.

1. Keep benefits issues front-of-mind for employees year-round through a steady stream of communication.

In advertising, there’s a concept called “effective frequency,” which is the theoretical number of times a consumer needs to encounter an ad before he or she responds to it. There are all sorts of theories about what the magic number is. Some say at least three, some seven, some 20. But the point is that shorter, targeted communications spaced out over time might be more effective in keeping your messages front-of-mind than a few communications blowouts just once or twice a year.

Sure, this involves an investment of time and some extra HR-team elbow grease, but if you look at the challenge of connecting with your employees through short emails or low-stakes events as an opportunity to mine your department’s creativity and (hopefully) get your employees to laugh or smile … well, then it’s sort of a fun challenge, right? And if nothing else, it’s a great excuse to break out the high-end snacks during a brainstorming session.

2. Whenever possible, communicate one-on-one with employees or in a way that captures that one-on-one feeling.

Another finding from the aforementioned study was that, when it comes to communication preferences, the largest segment (29 percent) of employees prefers one-on-one interactions with their HR department. (By comparison, “live presentation” clocked in at just under 14 percent.)

You might be thinking, “Duh,” or “The only way we could do everything one-on-one is if our HR department had a magic cloning machine.” And that’s fair. Depending on your resources and the number of employees in question, recurring one-on-one communication might not always be possible.

But there are simple ways to convey that “it’s-just-me-and-you-here” feeling. For example, those companywide emails you send every so often about benefits stuff? What if you did what savvy marketers do and include the recipients’ name up top in the salutation? Or consider communicating certain information via a quick little video, taken with your smartphone, embedded in an email, as opposed to a long list of bullet points?

Or, during open enrollment, maybe it’s worth using an automated benefits communication system that can respond to employee’s questions and empower them to make smarter decisions?

Truly, this can all make a difference. And especially if you heed tip No. 3:

3.  Don’t frustrate employees with unnecessary industry-speak. Be as clear and engaging as possible.

Non-HR employees, like A-list celebrities, are just like you. They can quickly become grumpy and overwhelmed and tune it all out when they’re bombarded with technical terms they don’t understand that are presented in an impersonal manner — even if the information they’re receiving is useful to them.

Though sometimes it may be easier to simply pass on information in the same industry language in which you might have received it, don’t. Take a few minutes to read over your communications and translate jargon into plain English. Shoot a quick email to the marketing or creative-writing whizzes in your company to see if they might be able to help out. (Keep in mind, of course, that you’d never want to change any specialized terms that are the bread and butter of a particular plan; that would only confuse things).

Think about where your audience is coming from and what their objections, questions or concerns might be. If you were sitting across from a friend of yours, say, over a burrito lunch, how would you explain Offering X or Important Event Y?

Also, don’t be shy about using some humor. It shouldn’t be anything inappropriate, disparaging or overly wacky. Keep your Gallagher mallet at home. But a little subtle, natural humor can go a long way toward engaging employees and then keeping them engaged.

“The key to combating benefits amnesia, I’ve found, is to give information to employees in a way that makes the learning process fun and easy for them,” Peters said. “When you assault them with a bunch of industry blather, their eyes glaze over and it goes right over their heads. You need to engage employees, and trying to see things from their perspective is a good start.”

So, in a nutshell: Simpler, friendlier, more regular communications can go a long way toward beating benefits information amnesia. Consider where your audience is coming from and you’ll seem more like a person they can trust — a person who gets them. And when it comes to convincing people to pay attention to anything, that’s half the battle.

Forgetful Folks

You and your HR team know your benefits inside and out. That’s your job. But you might be surprised by what your employees don’t remember despite your best efforts to keep them up to date.

•    Only 43 percent overall know they can make changes to their health plan enrollment for a qualifying event like marriage, divorce or having a child.

•     About 9 percent think they can make changes at any time.

•    More than a quarter of people (26 percent) don’t know whether their company offers flexible spending accounts for parking and transit costs.

•    Ten percent don’t know if their company offers a FSA for medical expenses.

•    Nearly 19 percent don’t know if their workplace has a wellness program.

•    Twelve percent don’t know if their workplace offers long-term disability.

