Crunching the data

by Iain Hopkins29 Jan 2015
The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) is famous for its range of high-tech crime fighting activities. They are at the forefront of data analytics to combat organised crime and its involvement with virtual currencies, illegal drug production and trafficking, and tax avoidance.

The same data analytics techniques are now being used to improve operations in another area of the ACC: organisational performance. In addition to the range of surveys that organisations typically run (internal and external), the ACC has taken the next step – analysing data that workers generate in day-to-day operations.

HR analytics is now being bolstered by a niche but growing wave of technology which sits on a company’s server or in the cloud and tracks employee communication – and in some instances employee sentiment – with pre-set metrics. For players in this market, such as Revelian and McGrathNicol, this is a new era in HR analytics.
“People are generating vast volumes of data in everything they do at work, but all that data is sitting there untapped,” says Peter O’Hanlon, chief marketing officer at Revelian. “What we’ve learned from other domains like marketing and logistics is that by tapping into the data that’s being generated, you can learn a lot.”
Indeed, many organisations know more about their customers than their employees because they’re investing in big data and are leveraging those data assets to drive their business strategy. This imbalance is now being addressed.
The Revelian Communications Analysis Platform (RCAP) looks at communication patterns (but not the specific content of emails) to offer insights into employees’ productivity, tone, and engagement levels.
O’Hanlon says that it’s not uncommon for organisations today to already have scanners looking for inappropriate keyword content being sent throughout the workplace – the RCAP steers clear of that. “We don’t look at content at all,” he says. “We’re just looking at the patterns of communication. We’re connected to the data sources and we then apply a range of algorithms and analytics to that high level information, which simplifies and consolidates it down to useful measures of the way people interact in the workplace.”

What can the RCAP measure?
  1. The ‘information burden’ on individuals and teams. “Certain people act as a lightning rod and everyone goes to them for all sorts of information. There’s potential for those people to get burnt out,” says O’Hanlon.
  2. Communication spread. “We can look at whether people work with a tight group or whether they spread out across the organization by spanning different functions. This could link to their role type and the communication style that’s suitable for that role.”
  3. Team alignment. “Typically, the culture of a team is made up of the way in which people interact. And the way in which people interact is shaped by the culture – it’s like the chicken and the egg. By looking at the actual communications that go on, it provides a quantifiable lens on culture. For example, are there individuals who are communicating in a totally different way to the rest of the people in their team?”
  4. Workplace structure. “Some organisations have workers who start and end their working day at the same time, all the time. There are peaks and troughs through the day that are very structured. Other offices are more chaotic. In addition, certain people have a work pattern that’s much less structured, so they work after hours or on weekends. They might have a lull through the work day itself. Being able to see that relative to others in the organisation can help to explain productivity levels and the way that people are working together.”
  5. Communication styles. “We’ve analysed millions of interactions and it’s clear that people have characteristic styles of communicating. It’s interesting is seeing shifts in that style. For example, someone has become less autonomous and is providing a lot of visibility to their manager in what they’re doing. That can be a sign that they are unsure of what they need to do; they might need some additional development.”

There are countless possibilities for how this information is utilised at individual, team and organisational level. For example, at the end of the probation period, managers can see how well integrated a new recruit is with the business and what their relationships look like. It can be used to support performance reviews. It can be used in retention plans, especially as communication patterns can potentially be predictive of attrition.
“We can see whether people are being proactive, how responsive they are, whether their communication style is very hierarchical or more egalitarian,” says O’Hanlon. “That in turn allows you to identify the future leaders, the people who are thinking of leaving and provide that kind of insight to better manage the workforce.”

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