Big Data Meets Behavioral Science

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The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently released a report called Our Minds at Work: Developing the behavioral science of HR.  The report explores the many ways in which behavioral science can contribute to a better understanding of workplace dynamics and individual performance. While acknowledging that behavioral science is neither a panacea nor a “silver bullet” for management, the report suggests that it does provide value in the form of increased understanding of human behavior at work and strategies for influencing that behavior.

Since management and leadership can only be enhanced by a greater understanding of people, delving a little deeper behavioral science makes sense.  According to CIPD’s findings, behavioral science can offer insight into the following areas for HR and management:

  • Selection and recruitment: help managers to better understand the impact of intuition on decision making and the role unconscious bias plays.
  • Pay and reward: provide greater understanding of reward and human motivation and the degree to which financial incentives motivate and/or demotivate.
  • Performance management: shed light on how criticism and feedback effect performance.
  • Personal effectiveness and smarter working: provide insight into the impact of multi-tasking and increased workplace complexity on mental processes.
  • Ethical behavior: increase awareness of internal systems that might generate unethical responses and help create systems that shape positive ethical behavior
  • Employee engagement: help managers better understand how employees form attachments to the organization so they can develop systems designed to foster engagement.
  • Workplace environments: offer insights into the impact of the physical environment on behavior.
  • Organizational change programs: shed light on the natural resistance response to change and how it might be modified.
  • Team building and project working: increase understanding of team dynamics and team composition.
  • Interpersonal conflict: heighten awareness of the impact of conflict on workplace dynamic and the value of effective conflict resolution.
  • Equality and inclusion: increased self-perception and acknowledgement of unconscious bias can lead to fairer, more inclusive workplace.
  • Well-being and stress: provide clues for reducing unhealthy stress and supporting well-being at work.

The challenge for both proponents and detractors of behavioural science is that unsubstantiated claims abound, which can throw valid research into question (a common example of misinformation in behavioral science is the notion that we only use 10% of our brains). The best possible remedy for lingering skepticism would be the availability of more and better research or access to a richer data set. This is where big data has a role to play. Many companies are already harnessing big data to better understand customer behavior. As HCM systems become more complex and fully integrated with existing business information systems, HR will have access to the kind of comprehensive workforce data that behavioral scientists dream about. According to Harikesh Nair and Standford Business:

“By measuring effort and productivity, we can now manage and reward talent better. More important, we can now quantitatively assess employee productivity and answer some fundamental questions of management: Just what exactly makes some employees very productive and some unproductive? Is it innate ability, training, incentives, peer effects, managerial investment, or a combination of all?”[1]

In other words, companies will now have access to the information needed to effectively test and refine behavioral science hypotheses on an ongoing basis. Over the next few years, HR’s use of big data will either undermine or bolster behavioral science’s understanding of employee motivation, engagement and situational reactions. Essentially, the insights provided by big data will either parallel or refute behavioral science in the prediction of employee success. Either way, big data’s promised predictive analytics, when combined with behavioral science's insight into the human psyche, forecasts some interesting times ahead for HR.


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Bridging the Gap between HR and Finance

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PayStream Advisors has just released a report called “Driving Critical HR Business Processes: A CFO’s Guide to Human Resource Management Solutions.”[1] Wait a second, does that say CFO? Photo by Alan Cleaver, Flikr The report starts with the following statement: “For some time now, PayStream Advisors has witnessed the growing trend towards increasing the CFO’s role as it relates to human resource management (HRM) and payroll. Human resources (HR) plays a critical role in organizational growth, performance, and profitability, and CFOs are becoming advocates for making HR a field driven as much by …

HR Technology - From Thought to Action

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Companies have been talking about investing in HR technology for a long time. In 1999, the intent was clear, with 100% of this survey’s respondents planning to automate their HR systems (or upgrade their current automated systems). Before moving forward, however, most organizations were waiting for a new generation of technology to emerge that would support a more robust business case.  Cognizant Confluence 2013, Flickr Fifteen years later, intent has become a reality: investment in HR technology is growing across all industries and geographies and HR technology solutions now exist to meet a wide range of needs and budgets.  …

What Mobile Means to HCM

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There is a lot of hype these days about the ubiquity of mobile. Much of the conversation focuses on which type of device is capturing the most (or the least) market share and whether people access the Internet on an iPad or a smartphone most often. What’s more important than the device wars is the fact that mobile “free[s] people from having to decide which device to use. If you sit in your office, mobile means using your laptop. If you sit at home, mobile means using whatever device happens to be within reach. If you …

Mobile HR: The Future is Now

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The ADP research Institute has just completed a study called Employee Self-Service and Mobile HR Applications[1] The introduction to the study succinctly states: “Fourteen years after the first BlackBerry® smartphone was introduced, six years after the first iPhone®, and just three years after the first iPad®, mobile access has become the ‘new normal’ for a rapidly growing number of people and organizations worldwide. In 2012, global mobile data traffic grew by an estimated 70 percent and average smartphone usage grew globally by 81 percent.[2] By the end of 2013, the number of mobile-connected devices is expected to …

Three Lessons HCM Can Learn from ERP

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It’s generally recognized that the Human Capital Management (HCM) space is heating up and that HR professionals and departments are opening their wallets and investing in technology. Existing systems are aging, cloud systems make software easier to buy and advances in user experiences make purchases more compelling[1]. In this flurry of growth, however, it can be easy to lose track of the long game. As we evaluate HCM vendors and a new generation of HCM solutions, we should keep in mind that it is a quickly evolving landscape and there are lessons that can be learned from ERP: …

Engagement, Performance and Leaderboards

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Wikimedia Commons, cucodevenegas, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license Over the past few years, gamification, the idea of using gaming elements in a business setting to help achieve a wide range of business goals, has gained popularity. In the realm of HR, this trend has some pretty significant implications. While it may be greatly beneficial to incorporate elements from game design into, for example, eLearning applications, it’s important to distinguish between adding specific game design elements that draw on the psychology of motivation and simply turning required work into a game. When they are thoughtfully implemented, game design …

HR Technology and the Remote Worker

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With the growth of the knowledge economy, technology has become an enabler to the growing phenomenon of telecommuters or remote workers. From electronic time cards to video conferencing and GoogleDocs, the technological tools for connecting with and managing employees in the field abound. Creating effective virtual teams, however, involves a lot more than providing cool technologies and a good broadband connection. Remote workers face a number of challenges as do the companies that employ them. Both structured and ad hoc communication with remote employees, for example, becomes critical. Supporting an awareness of the company’s vision and mission can …

Can HR Technology Help Engage Employees?

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An actively engaged workforce is essential to business success, and fostering it is a core pursuit of human resource professionals. We struggle with questions like: Do employees come to work motivated? Do they work efficiently and independently? Are they prepared to grow from their successes…and their failures? And increasingly these days …Can technology help? There is mounting evidence that it can. Workplace technologies that allow employees to interact and function in ways they are most familiar with contribute to overall workplace satisfaction. Self-service, for example, topped the list of employee benefits in a survey conducted in 2010 by …

PRISM’s Impact on Businesses and HR

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The news media and Internet have been sizzling ever since last week’s revelation by The Guardian and The Washington Post that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been tracking data from many U.S. phone calls as well as much of the world’s Internet traffic. Amid retractions, corrections, denials, international concern, non-comments, and accusations galore, parsing through the implications of what exactly has been going on in both the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court system and the NSA’s “PRISM” program is an important and ongoing conversation for civil …

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