About the Author:

Justyn Harkin is a benefits communications specialist for Jellyvision Inc. Reprinted from

Expanded Roles Prompt New Urgency for Admin Training

When organizations trim their ranks of middle managers, who takes up the slack?

In many cases, it’s administrative professionals.

A report just released by the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP) cites research showing that today’s administrative professionals (admins) handle work previously performed by middle managers.

While admins still have their traditional roles, they are shouldering more managerial responsibility. They manage budgets, act as chiefs of staff, serve as office tech gurus, and take charge as project managers. This trend toward greater responsibility among admins appears widespread, showing up in nearly every industry.

According to the report, “Meet the New Middle Manager: Today’s Administrative Professional,” the shift has come relatively quickly. Data from the Administrative Professionals Conference (APC) show that in 2008, only 7 percent of attendees held non-traditional job titles; most were administrative assistants. Five years later, more than 22 percent of APC attendees had titles such as manager and project coordinator.

The report points to three drivers for this change: organizational shake-ups from the Great Recession, proliferation of new technologies including mobile and social media, and an economic recovery favoring leaner businesses.

One of the results is a training gap that leaves administrative professionals often struggling to learn skills on the fly.

Bridge the Training Gap

Even though they can streamline office operations, improve quality, and boost productivity, administrative professionals often are overlooked when it comes to training. But now that businesses rely on admins to master more technologies and fill in for middle managers, training is taking on a new urgency.

Fortunately, the training landscape is changing to better equip admins for their evolving roles. Conferences, seminars, online courses, Webinars, certificate and certification programs, professional networks, and free resources give admins training and answers they can call upon year round.

So, how can HR, training and management design just the right training solution for their admins?

5 Steps to Developing Administrative Staff

The keys to administrative training and development are keeping expertise and tools up to date, and developing new skills that will meet evolving organizational needs. A little research and analysis up front ensures that training supports your goals, motivates admins, and fits into the budget.

Here are some simple steps to help you set up a professional development plan customized for your admins:

1. Inventory the tasks admins are really responsible for. Chances are, any job description older than five years will not accurately reflect the realities of today’s administrative positions. Does the admin design presentations, coordinate travel arrangements, arrange and manage meetings, manage the department’s budget, or oversee specific projects? Does he or she work as part of a team—and act as a team leader? How much purchasing authority does the admin have?

What technology tools does the admin need to keep up with—and what new tools does she or he need to learn? According to the report, a recent ASAP poll found that most respondents spend between 61 percent and their entire workday using Microsoft Office applications and dealing with electronic communications.

2. Categorize skills used in the tasks. Admin skills frequently are categorized into five areas of key competencies: office and digital technologies, interpersonal communications, project and task management, management skills, and career development. Talk to the admin and the manager to see not only what skills currently are needed, but also what skills will be needed in the future.

3. Agree on priorities. Managers and admins often differ in their concept of which skills are most important. Reaching consensus on what activities deserve top attention, and what the admins expect for growth opportunities, can narrow down areas for development. Because of dependence on digital tools, technology probably will stay at the top of the list.

4. Create blended learning programs that are customized to the meet the identified objectives. Set up a program that builds skills through blended learning—a combination of live and online options for convenience and flexibility. The value of instructor-led training is well known and can be met with workshops, seminars, and conferences such as ASAP’s annual Administrative Professionals Conference and Executive Assistants’ Summit.

A conference also builds motivation, and makes available valuable peer-to-peer networking for sharing solutions. Add in a mix of live/online Webinars, courses, and seminars. Online learning is cost and time effective—and offers access to hundreds of topics. Finally, reinforce the learning with on-the-job practice, goal setting, and sharing with peers.

5. Nurture career orientation and ongoing professional development. Professional associations and networks are just as important and valuable for admins as they are for any career professional. Admin discussion groups that share resources and solutions abound on LinkedIn and other social media.

Credentials such as certificates, certifications, and degrees demonstrate mastery of core skills. ASAP’s PACE certificate, for example, has been designed to allow enrollees and their managers to select courses and providers so long as competency requirements are met.

