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Use Data and Analytics for Collaboration and Culture

​Today, it's easier than ever for workers to connect with colleagues, customers and collaborators. Yet, in many ways, employees are finding it harder to get things done. Call it the paradox of the connected workforce. 

Reb Rebele is a researcher at Wharton People Analytics, an interdisciplinary initiative that focuses on research, thought leadership and education. According to Rebele, collaborative activities in the workplace have risen more than 50 percent in the past decade. But many organizations do little to understand how collaboration affects their culture or to measure its impact. 

"We are spending more time collaborating. But what good is it doing us? How much does it cost? How will we know what all this collaboration is worth?" he asked during his Masters Series presentation "Working Together: Using Data and Analytics for Better Collaboration and Culture" at the SHRM 2017 Annual Conference & Exposition.

Rebele cited several studies that show the benefits of collaboration. Cardiac surgeons achieved better outcomes the longer they worked with the same operating team; top-performing security analysts maintained their same level of success upon leaving a company if they kept their team intact. A strong collaborative culture is tied to increased profits and higher engagement, Rebele said. 

Based on such evidence, he called on attendees to adopt HR practices that break down silos and urged HR professionals to assume the mantle of "chief collaboration officer" for their organization.

"Collaboration has many proven benefits, but it also comes with costs, so it must be managed and measured to be most effective."

One of those costs, research shows, is that the most helpful employees in an organization often suffer from emotional burnout, and so-called star performers may be doing little to help their colleagues.

Much of the work that HR does is still primarily focused on the individual employee and his or her discreet role, Rebele noted.

"When you look at what your human resource information system does, or your performance management system or your compensation and recognition programs, they are often built around the individual."

He said HR can put practices in place that root out employees who impede collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

"Don't hire takers. By that I mean people who are focused solely on themselves. Toxic employees do more to hurt your business than top performers do to help it."

He also profiled six types of "givers":

  1. Experts share their knowledge.
  2. Coaches teach skills.
  3. Mentors give advice and guidance.
  4. Connectors make introductions.
  5. Extra-milers show up early, stay late and volunteer for extra work.
  6. Helpers provide hands-on task support and emotional support.

The profiles reveal gender disparities, Rebele said, with women being more likely to identify themselves as helpers and men more likely to identify as experts and mentors.

Rebele offered several ideas about how organizations can quantify and encourage collaboration, including:

  • Reward collaborators. This is something that Corning Labs does, he said. Corning has a program to recognize leaders who author lucrative patents and who also make significant contributions to projects led by others. In addition, he suggested that job descriptions include collaborative tasks related to the role.
  • Do a sentiment analysis. Tools such as an employee engagement survey or language processing software can show how workers feel about their work and who they turn to for support.
  • Do a network analysis. This can take the form of 360-degree feedback that shows patterns of employee communication and reveals who the people are that others turn to the most for information and advice.
  • Analyze employee communications and calendar data. This can uncover barriers to collaboration such as too many meetings or a high number of interruptions during the workday that forces workers to communicate during off hours.
  • Move beyond the annual employee survey. Set up mechanisms to gather feedback on a more-frequent basis.

Laura Martinez, chief human resources office at Jams Inc., a provider of arbitration and mediation services in Irvine, Calif., said she could see the value of conducting more-frequent surveys, but worried about managing employees' expectations if her organization did so.

"Employees expect to see some course of action after a survey is taken, but doing them more often wouldn't give us as much time to respond to their feedback and communicate the results."

Rebele suggested that HR develop shorter surveys and that leaders communicate candidly about what they will do with the information.

"Be honest upfront by telling employees that you want their insights but you don't know what you're going to do with [them]. If an employee raises an issue that needs immediate attention, tell them where to go for a more timely response."   


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