Big Data: It’s Just Useless Information Unless You Put it to Work

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Feb 13, 2013

“Big data” is the latest buzz word entering HR lexicon.

I’ve used it myself to explain how the “big data” now possible through strategic, social recognition can be used to better inform talent and performance management and help in proactive management of your company culture. (See my article in Talent Management magazine for more.)

But “big data” will remain nothing more than a buzz word until we fully understand what the data enables us to do. I’m excited about David Brooks’ promised analysis of the “data revolution” throughout 2013. As he explained recently in The New York Times:

Over the next year, I’m hoping to get a better grip on some of the questions raised by the data revolution: In what situations should we rely on intuitive pattern recognition and in which situations should we ignore intuition and follow the data? What kinds of events are predictable using statistical analysis and what sorts of events are not?…

But at the outset let me celebrate two things data does really well… First, it’s really good at exposing when our intuitive view of reality is wrong… Second, data can illuminate patterns of behavior we haven’t yet noticed…

In sum, the data revolution is giving us wonderful ways to understand the present and the past. Will it transform our ability to predict and make decisions about the future? We’ll see.”

Translating that to the world of people management, data can transform how we view individuals, their capabilities and their work by giving us more information to correct flawed or incomplete perceptions and, as Brooks said, “illuminate patterns of behavior we haven’t yet noticed.” This is particularly powerful in terms of employee behaviors related to what we say is most important to our organizations – our core values.

Data, unapplied, is useless

In a recent blog post, Steve Boese further emphasized the importance of putting your data to work. It doesn’t matter how well you organize and present your data if you’re not using it to ask the right questions and solve the right problems. (Steve is pointing back to this article on SAP’s use of analytics.)

The goal of these analytics and Big Data projects, as the SAP article makes plain, is not just the ability to organize, describe, extract, and present workforce data (which in truth are necessary and important steps), but to leverage that data, to have the data lead to the asking of the right questions, to illuminate a path towards answering these questions, and to help the organization understand and relate the story that their human capital data wants to tell.”

What data are you collecting on your people management processes? How are you using that data to ask the deeper questions? What problems are you solving with that data?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.