Look to the Future

Organizational evolution will keep changing what it means to be an administrative professional. To stay competitive and increase efficiency, companies will continue to give flexible admins more responsibility, with the help of innovative technologies. A plan of customized training, using a blended learning approach, can give administrative professionals the new and updated skills, motivation, and confidence to add the most value to the company and the most satisfaction to their careers.

About the Author:

Judy Geller is the founding director of the American Society of Administrative Professionals (, an association that provides professional development, training, and resources to address the changing roles and demanding responsibilities of administrative professionals and executive assistants. Reprinted from Training Magazine

‘Big Picture Conversation’ Training at First Horizon

In late 2010, financial services provider First Horizon National Corporation partnered with Clarity Advantage to produce a customized workshop that taught its business bankers how to conduct a “Big Picture Conversation” from the owners’ perspective.

Building on the program’s initial success, one of the strategic goals of the program in 2012 was for First Horizon was to increase the cross-sell numbers for its small business market.

Program Details

Big Picture Conversation training initially started with a one-day workshop targeted to First Horizon’s most influential financial centers. Based on its success and word of mouth, it expanded its audience in 2012 to all financial centers.

In this one-day, rapid development session that involves line management, training, marketing, and field representatives, learners complete two different activities:

1) They start with What Do You See? and What Could We Ask? These activities create a visual frame of reference for how a business operates from the inside and what questions to ask a business owner to draw out that information.

2) In table groups made up of various “small business owners,” learners focus on the bank products and services that the business and its owners and employees currently use, and what additional products they could use to improve their financial situations. When those are identified, learners generate specific questions that will help them understand the value of the bank products to the business.

At the conclusion of the one-day session, business outcome objectives are established and an accountability plan designed by line management is drafted.


After the workshop, sustainment activities include the use of Decision Trees and Daily/Weekly 10s. All managers are trained to conduct Daily 10 coaching sessions, which are 10-minute, daily, step-by-step reinforcement sessions that occur between the branch manager and each sales employee. A Decision Tree is a two-sided job aid and questioning strategy tool that is customer facing. The tool is crafted to ask high-impact questions that uncover customer needs and gain sales commitment.

The sessions are tracked in myPLAN, First Horizon’s talent management system, and reviewed by market and executive management weekly. Each phase of the implementation includes secret shopping to ensure accountability.


Last year, First Horizon trained approximately 200 employees in Big Picture Conversations for Small Businesses. These employees have recorded nearly 2,000 business contacts during the last year focused on expanded conversations with small business owners.

First Horizon has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of loan applications, a 10 percent increase in average individual pipeline size, an increase in total loan pipeline volume, and an increase in booked loan volume. In addition, over an 11-month period (from the end of August 2012 through the end of July 2013), First Horizon’s cross-sell ratio increased 6 basis points from 1.29 to 1.35.

This translates to roughly 2,800 more products sold during that time period and approximately $840,000 in additional annual revenue. Amy Shreve, executive over the consumer lending center, specifically cited her partnership with Learning as key in the positive change.

Reprinted from Training Magazine

What Predictive Talent Analytics Can Do For You Today

You may not keep up with trade publications as often as you should, but if you caught the film Moneyball in 2011, you learned all about predictive talent analytics, the latest hot topic in the human capital industry.

Moneyball is the true story of how the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team used predictive models to assess players’ potential performance. Basing his acquisition decisions on this data, General Manager Billy Beane put together a team that then pulled off the longest winning streak in American League history.

HR didn’t take long to make the connection: If baseball teams can use player statistics to predict performance, thereby gaining a huge competitive advantage, why can’t companies do the same with their employees?

When data starts making decisions

Organizations have long been accustomed to collecting certain human capital-related data. Trainers track the number of participants in their courses, the percentage of learners who passed the exam, and the level of learner satisfaction with the course.

HR professionals measure retention, time to hire, and cost per hire. Senior leaders review the results of employee engagement surveys. These are all known as “descriptive” or “historic” metrics—they describe what has already happened or what is currently happening within an organization.

But predictive metrics do descriptive metrics one better: They describe future outcomes, serving as powerful decision-making tools. For example, a company tracks its annual retention rates and sees that retention has been decreasing during the past few years.

