Hidden Talent Patterns

A new book shares 14 benefits you can gain from analyzing social recognition data.

By Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine

We are in the early stages of a pervasive technological movement grouped under the umbrella term big data. Huge sets of data are examined by powerful analytic tools at unimaginable speeds to generate insights about the past and present, and even to predict the future (a practice called predictive analytics). You already see the effects of this nascent movement: Weather forecasts
 are more accurate. Marketers detect trends before they are obvious and create products to serve those trends. Retailers stock shelves with just enough products to meet demand. Web pages contain eerily personal advertising.

Big data is working its way into talent management
 as advanced HR systems mine data of all kinds to
 make informed predictions about, for example, which employees are most productive and why, which valuable employees are “flight risks” (in time to do something about the situation), and who might be a great succession candidate for a key position.

Management always seeks to understand the interactions of behavior, information, knowledge, and emotion 
that result in success or failure. These interactions are incredibly complex in a large modern organization,
and they are always imperfect, which is why insight 
is so valuable. Once you understand how something really works—a process, a product, a human chain of emotion—you can more readily harness it to accomplish your goals.

HR has had an important taste of modern data analysis in recent decades with the advent of human capital management (HCM) software for payroll and benefits management, compensation analysis, cost containment, and other practices. It has been able to help measure outcomes of programs like employee wellness initiatives. Adoption has been slow, however, compared to other practices. According to Aberdeen Group research, only 30 percent of organizations combine talent data with business data to measure the impact on organizational performance. The opportunities presented in merging talent data with business data are hard to overstate.

Social recognition’s data and practices advance HR
with talent insight across the HCM life cycle, from the moment a candidate encounters a company, through the hiring process, and during a career (see Figure 1). It’s well known that effective managers provide continuous feedback to employees. Just so, continuous feedback from social recognition helps an employee focus on
the most important activities. Furthermore, capturing continuous feedback in a social recognition system enables managers to give more accurate performance reviews. And relating that feedback to performance enables HR and other executives to understand which activities, methods, and knowledge result in the best performance.

Trusted referrals and employer brand advocacy also
help in talent acquisition. Trusted referrals happen when employees invest their relationship capital—their networks—into a company they like and respect. It is a natural extension of thanks. Those who make referrals can be recognized and rewarded, and patterns emerge in the data. For example, a global organization could spot “super referral sources”—employees who bring in many successful candidates—in any corner of the globe. Imagine convening a group of these employees from around the world to refine recruiting messages, referral programs, and related activities. You can only do this when you can positively identify those people, which in a large organization is now much easier, thanks to broad data analysis.

As for branding, employee recognition is a formal component of earning public accolades as an exceptional place to work, and the company becomes more attractive to candidates. This in turn raises the quality of applicants and lowers the cost of recruiting.

So it is with each of the eight talent management processes described in Figure 1: social recognition and reward technologies enhance each process with fact-based feedback and yield data that can be analyzed for insights into virtually every human activity in an organization.

Benefits of Talent Insight

In the past, these insights might come from a particularly sensitive manager or HR professional, but in a large organization there are just too many people and too much activity for a single observer to reliably detect hidden patterns. That’s the power of big data analysis—it observes far more than a person can and, with the sheer power to run large data sets, it observes patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed.

A sophisticated social recognition program can show these patterns. When you analyze many thousands of recognition moments and comments, you can produce key insights about how jobs get done, how teams
should be configured, how communication and learning and collaboration happen across the hall and around
the globe, and where to find your company’s “hidden influencers”—that is, people who might not wield formal power but who are so trusted and widely known that their opinion carries great weight with peers.

Big data is also enabling insight to travel horizontally within HR functions, contributing to recruitment, hiring, retention, and compensation and benefits planning. Here are 14 ways social recognition and the data it yields contribute to broader talent management practices:

1. Onboarding. One surefire way to help new employees ramp up quickly—internalizing your values and jumping feet first into your culture—is to nominate and appreciate their work, and to invite them to notice and recognize their peers for doing great work. Immediate feedback from social recognition in the critical three to six months after a new employee starts helps new employees to understand how their work and their efforts align with company values and contribute to company goals.

2. Finding hidden value. The technology of social recognition delivers feedback data to executive management by capturing individual moments of great performance. The resulting company-wide recognition story reveals pockets of excellence that might otherwise go unnoticed. When a manager recognizes “unsung heroes,” those heroes are motivated and the recognition of their behavior motivates others.

3. Documenting and promoting best practices. As a social recognition program captures incremental improvements in processes of all kinds through recognition awards, those improvements can be collected and published to all in a continuous stream of best practices.

4. Spotting the quiet but important employees. When recognition events produce meaningful data and that data is captured, senior management can identify “hidden influencers”—that is, employees with large and active internal networks. Those who are recognized for continuous improvement, for example, are certainly high- potential employees, whether they work in the research lab or on the loading dock. Over time, recognition singles out both the popular employees and those too modest or shy to promote themselves, but whose work inspires others and produces results.

5. Spotting cultural energizers. At the other end of
 the scale are employees who constantly energize the culture with enthusiasm, inclusiveness, curiosity, ethical example, perseverance, a will to win, or any of the other qualities that express a culture. They will give recognition and often receive it, and they are key allies for cultural initiatives, whether that means managing change or instituting a recognition program in the first place.

