Pandemic Prompts Creation of New People Analytics Tools

By Dave Zielinski November 30, 2021
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data analyst

​A heightened focus in the C-suite on people analytics tied to the pandemic, along with challenges posed by a churning labor market, have made tools that report on and analyze workforce metrics more valued than ever among senior leaders.

As organizations struggle to retain employees, fill job openings and cope with upward pressure on employee compensation, CEOs, CFOs and other top executives more frequently turn to HR leaders for reliable measures to gauge how they're performing in those areas and help guide complex people-related decisions.

In response to that demand, providers of people analytics software have built new products or evolved existing ones to give leaders more accurate, real-time data on metrics like employee attrition rates, market compensation trends, recruiting performance, workforce vaccination status and return-to-office sentiment.

Studies show that HR leaders are using more-specialized as well as more-versatile people analytics software to ensure they produce the most relevant and actionable data for their organizations' decision-makers.

Talent Analytics in Growing Demand

Recent research shows a growing demand for talent analytics both inside and outside of the HR function. A 2021 study of talent analytics leaders by Gartner found 72 percent said the demand for talent metrics in their organizations had grown since the outbreak of COVID-19. 

Another sign of the increased importance placed on HR metrics is recent growth in the size of people analytics teams. According to a 2021 study from Insight222, a people analytics research and consulting firm in London, people analytics teams in large companies now have an average ratio of one person for every 2,900 employees in their organizations, up from one in 4,000 in the preceding 12 months. The Insight222 study includes responses from people analytics leaders in 114 global companies.

Pandemic Spawns New Analytics Tools, Approaches

The pandemic forced providers of people analytics platforms to pivot and expand their offerings as HR leaders sought better ways of measuring remote-worker engagement and well-being as well as tracking new metrics like COVID-19 infection rates and vaccination status. New vendors also emerged with unique approaches around collecting HR data and sharing analytics best practices.

Once such provider is Knoetic, a company that combines a cloud-based analytics tool with a social network for chief people officers (CPOs) and CHROs that allows them to ask analytics-related questions of peers and share resources or best practices. It was designed to help alleviate a sense of isolation created by the pandemic.

More than 1,000 HR leaders are part of the platform's social community, said Joseph Quan, founder and CEO of Knoetic. "We built two pieces of software for the platform that emulate the right and left hemispheres of the brain," Quan said. "The left brain is the people analytics tool that collects vast numbers of data points from a company's HRIS, ATS and other systems and creates a single source of truth around people analytics. The right brain is a social network for CPOs that allows them to ask questions and share answers around their toughest analytics challenges or other management issues."

The social networking side of the platform has outperformed the analytics side in terms of adoption, Quan said. "There's a desire for community and social connection among HR executives, and I think the qualitative piece of analytics plays just as big a role as the quantitative side."

Quan said use of the platform has grown as C-suite leaders seek more data from HR around issues such as rising employee attrition rates, hard-to-fill job openings and escalating compensation brought on by a fiercely competitive recruiting landscape.

"Not only are we seeing many more requests for retention data on the social networking side of our solution, but our users also are running more attrition reports," Quan said. "It used to be they'd run those reports quarterly but now many do it monthly."

New Features for Employee Listening Platforms

Among the analytics tools HR leaders found most valuable during the pandemic were software platforms that allow them to easily collect and analyze employee feedback. Insight222's study found that "employee listening and engagement" was one of the top two areas where respondents believed people analytics added the most value to their organizations in 2021.

Some employee listening platforms have added features that allow HR to solicit input from the workforce in new ways. Perceptyx, a people insights platform in Temecula, Calif., added a crowdsourcing tool that enables workers to vote on proposed ideas for process or policy improvement using a pairwise voting system.

PepsiCo used the feature to help identify work processes that employees felt were impeding their success by posing the question, "Name one process that stops you from getting things done fast." Employees were then asked to propose solutions to processes identified as flawed and vote on which overall solutions they deemed best.

The winning ideas led to PepsiCo's management streamlining the company's performance review structure and switching to a new videoconferencing software solution among other process changes, according to a company spokesperson.

Suzanne Hanlon, vice president of employee insights and engagement for Comcast, uses Perceptyx for traditional employee surveying purposes but also to gauge worker sentiment around timely topics like Comcast's plans for returning to the office. 

Comcast has used the platform to help understand employee perspectives on the company's operational protocols and policies around COVID-19. "Based on that feedback our COVID response team has been able to adjust accordingly," Hanlon said. "We saw an uptick in employee engagement in 2020, which we attribute in part to our demonstrated commitment to employee listening."

Growing Use of Specialized Analytics Software

HR leaders also are increasingly turning to more specialized analytics software in their quest to provide more insightful and actionable people metrics to their organizations.

Insight 222's study detailed "three waves" of investment in people analytics technology. The first wave are investments in analytics that are part of core HRIS platforms; the second wave includes investments in people analytics dashboards and "data democratization" tools that make analytics more accessible and easily-understood for nontechnical employees; and the third wave features investment in specialized people analytics tools.

Among those third-wave technologies are talent market analytics solutions like Gartner's Talent Neuron, LinkedIn's Talent Insights and Emsi Burning Glass, according to the Insight222 study. Third-wave tools also include workforce collaboration analysis tools such as Microsoft Workplace Analytics, TrustSphere and Polinode.

More than 80 percent of Insight222 survey respondents said they had invested in second- and third-wave tools in 2021.

"An increase in second- and third-wave technology investment suggests the majority of people analytics teams are preparing to tackle more complex work," authors of the Insight222 study wrote. "Business leaders are increasingly looking for data on internal and external supply and demand of skills, continuous listening on employee feedback and a better understanding of employee networks, relationships and collaboration at work."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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