Big Data: Too Much Too Fast Can Get Too Creepy For Employees

Illustration by

The era of Big Data, and the technology and tools that accompany it, have opened the doors to new ways of designing and managing how we reward employees.

No longer must we treat our workforce as one big homogeneous mass. Now we can gather and analyze the data necessary to understand every individual’s needs, values and preferences – and tailor our offerings accordingly.

Much in the same way that Big Data has paved the way for marketing departments to customize their pitches and offerings to consumers.

It’s all good, right?

Data can sometimes outpace insights

Maybe. But an interesting HBR Blog Network post (When Digital Marketing Gets Too Creepy) by Michael Schrage calls our attention to a particular pitfall we may encounter along the way to that “customized experience” we hope to offer employees.

Let’s call it the Creep Factor. A result of innovation in analytics outpacing development of the skills and insights necessary to use the information with appropriate care and tone.

To illustrate the challenge, Schrage shares the example of a loyalty program run by Qantas Airways. Flight attendants were given access to up-to-the-minute data on the airline’s most elite and valued frequent fliers, displayed via onboard iPads. Unfortunately, the flight staff struggled to use the data to authentically connect with and serve these important customers.

Instead of making them feel special, the effort too often creeped them out.

Article Continues Below

“More creepy than comfortable”

Schrage notes:

I’ve personally and professionally experienced similar pathologies experiencing “customer support” from credit card companies, financial services firms, airlines and telecoms operators. One can practically hear their all-too-human staff struggle to utilize the bespoke information they’re (presumably) reading off their screens to mollify, humor and/or resolve my issues in ways reflecting how much they “know” what a great customer I am. The variances in customer experience quality are enormous. Like those Qantas frequent flyers, I occasionally feel more creepy than comfortable with these “interactions.” Not good for those net promoter scores.

So should technology-empowered “customer touch” personnel attend improvisational acting workshops? Or teleprompter training? After all, as the joke goes, the key to success in acting is “sincerity” because if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.

The better question, however, doesn’t revolve around performance art skills; it asks whether organizations really want to build data-based relationships around their people.”

No small question this last one, and it’s a valid one to consider as we ramp up our own analytical efforts. Let’s be aware that the use of Big (Employee) Data raises the stakes of the HR game in a very personal way.

Take care to act accordingly.

This was originally published on Ann Bares’ Compensation Force blog.

Ann Bares is the Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group. She has over 20 years of experience consulting in compensation and performance management and has worked with a variety of organizations in auditing, designing and implementing executive compensation plans, base salary structures, variable and incentive compensation programs, sales compensation programs, and performance management systems.

Her clients have included public and privately held businesses, both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, early stage entrepreneurial organizations and larger established companies. Ann also teaches at the University of Minnesota and Concordia University.

Contact her at


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *