To Be Honest, Here’s Why I Really Hate Analytics and Big Data

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Don’t kid yourself – you hate analytics.

It wouldn’t be politically correct to say that you hate analytics, so you won’t. That’s why I’m here.

You hate analytics because using them in your organization increases accountability.

  • Increased accountability = Increased stress.
  • Increased stress = Increased job dissatisfaction.
  • Increased job dissatisfaction = Increased turnover.

You see the cycle, right?

The dark side of analytics

So, who likes analytics? Bosses. Why? Because they like having increased accountability on you. It makes them feel all strategic and shit.

When analytics are used against you like a weapon, they suck. Too many organizations use analytics as a weapon to judge your performance. Leadership justifies this because ultimately they are held accountable to the ultimate analytic – the bottom line — so, they feel you should be held accountable too.

We would like analytics better if they weren’t used to bash us over the head, and instead, if they were used to help make us better, to help us improve, to help us understand.

Harvard Business Review had a great post on this subject: The Real Reason Organizations Resist Analytics by Michael Schrage:

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The evolving marriage of big data to analytics increasingly leads to a phenomenon I’d describe as “accountability creep” — the technocratic counterpart to military “mission creep.” The more data organizations gather from more sources and algorithmically analyze, the more individuals, managers and executives become accountable for any unpleasant surprises and/or inefficiencies that emerge.

For example, an Asia-based supply chain manager can discover that the remarkably inexpensive subassembly he’s successfully procured typically leads to the most complex, time-consuming and expensive in-field repairs. Of course, engineering design and test should be held accountable, but more sophisticated data-driven analytics makes the cost-driven, compliance-oriented supply chain employee culpable, as well.

This helps explain why, when working with organizations implementing big data initiatives and/or analytics, I’ve observed the most serious obstacles tend to have less to do with real quantitative or technical competence than perceived professional vulnerability. The more managements learn about what analytics might mean, the more they fear that the business benefits may be overshadowed by the risk of weakness, dysfunction and incompetence exposed.”

It’s really more about CYA

I recall a very technical business acronym I was taught in my Master’s program: CYA. Be very careful with your big data initiatives because many turn into CYA projects.

If I can show these analytics, it will show why this major issue doesn’t have anything to do with my department but everything to do with another department. Days To Fill reports are filled with CYA. “It’s the hiring managers not getting back to us in a timely matter to set up interviews – this is why our Days to Fill is so high.”

Accountability sucks when it is happening to you. It’s great when you’re holding someone to it.

Big Data might be the biggest weapon in your tool box – be very careful who you point it at.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


2 Comments on “To Be Honest, Here’s Why I Really Hate Analytics and Big Data

  1. Data is useful, but what you do with it is still a very human decision and prone to all the usual human frailties.

  2. Tim – I get what you’re saying. I’ve been on the side of the desk where the metrics I was producing were used as a sort of a “billy-club” to continually drive further improvements. That said, “for-profit” businesses exist to make money, so of course business owners and leaders are concerned about the bottom line.

    What I’m seeing on the Big Data front, though, is that new kinds of questions can now be asked. No longer is HR relegated to only looking back and asking, “How did I do?” types of questions. Instead, Big Data provides the ability to ask “What will happen if?” and “How is the business performing right now?” types of questions.

    HR has long been striving to be referred to as a “Strategic Business Partner.” I read a recent PwC CEO study that reported that now 79% of CEO’s have the head of HR reporting to them. I understand the reasons for HR’s aversion and perhaps “phobia” of being more numbers-centric, I don’t believe the profession can continue to be viewed as a valued partner in guiding and running the business without them also overcoming this thinking.

    Shooting from the hip, relying on anecdotes, or “trusting your gut” are not the types of decision making tools that successful businesses can rely on. I think the question should always be, “What does the data tell us?” And, if the data and the modeling do not match the “hunch,” then leaders have to be able to role-model using the data to overrule their opinion.

    In my view, HR pros who are more worried about keeping their jobs than advancing business goals are adopting an “us vs. them mentality” that serves neither them nor the enterprise– nor the HR profession as a whole. The challenge is finding the right way to help the profession cross over the bridge from fear and resistance to finding the right ways to get successes with data that help them run the business.

    I’d welcome your thoughts and feedback on how to help move the profession forward down this path.


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