Big Data and Management

Over the last couple of weeks I have been very interested in the growth of Big Data. A few years ago Big Data was primarily found in academic and marketing writing, ie not in the main stream. This has changed with many commentators now discussing the merits that this new frontier has to offer.

For those not up to date what is Big Data?:

big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, analysis, and visualization.

In other words think the Human Genome program or where I have seen more mainstream commentary, analyzing the status updates from services such as Twitter or Facebook. There are lots of reasons why Big Data is important and understanding how to use it and leverage it will become critical for business success. The biggest issue we face that Big Data will help solve is the vast amount of data points we are generating through social networks, trends such as cloud computing and The Internet of Things.

While much of the discussion around Big Data is consumer based there have been a number of notable discussions about the use of Big Data inside the enterprise and unsurprisingly these discussions include the impact of Big Data on HR and how we can now tie employee data to other large datasets for predictive modelling and recruitment.

In her paper from April 2010, Privacy and Publicity in the Context of Big Data, danah boyd raises a number of pertinent points that I think deserve more thought an discussion in terms of their impact on business.

danah’s key points:

  1. Bigger Data are Not Always Better Data
  2. Not All Data are Created Equal
  3. What and Why are Different Questions
  4. Be Careful of Your Interpretations
  5. Just Because It is Accessible Doesn’t Mean Using It is Ethical

Each on of the above points have tremendous influence on how successful Big Data will be when used inside an organisation but I want to touch on two of her points that struck a chord with me. (However I would strongly suggest you go read her whole paper.)

danah’s first point of Bigger Data are Not Always Better Data, “Big Data is exciting, but quality matters more than quantity.  And to know the quality, you must know the limits of your data.” At a basic level just because you can review all of the tweets and connections of your employees or candidates does not mean you have all of the information about these people as they might have different accounts under different pseudonyms some might be protected others not. Just because you have access to millions of datapoints does not mean you have the right data points.

danah’s final point is the one that deserves the most thought. Just because data is accessible doesn’t mean that using it is ethical. Just because a candidate or an employee tweets or puts a status update on Facebook should we really use that data in our analysis? To quote danah:

To get here, we’ve perverted “public” to mean “accessible by anyone under any conditions at any time and for any purpose.”  We’ve stripped content out of context, labeled it data, and justified our actions by the fact that we had access to it in the first place.  Alarm bells should be ringing because the cavalier attitudes around accessibility and Big Data raise serious ethical issues.  What’s at stake is not whether or not something is possible, but what the unintended consequences of doing something are.

From here danah goes on to look at the concept of privacy and its many facets when it comes to information that has been placed in a public space. Recent case in point, Mark Zuckerberg’s sister and her Christmas photo. danah concludes that our obsession with Big Data has the ability to destabilise and change our social norms, I would say it already is, but this does not mean we need to remove the concept of privacy altogether.

Big Data is made of people. People producing data in a context.  People producing data for a purpose.  Just because it’s technically possible to do all sorts of things with that data doesn’t mean that it won’t have consequences for the people it’s made of.

There are great opportunities ahead for HR with adoption of “new” technologies such as Big Data and Cloud Computing however as we move towards this new world we need to be careful not to destabilise our workforce to a point where they disengage or worse still create a world that makes Orwell’s 1984 look like a kindergarten picnic.

4 years on some thoughts

I was have a chat with an old colleague this afternoon and we were discussing where social media has gone in the last few years, specifically around recruitment.

Which got me thinking. You know where has social media gone? This then took me back in time to some of the crazy ideas I had about what one could achieve with social media, specifically inside the enterprise.

About 4 years ago I published a list of 52 Social Media ideas for HR, at the time I had not seen a single consolidated list of ideas documenting the various ways these tools could help transform an organisation and its business practices. Now some of the ideas (and sites mentioned) are not relevant or the benefit just not lived up to the hype. However other ideas, actually more the philosophy of the idea, I firmly believe are still important to engagement of your current and future employees.

For example allowing your employees to engage in frank, open, constructive discussions internally, leveraging your workforce for referrals, focusing on “headcontent” not headcount, are all still as relevant as they were 4 years ago and I suspect will be relevant in 5-10 more years.

I am interested and if I find the time I might start a research project to find examples of all 52 ideas to see if anyone actually implemented any of these “crazy” ideas! I  know some organisations have implemented similar concepts as I discussed which is not surprising as most people floating around the social media circles at the time would have come to the same conclusions.

