HR Shouldn’t Use Big Data For The Company

Paul Hebert Employee Engagement, Engagement and Satisfaction, HR Technology, Paul Hebert

I’ve gone on record a few times suggesting big data isn’t something many companies can use and use well. I don’t believe it is the panacea every consulting guru says it is. I DO believe there is a lot of value in mining the data available about employees for large organizations. I just don’t see the payoff for most small companies. I also have a problem with the idea of using big data as a tool for driving engagement. Digging into personal information in order to manipulate the environment for greater profit and productivity just seems a bit slimy.

And I used the word manipulate (and slimy) on purpose.

When things are done behind the scenes to drive corporate outcomes, and when those outcomes are the direct result of digging into employee data, there should be a very high level of transparency. Employees should know when and how data is being used to influence their behavior work.

So I’m against using big data to influence employee behavior without transparency. And I feel there are far too few companies that could really leverage the power of big data. I mean, if you don’t have more than a few hundred employees, big data won’t deliver on the promise the way it will for a company of 50,000 employees. And the truth is over 99.5% of businesses in America have less than 500 employees. In general terms, HR can manage that data using a pretty rudimentary spreadsheet.

But… I do think there is one way to use big data.

Using Data to HELP Employees

I say all that to the set the stage for this conversation.

As an HR manager—heck, as a manager in general, I think data might be a big help if used with employee permission, to help identify the times of day, the times of year, the type of work, and the people they interact with—and then connect that information to periods of great productivity and self-reported feelings of satisfaction and engagement.

If I have a way to track the type of work you are doing, who you’re doing it with, and what the focus and goal of the work is I can then layer that information on your subjective feelings about your job, your satisfaction, and happiness. Being able to see how you FEEL based on what is going on in the company and what you’re involved with, I now have a way to help you find more opportunities to be engaged, satisfied and happy. I can help YOU!

Think about it.

If Mary has told me she feels best about her job and her company during specific time periods—and I can see during that time she was working with these six people, in this type of role, focused on these types of objectives, I can work to replicate that scenario as many times as possible. I can also see what she was doing when she reported being less happy and less engaged. As a manager, that would be great information.

The big difference in this conversation is that I’m using big data to help the employee. How many people in the consultant class keep talking about using big data to make the company more efficient and more profitable? Most if not all…


#Pro-tip: 99.64% of the time when you make a company more efficient and more profitable, you make employees less engaged and less satisfied and happy.


So let me NOW go on record saying big data is something everybody can use—as long as it is used to help employees BEFORE it is used to help employers.