People + Strategy Journal

Winter 2022

Reshaping Our Human Capital Strategies with Data

MetLife adopted deeper analytics to identify areas where their policies and processes could be changed to better support employees. In addition to actionable insights, the team tackled issues around privacy, trust and ever-changing data flows.

By Susan Podlogar, Laura Shubert, Robin Gordon, MetLife
Reshaping Our Human Capital Strategies with Data

​The availability and usage of data in HR have grown exponentially over the past ten years and continue to grow at a remarkable pace. Many of us now face the question, “How can we use and care for data to reshape human capital strategies?”

At MetLife, we envision an HR team that harnesses the power of data to become more vital business partners, better stewards for our employees and enablers of the organization’s ability to make informed investments that are targeted, segmented and customized.

Our noble purpose at MetLife —“Always with you, building a more confident future”—is the core of who we are and guides how we show up for our employees, customers, communities and shareholders. With our purpose as the frame, we recognized an opportunity for MetLife to transform how we collect, use and store data to maximize the engagement and effectiveness of our teams… and we went all in.

Shifting the Mindset 

Shifting the mindset of leaders and pivoting from being a traditional “reporting shop” to using data to discover areas of strength, improvement and opportunity within our human capital was our first hurdle. 

To do this, we refocused the efforts of our Workforce Analytics team and invested in a data-crunching HR tool offered by a small start-up firm. The tool eliminates the need for a central team to analyze essential people data in spreadsheets—like hires, departures and promotions—and puts online dashboards directly in the hands of credentialed individuals. Now, we are educating and empowering those with access to the tool on data privacy, storage and use, and helping them build the necessary data acumen. The beauty of the tool is that it does not make any meaningful decisions that will impact our employees—that is always left to our HR professionals and business leaders—but it allows our people to spend more of their time on these important issues.

With basic reporting data democratized, available 24/7 and near real-time for credentialed individuals, our Analytics team is now focusing on deeper people insights.

Speaking the Language of the Business Through Data

Understanding human capital risks has become increasingly important over the last few years. Our stakeholders want an objective view of our people, our culture and our talent and how they relate to the organization’s overall health. Approaching these questions with data provides us with a certain level of credibility. We can confidently say “I know” rather than “I think.” 

Our annual employee listening survey is one tool we use to get these insights. We pulse our employees bi-annually and see clear trends in the data that let us know our employees are proud to work for MetLife and feel a strong sense of belonging. Similarly, we know our employees are looking for more time to learn. 

While we use quantitative data from the survey to gauge sentiment, we also spend a great deal of time using natural language processing to analyze qualitative data through employee comments. We pair the quantitative and qualitative survey results with other demographic and transactional data to develop a deeper understanding of populations across MetLife. We also use the data to understand where we may have risk or opportunities for improvement. The use of both types of data allows us to plan more localized and customized interventions—like developing a turnover model for our officer population. 

Respecting the privacy rights of our customers and employees is a core tenet of MetLife so we go to great lengths to make sure that the surveys are anonymous and that the answers and comments cannot be traced back to individuals. This has the additional benefit of giving our employees the safe arena to give MetLife honest feedback.

Continuously pulsing your employees is important because, for example, while financial data has a closing point, people data has a continuous flow. The data are constantly growing, evolving and changing with our people and current global landscape. A level of sophistication and understanding of human behavior is necessary when telling the story about people data. 

To help, we created a new role responsible for communicating and amplifying our employee value proposition to prospective candidates and existing employees. Having someone on our team with research and corporate branding skills to help develop and implement ongoing marketing campaigns tailored to meet future talent needs (e.g., technical, diverse talent pools) is critical to take our human capital strategies to the next level. 

iStock-1079939122.png

Asking the Right Questions and Digging Deeper 

We realized early on the value of looking beyond the superficial findings. Keeping an open mind and digging deeper into the story, we used the data to focus on meaningful solutions. 