Now, here’s the point of transformation: Further analysis reveals that the turnover is mostly occurring in a department that requires long working hours. The company decides to reduce workload for these positions. It then observes an increase in retention for the department, which positively affects overall turnover.

Historic and predictive analyses are two sides of the same coin, says Alec Levenson, senior research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California. “Conducting multivariate analysis on existing data contains both historical and predictive parts. It uses historical data to predict the future.”

In other words, “A metric tells you that you have a problem,” says John Sullivan, a leading HR strategist based in Silicon Valley. “A predictive metric tells you what to do about it.”

What you should know about standards

As predictive talent analytics grows, consultancies have been cropping up to assist organizations that are struggling with their data. One of these is the Center for Talent Reporting, a nonprofit organization created in 2012 by KnowledgeAdvisors, a for-profit provider of analytics tools and consulting services.

The Center for Talent Reporting has developed standards, called the Talent Development Reporting Principles (TDRp), for defining and reporting on a variety of human capital processes. To its paid members, the organization offers access to a library of more than 500 measures relating to talent acquisition, learning and development, capability management, leadership development, performance management, and total rewards.

PwC Saratoga is a similar initiative from PriceWaterhouseCoopers that has established a metrics and benchmarking database, which contains “hundreds of global standards for metric formulas and data elements.”

The Society for Human Resource Management, not about to be left behind in its own field, embarked on a similar attempt to create a set of standard HR metrics. However, SHRM’s proposal, which would make data from leading companies publicly available for benchmarking purposes, was shot down in late 2012 by the HR Policy Association, a lobbying organization that represents 335 of the nation’s largest corporations.

According to an article on, the HR Policy Association claimed that the metrics would overburden employers and expose proprietary information to competitors.

Proprietary data is one reason that the movement to standardize human capital metrics has had a lukewarm reception among some industry professionals. Although most organizations are eager to benchmark their results against their competitors’, many are hesitant to reveal their unique formulas for success—especially when it comes to their talent.

Google, for example, is constantly lauded for its use of predictive analytics to inform hiring and management decisions. The company has developed algorithms to predict performance at all stages of the employee life cycle, including what makes a great manager and what makes an employee likely to leave, but Google keeps these algorithms close to its chest.

“It’s like proprietary metrics in baseball,” explains Sullivan. “Each team knows how their players’ statistics impact their success, so they don’t share that data with their competitors.”

Other industry experts defend the value of standard human capital metrics and reporting processes. Kevin Oakes, CEO of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and a board member of the Center for Talent Reporting, concedes that while an organization will always have metrics that are specific to it, “TDRp does a great job of providing a foundation for human capital analytics and helps answer commonly asked questions” about what data should be collected and how these measures should be defined.

“TDRp merely provides a common vocabulary,” says Oakes, “along with common statements, reports, and processes, which allow human capital professionals to speak the same language and improve their ability to have an impact.”

As organizations prepare to dive into talent analytics, a jumping-off point may not be such a bad thing. A comprehensive library of measures and guidance on how to report on data findings is probably very welcome to many organizations.

But experts like Levenson and Sullivan warn that organizations must learn how to interpret and act upon the data they are collecting—so instead of merely generating “endless reports that no one reads,” they are identifying the most important metrics and turning them into powerful decision-making tools.

“The data needed for improving human capital decision making often does not lend itself well to standardized reporting,” Levenson adds. “Less attention should be paid to uniform metrics across all employees or organizations, and much greater attention should be paid to the metrics that are most important for a given organization, business unit, function, process, or role.”

What we can do with data

In an article for The Atlantic titled “They’re Watching You at Work,” deputy editor Don Peck examined some of the most future-forward uses of predictive talent analytics. For example, Knack, a Silicon Valley start-up, develops video games that can predict an employee’s potential as a leader or innovator.

The games, designed by a team of neuroscientists, psychologists, and data scientists, generate several megabytes of data from a player’s performance that give hiring managers insights into that individual’s level of creativity, persistence, capacity to learn from mistakes, ability to prioritize, and social intelligence.

