Technology Insights: How Big Data Can Help HR Drive Recognition

These days a recognition program in a big company is probably enabled by some kind of web platform.

Want to give an employee something for doing a good job? Go to the recognition platform and it’s easily done.

This kind of manager self-service technology is great! Now that we are used to it we couldn’t live without it.

However, the controversy around recognition has never been around the administrative difficulty. The controversy is around whether it works.

Clear evidence

A large bank, having been running a recognition program for some time, realized they were sitting on a ton of data. They knew who had received an award, when, and how they performed. It was then just a very simple matter of doing highly advanced statistical analysis.

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Dr. Charles Scherbaum, a professor of psychology at Baruch College at the City University of New York, looked at time slices of the data to see if recognition events preceded improved performance. He found clear evidence that recognition did have an impact and that the size of the impact easily justified the cost of the program.

Testing to see if the recognition program worked was just the beginning, there are many other testable issues such as whether coaching on how to give recognition had an impact and whether adding more rewards would pay off … but those are issues to address another time.

What is interesting?

  • It’s a good example of applying big data to an HR issue.
  • The tech was originally purely operational, effective rather than sexy, but “the data exhaust” proved to be really valuable.

What’s really important?

  • We are moving from a world of opinions (such as whether recognition programs drive productivity or are just fluff) to a world of evidence.
  • Perhaps less obvious is that after HR demonstrates it can work with evidence is that people will take its opinion much more seriously, even in cases where it does not have evidence.

Let me wrap up with a thanks to Gordon Green of Rideau Recognition who shared this story with me. We read a lot about the promise of Big Data, this is a rare story about Big Data delivering on that promise.

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, is a globally recognized thinker on people analytics and talent management. Some of his more interesting projects included:

  • Conducted workshops around the world on the practical aspects of people analytics
  • Took business leaders from Japan’s Recruit Co. on a tour of US tech companies (Recruit eventually bought for $1 billion)
  • Studied the relationship between Boards and HR (won Walker Award)
  • Spoke at the World Bank in Paris on HR reporting
  • Co-authored Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. The book was endorsed by the CHROs of IBM, LinkedIn and Starbucks.
  • Worked with Dr. Wanda Wallace on “Leading when you are not the expert” which topped the “Most Popular List” on the Harvard Business Review’s blog.
  • Worked with Dr. Henry Mintzberg on peer coaching, David’s learning modules are among the most popular topics.

Currently David is helping organizations to get on-track with people analytics.

This work led to him being made a Fellow for the Centre of Evidence-based Management (Netherlands) for his contributions to the field.



1 Comment on “Technology Insights: How Big Data Can Help HR Drive Recognition

  1. What strikes me about this story is that the data used was a ‘by-product’ of existing, operational activity. Too often we try to re-invent the wheel when the data needed may already be there. In fact, if you’re trying to show that HR is impacting the business, then the business data almost certainly IS already there! The trick is to a) to know what data is available b) to have access to it and c) to be able to do the analysis. HR should know a) and the analysis piece can be outsourced if necessary. In my experience, the stumbling block is usually getting easy access to the data, which may exist in separate, protected, siloed systems. Free the data and HR can show its worth.

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