Human Resources

5 Companies Using Big Data to Transform Human Resources

By Ian GoverFebruary 11, 2015

One of the biggest trends in human resources right now is “datafication”: using the power of Big Data to transform a range of HR processes, from hiring to performance evaluation and workplace mentoring.

The potential is clear, as technological improvements now allow HR departments to access and analyze huge amounts of data in ways that would have been unthinkable not so long ago. The field even has its own name: workforce science. It’s an emerging discipline, but offers exciting possibilities for making smarter workforce decisions.


Big Data as a concept has attracted its share of hype, and is sometimes applied to cases where the data sets are not big enough to justify it. But there’s still plenty of value in the ideas of workforce science. If you’re looking at potential applications for your organization, of course you’ll want to stay away from the hype that often accompanies hot new trends, and focus instead on tangible results.

With that in mind, here are 5 real-world examples of companies that are using the ideas behind big data effectively, and the results they have achieved from it.

1. Google: Evaluating hiring processes

As a company built on data, you’d expect Google to be at the forefront of applying it to HR functions. The company analyzed data from tens of thousands of job interviews, comparing interviewers’ evaluations of the candidates with the eventual performance of the people who were hired.

The project actually failed in its goal of identifying people who were particularly good at hiring, finding the data to be “a complete random mess.” But the company has been able to use the data to determine other things like the right number of job candidates to interview for each position, and the attributes that tend to predict success at Google.

The company’s data analysis also showed that the “brainteaser” questions it was famous for using in interviews were actually a waste of time. Answering the questions successfully was no effective prediction of employment success. Structured behavioral interviews worked much better. And GPAs and test scores were of little value either, except for people fresh out of school.

2. Xerox: Increasing employee retention

Sometimes the insights from big data can be simple, but effective. Xerox used extensive data analysis to find out how to retain its customer service employees. The result? Employees who stuck with their jobs longest tended to be the ones who lived nearby and had reliable transportation.

Findings like these helped Xerox decrease its attrition rate by 20% in a pilot program, which was later extended.

3. Royal Dutch Shell: Identifying good idea-generators

The petroleum giant’s “GameChanger” strategy unit analyzed a database of ideas generated by about 1,400 employees over several years, and then asked the original idea generators to play a couple of video games.

However, these weren’t your average video games. They were designed by neuroscientists, psychologists, and data scientists as a way of testing human potential. Working with a Silicon Valley start-up called Knack, Shell was able to compare the results from the video games against the real-world results of the ideas the employees had proposed.

The result: Shell’s GameChanger unit has identified the people who tend to have the best ideas, and is now able to focus more on those people’s suggestions. Knack also identified six characteristics of people whose ideas would succeed at Shell: mind wandering, social intelligence, goal-orientation fluency, implicit learning, task-switching ability, and conscientiousness.

4. Juniper Networks: Tracking career paths

Using LinkedIn for recruiting purposes is nothing new. But Silicon Valley firm Juniper Networks is taking it a step further, using the wealth of data compiled by LinkedIn to analyze not only where the best employees come from, but where they go after leaving Juniper. The idea is to get an overall view of career paths in the industry, helping the company devise new strategies for attracting and retaining the best talent.

5. IBM: Defining successful sales people

IBM definitely sees the business applications for workforce science. In 2012 it spent $1.3 billion acquiring recruiting and training company Kenexa, which has a large store of data from surveying and assessing 40 million job applicants, workers and managers a year.

One of the results of analyzing all this data was that IBM came to a new understanding of what makes a successful sales person. Traditionally an outgoing personality has been seen as a key trait, but IBM compared worker surveys and tests with manager assessments, and found that the most important characteristic for sales success was actually emotional courage. Successful sales people may or may not be outgoing, but they do need to be persistent, and not take no for an answer.

Big data isn’t the only way some companies are taking an innovative approach to HR functions. Check out a few companies experimenting with truly unique, out-of-the-box mentoring programs.


Ian Gover

Ian Gover

Co-Founder at Everwise

About the Author

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