But these are just my thoughts, you might disagree, let me know especially if your organisation has implemented a similar idea.

Not dead and not forgotten

Yes I am alive, and yes this blog is alive. While it has been almost a year since my last post I have not been slacking off, just to documenting my journey. Over the years of blogging I tend to self-censor when I feel the work I am doing might lead me to write about something I should not, therefore I find it easiest not to write.

Over the last two years I have been involved in some very interesting activities, the largest being a major HR/Payroll systems overhaul in a health care provider. This activity has been the primary reason for my absence. As this process is nearing the end I am starting to look towards my next activity and reflect on my learnings from the process.

Some of my thoughts on this journey so far are:

  • Transforming businesses is never easy
  • Transforming a business that has done something the same way for 20+ years is not easy
  • Health care is complex
  • Bureaucracy and I are not the best of friends
  • Technology is usually never the issue
  • People are people

The above list might not be revolutionary but as with most things the “devil is in the detail” and the detail is not something I can share.

That is it for now, I hope to post more over the coming months.

How engaged are your employees??

Last night I had the privilege  to see François-Frédéric Guy perform in his Sydney debut as part of the Sydney Symphony’s International Pianists in Recital Series. François-Frédéric performed three Chopin and three Beethoven pieces to a packed crowd of piano lovers. In particular he performed:

CHOPIN 
Nocturne in C minor, Op.48 No.1 
Nocturne in E, Op.62 No.2 
Polonaise-fantaisie, Op.61 
BEETHOVEN 
Sonata No.31 in A flat, Op.110 
‘Tempest’ Sonata, Op.31 No.2 
‘Moonlight’ Sonata, Op.27 No.2

I was lucky enough to be in the front row, just out of hand sight but still awesome seats, essentially I was able to get up close and personal with François-Frédéric during his performance. I could see the emotion in his body, the sweat dripping from his face, the frantic movement of the pedals and hammers in the amazing Steinway concert grand. The music was awe inspiring.FRANCOIS-FREDERIC GUY

In recognition of how much he had put into his performance the audience responded with round after round of applause, resulting in 2 encore performances.

I could not help but reflect on how engaged François-Frédéric was; the emotion, the love, the sweat he poured into his work, and how if organisation could replicate this then they would succeed beyond the expectations of any board directors or group of shareholders.

Each note he played must of been practiced thousands and thousands of times. But every note he played had passion and feeling to ensure that his customers had the best possible experience he could deliver.

Now he was not perfect, he made several errors most undetectable to to the average listener but they were there. However none of the experts (my mother is a piano teacher and musical educator) in the auditorium said anything, they all came back from the interval and continued to enjoy the performance.

So let’s contrast this with the average companies talent management practices. How many organisation’s employees are so engaged that they would give everything into every single transaction they perform? How many managers would still provide a stand ovation to their employees for a fantastic job, even if there were a few hiccups along the way? How many organisations would give prizes (François-Frédéric received flowers) every time an employee completes their daily job?

All of these things took place last night during François-Frédéric’s performance.

So I ask what are you doing to make your employees want to work as tirelessly to succeed as François-Frédéric did? What are you doing to have policies and procedures to enable such a performer? How can your performance review processes be enhanced so that a meaningful standing ovation can be provided for outstanding work?

Finally how are you providing a meaningful and supportive environment?

Tips on managing social media in the workplace

Last week I did a short podcast with Nick McCormick, author of Lead Well and Prosper, looking at tips for managing social media in the workplace.

We spoke about implementing guidelines/policies within the workplace along with some of the potential issues and how to manage them.  However given the short format of the podcast, it is only 8 minutes,  it is hard to cover everything but makes the podcast very easy to listen too.

I thought it would be good to also cover some of the tips for creating guidelines/policies here to help you out. The resulting document, in whatever format, needs to achieve five major things:

  1. Have people stop and think before posting, both professionally and personally.
  2. Focus people on thinking about what they are doing and the implications.
  3. Highlight that while disclaimers are good, you cannot hide behind them.
  4. Remind people to keep their online interactions real and authentic.
  5. Ensure people respect the culture of the tools and services you are using.

If you want to learn more about social media in the workplace you can watch my presentation from RecruitTECH 2009 over on Inspecht TV or contact me for more information.

Given the press coverage we have had in Australia, and overseas, this week I would suggest everyone needs to implement these five tips when online.