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HCM Analytics, a la 1911

Posted by Paul Gupta on February 16, 2010


Say you want to be a CEO.  You think by working harder, smarter, faster at your job, you will get there.

Will it work?  Or, twenty years later, will you look back and ponder what you should have done differently.

I recently had a chance to hear what my friends at LinkedIn have been upto and they had some good ideas in this regard. They are looking at current CEOs and seeing the paths they took to get there.  Then offering suggestions grounded in reality: statistical evidence to support career decisions and their likely outcomes.  Follow the path most likely to take you to your destination: for example, starting as a software engineer, here are the next steps people took with a % weight attached to each step, and from there onwards.  Pretty enticing stuff.  I, for one, cannot wait to play around with it.

On a broader note, it seems analytics is all the rage these days, and not just in Talent Management.  Competing through analytics, data driven management, why maths is going to rock my world, to name some recent books and articles.

It is worth remembering however, that this concept is not new at all: in fact, using analytics to improve performance predates computers!

Anyone know what I am talking about?

If you guessed Taylor Time and Motion studies, you would be correct.  These came about in the early 20th century (1911 to be exact), shortly after the uptake of mass production concepts.  Frederick Taylor broke work down into simple, repeatable steps, the emphasis being on repeatability.  As an example, Taylor ran time studies to determine that the optimal weight that a worker should lift in a shovel was 21 pounds.  Stopwatches were used to time assemply tasks, and each task was decomposed into basic movements, and then reconstituted with the minimum optimal motions necessary.

The result was disastrous.  Assemply line workers hated being treated like automatons and being asked to operate at the theoretical designated performance.  The issue even made its way to the US Congress.  Thankfully, later in the 20th century, management trends moved away from “scientific management” (as Time and Motion studies were euphemistically called) towards a more democratic form, with practices such as quality circles and poka yoke (Japan/Toyota), flexible manufacturing (Volvo), and the Pygmalion Effect – all of which embrace, not negate the potential of the assembly line worker.

So here we are, a century later.  It bears remembering a simple lesson we learnt long ago – people do not always relate well to being managed by hard numbers.  So whereas I love business intelligence and analytics, but I remain sensitive to the all-important human element in talent development.

What’s your analytical story in human capital management?  We would love to hear…


Photo by Bruce Alderson.

3 Responses to “HCM Analytics, a la 1911”

  1. Rod Fine said

    Your article prompts a number of thoughts, Paul. One is the question of what constitutes Analytics, as opposed to simply looking at something with a view to improving it. I tend to think of Analytics as involving the analysis of trends over time; but there’s nothing in the word that says this has to be the case.

    I’m also reminded of a wonderful scene from a Terry Gilliam movie called Jabberwocky in which Michael Palin’s character observes what can best be described as a medieval version of an assembly time for a minute. He then moves one component a foot or so, saying “I think you’ll find it easier if this is a bit nearer you.” Thirty seconds later, the entire factory has been destroyed as a result – a wonderful example of the fragility of certain systems.

    The other thing that really piqued my curiosity is exactly why workers should object to T&M studies. I think it’s a great example of how important it is to try and align workers’ objectives with the company objectives. You’ve talked about management trends becoming more democratic, and I’m not sure that’s quite the right word. I think it’s more a question of spreading the rewards of increased efficiency widely, so that everyone has a personal interest in improving productivity. People like to be rewarded for their efforts; conversely, they don’t appreciate being asked (or told) to do more for nothing extra. If people are rewarded for how many widgets they make, they’re more interested in finding ways to make more widgets in the same time.

  2. Amy Wilson said

    Terrific post Paul! Welcome to the fray!

    Have you checked out the book Drive by Daniel Pink? I am halfway through and really enjoying it. He paints an excellent picture of what worked motivation-wise in the industrial age versus what works now in the creative age. Will be interesting to see how analytics and hard measures can be leveraged in this age for sure.

  3. Meg Bear said

    Paul, Welcome to TalentedApps, we are so happy you have joined! Humanity in systems and management, so simple and yet so important.

    -Meg

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