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Data, unlocking 'superhumans' and seizing opportunity

Data, unlocking ‘superhumans’

There is no reason why data and analytics cannot be turned towards people, with the goal of helping organisations to build an optimal, thriving workforce. The right questions could uncover hidden strengths, the best structure of teams, and help grow an adaptable, relevant workforce in the face of vast disruption.


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The insights gained from analysing data are fueling countless business decisions, from launching new products, to growing markets, making bold investments, and more. However, Lisa Barry, Partner, People and Change, KPMG, says one area where data and analytics are underutilised is people.

"An obvious use is strategic workforce planning – how many people does your organisation need and what do they need to do?" she says. "How many people will you need in the next 5 years, and what are the skillsets they need?"

Barry says these questions are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what data can reveal about workforces.

"Human beings are mostly underleveraged at work. Our thinking powers get squashed into roles and responsibilities. If you decided to reimagine how you value your people and engage them in a different way, how would you do that?" she says.

Evaluating a workforce

A common approach to evaluating a workforce is to compare headcount against revenue. However Barry says this offers a limited view.

“The option is available to put a valuation on your people and assess if you are using that capital properly,” she says.

To do this, information needs to be gathered about the composition of skills, behaviours and experience in the workforce, and to review how that is being utilised to achieve the organisation’s strategy.

Jon Stone, Partner in Solution 49x, KPMG’s Cognitive and Artificial Intelligence practice, says data can be collected not only during the recruitment process but also in many other areas such as peoples’ everyday routines, work habits, skills, progress and output.

“This could involve direct methods, such as employee surveys and informal forums, to more in-direct observational data using emerging approaches such as behavioural analysis, games and simulations,” he says.

Stone says the key is to ask the right questions of the data and design systems to gain useful insights that can help both the employee and the organisation. He says it is not about new ways for managers to monitor their teams, but it is about developing greater understanding of the different characteristics and learning styles of individuals to personalise how they are supported, coached and challenged to help them achieve more themselves.

“What is the best communication style to help this person grow? What is the composition of the team? Who is a likely future leader? What is healthy conflict what is not?” he says.

The information could reveal new ways of constructing a team or roles, or more effective ways to communicate – all helping to create an optimal environment for achievement.

“The point is to think differently about data and your people – there are lots of different ways you could look at your human capital, but organisations need to limit themselves to traditional ways,” he says.

Unlocking the ‘superhuman’

Success always comes down to people, and these insights can help organisations to – as Barry describes it – “unlock the superhuman”.

“Saying, ‘we are going for 4 percent growth on the bottom line overall’, is different to saying ‘we are going to grow by successfully leveraging all of our human capital to achieve our goal’. This is a liberating and empowering way to think about human beings,” she says.

Barry says organisations can hold people back from offering a “full contribution” due to the titles, responsibility levels, roles or expectations placed on them. Delving into data can help unleash those restrictions, by showing up skills, behaviours and ways of working that could be engaged.

“When is their optimal workflow time? What modes do they work in? Traditional structures get in the way of peoples’ peaks and rhythms of work,” she says.

Meeting demand and seizing opportunity

With insight into workforce composition and capability, it is easier for organisations to cater to highs and lows in demand. Stone says data can show where organisations could “top up” teams with skill sets that are truly necessary, rather than perceived to be necessary.

“Do you know your capability to meet demand? Ask, ‘how do I reshape my organisation to be able to move quickly and with agility?’ What composition is right in your workforce – permanent people, contractors or robotics?” he says.

In turn, by measuring talent against demand and adjusting accordingly, an organisation is better equipped to respond to disruption or to leap on fresh opportunities.

Barry adds: “It is about knowing what you need, and going about getting it – then managing that until further notice.”

No data, no relevance

While there are clear advantages to delving into data, Barry says many organisations are still a step behind. Amid the complexities of a constantly changing, competitive and digital world, this puts them at risk of irrelevance.

To surge to the forefront, Barry says organisations need to better connect data and people – and act strongly on the insights revealed.

“Ask, ‘How data driven are you? Are you driving your people agenda with data?’” she says.

Barry says the ultimate outcome should be a “skillful interplay on the balance sheet of people”.

“It is about composition – knowing what is on the balance sheet now, and what should be on the balance sheet in future. What is the skillful interplay of the workforce you need, and when do you need it? It changes the game.”

More on the relevant workforce

A challenge for creating an optimal and relevant workforce is that there will be an increasing mix of humans and robotics working alongside each other. Find out more in People and robotics – the hybrid workforce.

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