Turnover rates in our call centers were one focus area. Instead of focusing solely on the turnover rate, we used data to better understand costs related to hiring and training talent and identified ways to help our greatest assets, our people, flourish. MetLife recently raised its U.S. minimum wage to $20 an hour to offer security and confidence to our people, just as we do for our customers.

Collaboration is another example. When we think about collaboration, we tend to focus only on who is and who is not connecting. However, when you dig deeper into the data, you uncover how work is done and see informal organizational structures emerge. By understanding the network and continually asking ourselves “why,” we find richer information that helps us ramp up the speed of new team members, uncover more efficient leadership patterns and learn more about key connectors. 

In addition to formal network analysis, in spring 2021, we responded to feedback from an internal crowd sourcing challenge indicating that career development is a top priority for employees wishing to stay at MetLife—and we committed to becoming a talent-marketplace early adopter. As of December 2021, we have officially assigned more than 900 individuals to projects and helped over 300 cross-functional team members make networking connections—all in under nine months. We plan to scale the platform to all employees by the end of 2022. 

Using Data for Good 

Our lives are evolving into a collection of concierge services because of data science outside of work. 

In companies as large as MetLife, aggregated data allow us to pinpoint behavioral trends and better understand our employees and what they need. For example, employees may be hesitant about a company that analyzes swipe cards for employee comings and goings. On the surface, that data could seem like it is monitoring employees, but when used in compliance with law and taking into account employee privacy concerns, it can help us better understand employees’ behavior. Why are large groups of people coming and going when they do? Is there a pattern of behavior that shows people needing to leave for childcare? We can use this data to introduce stronger support systems for our people. 

As another example, through our annual employee survey, we identified an opportunity to better align our people leaders around the globe to ensure every employee has a positive, consistent and impactful leadership experience grounded in our success principles. Last year, over 5,500 people leaders were enrolled in a multi-quarter learning program developed by leadership experts to equip our leaders with the skills necessary to evolve for today and tomorrow. With two more quarters of learning to go, and our annual survey just completed, we now can analyze questions from our 2020 annual survey against 2021 results for leader behaviors to establish potential impact.

Using data to discover potential solutions that will enrich our employees’ experiences and positively impact the way we work is how we use data for good.

Upholding Our Commitments and Managing Risks

People data is invaluable to the way we work today and build the future. However, the elephant in the room is still how we get and use our people data, and how far do we go? We considered two questions: What data is an employee’s data as an employee? And what employee data is for the employers to use?

There is still a lot of a gray area in this space. For example, is it okay to gather job-seeking behavior insights from publicly available social media data if it is not the employees’ intention to share that information with their employer? Employers need clear policies and standards around where they will and will not go to get ahead of these questions.

Going back to our purpose, we want our employees to trust how we will or will not use their data. When we conduct employee listening through surveys, we explain how the data will be used and take extra precautions to ensure anonymity. Additionally, given the pandemic, we all know more about each other’s personal lives than before. As we do with our customers, we must keep our promises to our employees to ensure data integrity and preserve trust.

Leaning into Diversity 

Being open to the discovery process of data can also mean confronting unconscious bias. Your data will let you know if you have encouraged diversity, equity and inclusion in your organization. 

For MetLife, having the right mechanisms to ensure we are operating with diversity, equity and inclusion is at the forefront of our data analytics strategy. When we gather data, we ensure we have all the required data dimensions to make sure the data set is accurate. Then we have people with diverse backgrounds test the data to provide input on all the things a non-diverse group of people might overlook. 

Proactively building diversity, equity and inclusion into all elements of the data gathering process ensures diversity of thought, perspective and background. 

Through our all-in efforts, we understand there are always more questions to ask and solutions to discover. Our purpose will be our guiding light as we navigate the stories the data reveal.   


Susan Podlogar is Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at MetLife.

Laura Shubert is Vice President, People Planning & Insights at MetLife.

Robin Gordon is Chief Data and Analytics Officer at MetLife.