From AI to data storytelling, here are the juiciest takeaways and latest insights from the People Analytics & Future of Work conference (PAFOW) held in Philadelphia (September 5-6, 2019).

Underestimate People Analytics at your peril. The market size is currently estimated to be worth $1.7 billion (and growing quickly). So where are the opportunities, and what do you need to keep on your radar?

1. AI, AI and more AI

AI was the star of the show this year. It’s now permeated into every facet of HR, from recruitment, to employee experience, right through to L&D and, of course, People Analytics.

It’s going to free up HR to focus on problem solving

Excitingly, People Analytics is embracing AI. One way it’s doing this is by leveraging predictive algorithms and modeling to do the heavy data lifting — freeing up leaders to focus on the strategy and big-picture problem solving.

AI is not going to replace us

Although AI is becoming ubiquitous within EX, the general consensus is that it can never fully replace humans. The best results will be achieved with humans and AI complementing each other. This is necessary as AI is missing a fundamentally crucial aspect of HR: empathy.

This includes things like being able to predict resilience and emotional intelligence. Despite this, we’ll undoubtedly still try — but by using AI to predict these aspects of potential, we run the risk of falling further into an already deep human-based bias hole.

Potential skills gap

Although the emergence of AI in these areas is making some roles redundant, it’s also creating new roles in its wake. According to one speaker, for every job that’s currently eliminated, 2-3+ jobs are created to support the building of an AI infrastructure.

However, the main thing to watch out for is the potential skills gap within this area, as the expertise that’s needed for these new roles is different and often more advanced. The need for upskilling may become more urgent with time, so it’s crucial to get ahead of the curve.

An exciting EX opportunity

Ultimately, AI offers a great opportunity for improving EX when done right. For example, AI-powered chatbots, libraries and knowledge bases are perfectly placed to provide answers to HR-related topics and questions frequently asked by employees — allowing them to self-serve and get the information they need faster.

2. Use People Analytics to build stories

Want leaders to pay attention to your analyses? Then humanize and tell stories around data. Help decision-makers understand the meaning behind the numbers. However, one watchout: these must always tie back to the business challenge or they risk being overlooked.

Create strong narratives

The way to do this is by developing confident, coherent narratives. Direct these at those you’re trying to influence. But a word of warning: don’t get bogged down with the tools and methodology.

Humanize data

In the past, the goal was to democratize data and insights. Now the goal should be humanize the data. This can be achieved through storytelling and making people aware of the impact this work can have for good. It’s not just fundamental, People Analytics teams have a responsibility to do it.

Be realistic

There is a need to strike a healthy balance between ambition and reality — and some even say there’s no such thing as “big data” in HR due to limits in data sets.

For example, predictors or high-po employees, manager bias, etc. aren’t yet as reliable as we need them to be. As AI and big data continue to evolve, HR leaders need to strike a balance between relying on these data sets and making human decisions to drive their workforce forward.

3. Organizational shifts happening in the world of People Analytics

There’s long been a complicated relationship between traditional HR and People Analytics.

Intuition and analytics

Originally seen as a marketing fad or re-brand of HR, People Analytics is now gaining credibility and effectiveness. However, there’s still a disconnect between people science “geeks in the basement” and HR leaders. Working together is the only way to bridge this gap.

New management models needed

There was a call for new management models, given the disruption of digital work environment and AI. And a prediction that HR, operations and IT will come together to be part of a larger work strategy.

EX should be a priority

Employees are making a much bigger commitment to their employer than consumers commit to a company and brand, so why aren’t we spending just as much on the employee experience?

4. Taking a user-centric approach to ‘work tech’

“HR tech” is for HR people. Instead we should be thinking about the technologies that facilitate EX as “work tech”.

Work tech is for everyone in the organization (including employees and candidates). And this is the way we should be viewing EX. It’s important that it’s adopted at all levels.

The importance of journey mapping

The next steps for People Analytics teams could be journey-mapping workshops and techniques to co-design processes and experiences — all with the end users in mind and part of the process.

Personalize

Just as CX cottoned onto personalization creating a more engaging experience for consumers, so must employers with the EX solutions.

Employees increasingly expect their employer’s tech to reflect their consumer experiences. But the more vendors, interfaces and applications you plug in, the greater the risk you have to negatively impact EX. Make simple, make it seamless.

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