6. Learning and development. It is hard to overstate the role of recognition as a way to reinforce a culture of learning in an organization. Because recognition is a pure form of positive reinforcement, it can serve to help bolster any behavior your organization values. In fact, when scholars of organizational behavior identified the top drivers of learning on the job, reward was one of the most important factors, and one of the top hindering elements was a lack of positive reinforcement.

7. Retention. One of the most measurable and quantifiable effects that companies see from recognition is a jump in retention numbers—and the huge cost savings that accompanies it. Globoforce’s Workforce Mood Tracker surveys have shown that employees will consider jumping ship for a company that recognizes and rewards employees. A study by Bersin by Deloitte noted that companies with recognition programs highly effective at improving employee engagement have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than their peers with ineffective recognition programs.

8. Change management. One of the lesser-known impacts of a great recognition program is its ability to ease change management in an organization. Whether it
is something as large as a merger or acquisition or as simple as new processes and ideas, recognition is a way to reinforce new behavior and make everyone feel like an important stakeholder in company culture. Recognition brings even the most resistant or disparate groups together into a single culture focused on a single set of goals and values. Moreover, positive reinforcement is proven to be a powerful driver of behavioral change.

9. Succession planning. Good succession planning has multiple benefits. It lowers recruitment cost while at
the same time making employees feel great about
their chances for advancement and their future in
the organization. It enables smoother transitions as management openings are filled from within, putting in place someone already familiar with company culture and goals. Because social recognition locates high performers, quiet-but-important employees, and cultural energizers, it helps HR build a deep bench for the company’s future.

10. Years-of-service awards. The stories collected in a social years-of-service award are both quantitative and qualitative; saving them enables a company to create and share a narrative of engaged, passionate employees and the strong relations that carry a company beyond the tenure and vision of its founders. Capturing data over the long term means a years-of-service milestone can present a review of every time someone has been congratulated, recognized, or thanked. A years-of-service timeline radiates good feeling and human appreciation throughout the organization.

11. Work circles. In the cadence of today’s workplace, people form work circles, a term we use to describe the mini-communities that form around a project instead
of an organizational chart. They might be temporary or long-term relationships, and they aren’t restricted to a single department or location. At any time, an employee might belong to several work circles because he or she is engaged in projects that require different arrays of skills and different resources. People in a company who otherwise might not have much contact became a self-sustaining, self-regulating group, and their collaboration became a little part of each individual’s work history.

Recognition moments among them capture some of
that unique experience, and anyone with access to the recognition data can learn about the skills, temperament, and engagement of individual team members long
 after the work circle disbands. The storytelling of each person’s tenure in this company can be retained by a social recognition system that recognizes the unique relationships and can be instantly generated as an individual work digest.

12. Identifying management trouble spots. Social recognition can also reveal gaps in management performance. For example, if no recognition takes place in a department delivering on its goals, that data point could mean the manager isn’t noticing or appreciating employee performance, which is an early warning sign of such problems as employee turnover. If, on the other hand, a manager is handing out a lot of recognition awards but not hitting goals, the data suggest that employees aren’t focused on the right outcomes.

13. Improving performance reviews. A social recognition program provides rich qualitative and quantitative information for performance reviews. At the simplest level, recognition records outstanding performance that deserves to be remembered at review time.

14. Separating quality from quantity. Qualitative recognition data records the value of certain behaviors and accomplishments. This is critical when many awards are being given, because quantity is not the only measure of value. An effective recognition system can single out employees who might receive few awards, but those awards collectively represent the greatest value to the company.

Predicting the Future

Predicting performance is one of the great, elusive goals of human resources. The point of every job interview is to anticipate with accuracy how someone will perform, and whenever someone is promoted, the organization
is placing a bet on that employee to thrive in a new position. If human beings could only be as predictable as machines, HR would have a much simpler job.

But human beings, in all their complexity and variety, are the focus of HR practices, and so HR is always looking for better ways to understand and predict employee behavior.

We are just beginning to see real data solutions to this in social recognition. Based on the belief that past behavior can predict future behavior (the belief that underlies behavior-based interviewing, for example), analysis of social recognition data can and does help predict performance.

When we talk to customers in large organizations, we find there are departments and leaders that lead the way with successful social recognition and get valuable insights all the time. When they dig deeply into the data, they also find unexpected insights of a predictive nature. Put recognition data against business data, and you can predict that turnover of a certain type of employee will increase when a new manager is put in charge. You can anticipate which individuals are contributing well but will ultimately fall by the wayside. You can predict which individual experts might become good managers and which should remain individual contributors—all this based on real-time recognition of qualities like leadership, teamwork, and alignment with company values, combined with outcomes like improved quality, higher productivity, and higher profits.

The job of human resources is to manage practices that make the most of every person in the organization. Predictive analytics and social recognition are tools to help HR professionals do their jobs. And those tools are getting better all the time.

Eric Mosley is CEO of Globoforce and Derek Irvine is VP of client strategy and consulting for the company.

Posted March 20, 2015 in Enabling Technology

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