Gild is a company that uses analytics to identify promising software engineers. It scours the web for breadcrumbs of data that potential employees leave in their trail, including software engineers’ coding activity on open-source platforms, participation on major social networks and other Internet forums, and data from past projects.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers have developed electronic “badges” that employees wear throughout the day that track information about their interactions with co-workers—the frequency and length of their conversations, their tones and gestures, how much they talk and listen, and how often they interrupt. The data are then analyzed to identify factors common to successful teams and effective leaders.

These technologies are considered “not only as a boon to a business’s productivity and overall health, but also as an important new tool that individual employees can use for self-improvement,” wrote Peck.

Other organizations have taken their data into their own hands. Farmers Insurance Group brings together multiple internal and external data sources in one proprietary online tool, where the data is used to build personalized development plans for each employee. PepsiCo redesigned its sales jobs and significantly increased employee pay after one analysis, which led to increased retention and greater capacity utilization. PriceWaterhouseCoopers reduced its turnover through a variety of initiatives after an analysis helped prioritize which levers would have the biggest impact.

What’s holding us back

If organizations know that predictive talent analytics is a promising endeavor, then why, according to research from i4cp, have less than 7 percent of organizations systematically undertaken it?

Many experts agree that there are simply too many metrics from which to choose. “Too often the cart is put before the horse,” says Levenson. “Human capital metrics are selected to populate scorecards without validating that they are the measures that matter most for decision making and improving organizational effectiveness.

“Rather than choose metrics simply for the sake of having them, more analysis is needed at the front end to set up and test causal models of organizational performance,” Levenson adds. “After you test a causal model and find the factors that matter most for improving performance, the metrics that you need to monitor and manage toward will be easy to identify.”

These customized metrics, however, require analytical skills to build—skills that many organizations don’t have. Although best-in-class organizations have dedicated analytics teams that mine data and design algorithms as part of their daily work, many HR and training functions struggle with basic data collection and interpretation.

“Our most recent research shows that HR is the department with the lowest analytical ability relative to all other departments within an organization,” Oakes says. However, i4cp noted a trend in many HR functions of partnering internally with departments such as finance or marketing, which have more statistical expertise.

An organization that breaks down its silos to share data between functions will establish, if not stunningly accurate predictive models, more effective cross-functional communication. Data silos are a common problem within organizations, severely limiting the data’s impact.

In a December 2013 T+D article, Elliott Masie, head of the organizational effectiveness think tank The Masie Center, wrote: “Imagine correlating performance reviews with learning activities and hiring data, either for thousands of employees or drilled down to a single worker.”

He continued, “The relationship between selection, training, and competency is very interesting. For example, we often evaluate the impact of a leadership program with the assumption that we did great things in the program. In reality … much of it has to do with how well we select the program participants from our pool, and how well we select people to join the organization.”

Finally, another challenge inherent in predictive talent analytics is that many professionals—HR practitioners, senior leaders, and employees alike—consider it an ethically loaded practice, rife with privacy, security, and transparency issues. Organizations must tread carefully in this new field because collecting and using certain kinds of data could lead to discrimination lawsuits. There also is the potential emotional impact on employees themselves, of constantly being under the microscope.

Keeping data in its place

In The Atlantic, Peck concluded that, ultimately, these new tools to help get people into the right jobs and, once there, to help them succeed, “strike me as developments that are likely to make people happier.”

Undoubtedly, predictive talent analytics is a step forward for our society, which always has relied on human intuition to make decisions about people’s livelihoods. This has allowed hidden biases to infiltrate hiring and management decisions—even today, when organizations are legally bound to inclusive policies.

But most experts refuse to entirely toss aside human judgment in the workplace. “Nothing in the science of prediction and selection,” wrote Peter Capelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School, “beats observing actual performance in an equivalent role.”

“No matter how much data we collect,” adds Levenson, “there will always be unexplained gaps that can only be resolved through direct observation and interaction—by talking to the people, their managers, and their work groups. The best diagnoses always use a combination of ‘hard’ data and qualitative information, gathered through direct observation and stakeholder interviews.”

About the Author:

Stephanie Castellano is writer/editor for ASTD. Reprinted from T&D Magazine

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