Littal Shemer Haim

People Analytics, HR Data Strategy, Organizational Research – Consultant, Mentor, Speaker, Influencer

The role of technology in the evolution of People Analytics

An interview with a former HR analyst at Microsoft, discussing the role of technology in People Analytics and data Ethics: challenges, success stories, and advice - one of many perspectives we had in "The People Analytics Journey" course.
Photography by Littal Shemer Haim ©
(Reading Time: 5 minutes)

Another cycle of the introductory course, The People Analytics Journey, is about to end. This training program is unique because it covers the fundamentals of the domain and demonstrates them with real career stories and experiences of HR and People Analytics leaders. Thus, the course contributes to a new professional community in Isreal. In previous sessions, we hosted Gal Moses, People Analytics Lead at Amdocs, who shared her onboarding experience and shed light on some challenges and opportunities. We were also honored to have Michal Shoval, HR manager at GIA, who shared her case study. The last session of the course will be a special one. We’ll discuss the future of People Analytics as a profession, and the importance of new skills, e.g., procurement processes and ethical considerations. Our guest will be Yael Epstein, former HR analyst at Microsoft, who will talk about the role of technology in People Analytics, base on her experience. Here is the interview I had with Yael before the learning session.



LSH: Thanks for joining us, Yael. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your role in PA.

YE: The 1st phase of my career was in health organizations. I have a Masters in Public Health (MPH) from the Hebrew University. My role as the coordinator of the non-clinical quality improvement program in a large tertiary hospital included many aspects of HR including change management, training, and recruiting. This led me to further my education in HR and to explore opportunities in the HR profession. In the 2nd phase, I worked for a few years in a placement agency, and then, in the past 11 years, I worked at Microsoft. I started as a staffing specialist in the R&D center in Israel. 5 years ago, I moved to an HR analyst role in a new global team within the HR function (HRBI).

LSH: The People Analytics function at Microsoft is considered to be one of the leaders in the field. What can you share regarding the vision, mission, and principles?

YE: The vision is, in short, #DataDrivenHR. The mission is to enable Microsoft to make evidence-based decisions about workforce and culture. The principles of driving this mission include delivering insightful research and analytics, providing robust and consistent reporting tools in partnership with engineering teams, delivering timely and accurate measurement of companywide business and HR priorities, ensuring data quality, and upholding employee data privacy and security.

The role of technology

LSH: From your experience, what was the role of technology in the evolution of the People Analytics?

YE: Technology supports all aspects of people analytics. There are many examples: It promotes data security and privacy by ensuring the data is used only by authorized people. It enables the use of data by all HR professionals by an accessible format that is easier to understand and communicate even if you are not an analyst. Self-service data solutions, i.e., Microsoft PowerBI saves time and enable us to focus on deeper analysis rather than providing customized data needs. It also enables us to integrate data from various sources and create powerful data models, using visualizations during the analysis and for communicating insights and recommendations. We also can leverage data that wasn’t accessible before, by Workplace Analytics, a company product that enables us to identify collaboration patterns that impact productivity, workforce effectiveness, and employee engagement, based on data from Office 365. We also use text analytics to leverage a huge amount of data from responses to open-ended questions in employee surveys, objectively, and in several languages. More useful products of Microsoft are Yammer, which is an enterprise social networking service that helps us to communicate learnings and ideas, and Teams, which helps to manage resources.

LSH: Tell us more about your role: who were your clients, how did you support them?

YE: People analytics is an evolving field, and I was fortunate to partner with my colleagues in the HRBI team and with HR leaders and managers across the globe. Over time, I partnered with HR teams in both engineering groups and the sales organization. We leveraged an analytical approach to enable the business and HR to execute data-driven decisions in many aspects of the employment cycle, including hiring, headcount trends, diversity, retention, rewards, compensation, as well as candidate and employee sentiment. We partnered with HR to support ongoing HR processes as well as answering specific questions and hypothesis which were raised from their work with the business. One of the best practices was to set milestones during the analysis process in which we shared the work we did thus far, got the perspective and thoughts from our partners before we continued. This ensured that the deliverable answered the needs. Another major aspect of our work was promoting a data-driven approach in HR through one-on-one consultation, standard training on a data-driven approach, and tailored training on specific subjects.

LSH: What do you consider as challenges in your role with respect to technology?

YE: While it is a positive challenge, the ongoing development of knowledge in this field in general and of technology, in particular, requires ongoing learning. Ensuring that you take the time to learn with a very busy day to day work is challenging but also essential and very rewarding. Some other challenges are connected to the fact that technology helps with having more data available for use, thus increasing the need to make sure that we are using the data in an accurate way and to avoid bias throughout the analysis process. The availability of more data also raises the challenge of prioritizing work. One aspect of this is balancing between doing interesting analysis versus doing important analysis. Another aspect is balancing between the sense of urgency that is always driven by the business and the time it takes to do a thorough analysis.

LSH: What do you consider as a success story with respect to technology?

YE: These a great feeling of accomplishment when your HR partners share how they leveraged the tools and knowledge to promote a data-driven approach and seeing our work impacting business decisions. And of course, every time you succeed in a tough technical challenge with your data model or an effective visual you feel a great success. Personally, some of the meaningful cases of success were the use of technology, e.g., text analytics, to help in promoting general values of the unbiased approach, inclusiveness, and collaboration.

Data Ethics 

LSH: How do the people analytics team handle data ethics? Are there processes, partners in the organization, or outside?

YE: Microsoft has a volume of Privacy Standards dedicated to employee data, Data Use Framework for employee data, and Data Protection Notice for employees. Other internal tools and projects have more detailed communications. The company has created an Employee Data Governance Board to provide consistent company-wide direction and oversight on the legal and corporate policy issues reflected in the company’s privacy standards for processing employee personal data. This board is made up of a core team of privacy managers and attorneys for HR, Finance, and IT. Due to the need to combine employee data with business data, a data analytics governance framework was created and is used when embarking on a new people analytics project, to ensure that the right people are involved from the beginning, including legal, HR and any business stakeholders in addition to the people analytics team. We have a privacy manager on the team, who focuses on people analytics data privacy and security, and partners with other roles outside of HR on their use of employee data. We also have mandatory annual training for HR on privacy and data use, which is updated on a yearly basis. Training is helpful in framing the definitions and aspects of ethics, e.g., ensuring a purpose behind each data element and anonymization in reports.

LSH: What would you advise your colleagues whose employers are in an early stage in the field?

YE: Choose as your 1st project subjects that are both important for the business and easy to succeed. Data is available regarding many aspects of HR. Use it to help with important business questions and with building the trust of the business in the data-driven approach. As long as you are aware of the limitations of the data you have, don’t be afraid of doing analysis with partial data. If we wait until we have the “perfect dataset” we will never start doing analysis. Also, showing the value from a partial analysis while being transparent regarding the limitations is a great argument for investing in more resources. As in any other aspect of HR, People Analytics requires ongoing continuous learning. Make sure you leverage resources and collaboration opportunities to continue learning.

LSH: Thank you, Yael! We are fortunate to have your perspective in our course and professional community!

Littal Shemer Haim

Littal Shemer Haim

Littal Shemer Haim brings Data Science into HR activities, to guide organizations to base decision-making about people on data. Her vast experience in applied research, keen usage of statistical modeling, constant exposure to new technologies, and genuine interest in people’s lives, all led her to focus nowadays on HR Data Strategy, People Analytics, and Organizational Research.

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The People Analytics Journey, an introductory course for HR professionals, covers real-world use cases of analytics and enables them to be familiar with data science terms and competencies.

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