What 2019 did for People Analytics in Asia
As we enter 2020 and I reflect on the year that went by, the People Analytics evangelist in me has all reasons to be elated – 2019 was by far the most significant year for the evolution of People Analytics in Asia.
If you don’t know what People Analytics is by now, it is the application of data science to generate insights from data "of the People, for the People". This data can be of individuals or a collective, internal or external, demographic or behavioural. Organisations, leaders and individuals can then use these data-driven insights to make better decisions, improve overall performance and achieve sustainable business success.
Last year saw significant mindset changes among both the creators as well as consumers of People Analytics technologies. While my observations are multi-fold, three broad trends stand out to me:
From ‘why People Analytics’ to ‘what People Analytics’:
Asia is still largely a believer in ‘wisdom from atop the hierarchy’. The acceptance of the command and control model, though diluted, still prevails. The bedrock of this system is the belief in the leader’s wisdom. Furthermore, the premise that the Asian workforce is too diverse for a standard model to help in decision making augments this belief in a wise leader. This paradigm remains the biggest hurdle to the adoption of People Analytics in Asia. However, in 2019, this trend saw an inflexion point. Instead of arguments about ‘People Analytics V/S Manager’s Wisdom’, the conversation has moved to ‘What People Data Do I need to Augment Wisdom’.
From ‘data models’ to ‘decision models’ :
Even within the organizations who were first-movers in adopting a data-driven approach, most of them started with building ‘data models’. This approach is a one-size-fits-all model - akin to ‘let’s boil some water and keep it warm – we might need it to make coffee, tea or pasta’. The flaw in this approach is that companies start with an assumed way of collecting and using data and then attempt to force-fit their business problems into pre-fabricated data-models. I have personally seen quite a number of People Analytics projects fail due to this approach. 2019 was a year where I witnessed a large number of business leaders started instead with looking at their respective companies’ specific business problems before translating that to a ‘decision model’. Only then did they build relevant data models.
From ‘functional approach’ to ‘impact approach’:
‘The new CMO is very data-driven, and she has a very strong data lens to her approach to consumer behaviour and people behaviour ’. This is what I call a ‘functional approach’ to People Analytics, where one business function tries to be data-driven while the rest of the organization is lagging behind. A key reason for this ‘functional’ approach is that many analytics projects are pet projects within business functions, usually championed by someone who believes in data analytics. This is bound to stay this way, until data analytics, including People Analytics, becomes a ‘culture’ rather than just a pet project of business leaders.
However, 2019 was witness to a large number of business leaders aligning data analytics initiatives into larger impact gears like revenue, attrition and bottom-line, thereby garnering management attention. ‘People Analytics for Revenue Impact’, ‘Loyalty Analytics for Margin Expansion’ were some themes which caught management attention versus ‘function specific’ themes like ‘Talent Analytics’.
There were quite a few other positive changes that Asia witnessed in its understanding and adoption of People analytics in 2019. However, the fundamental issues remain and are slowly being untangled at a ‘decent’ pace (It would be a gimmick to call the pace ‘break-neck’). However, if I were to choose three broad evolution tracks for People Analytics in Asia at the start of 2019 – I would have picked exactly these. In short, 2019 witnessed changes that seem to be a perfect harbinger of the ‘Asian Analytics (r)evolution’ that I passionately look forward to!
Arun Sundar is an opinion leader in the Asia Pacific technology space. He is the Founding Chairman of the Asia Analytics Alliance and a board member of Asia Cloud Computing Association. Arun is a globally renowned People Analytics expert and evangelist. The strategy of pivoting his earlier venture TrustSphere into a globally renowned People Analytics player when he was their Chief Strategy Officer is a Harvard Business Review Case Study. A TEDx speaker, he is the board member and advisor to various technology ventures. He is currently with the management team of a world-leading Augmented Analytics and Performance Management technology business called KPISOFT.