Friday, April 18, 2014

Interview with Michael Housman, Chief Analytics Officer at Evolv - A Data Scientists Perspective!

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I love how life works and things work out! One quick conversation with someone, led to a quick series of emails, and I got introduced to Dr. Michael Housman, who is the Chief Analytics Offier at Evolv, and what a great conversation! He is being very humble below, but he has his PhD in Applied Economics and Managerial Science from Wharton! Plus if you go to Youtube - he has been on tons of news shows being interviewed (e.g. CNN, Fox, etc.). Basically, it was a pleasure to meet Michael. 

1.       Michael, I may be using the wrong term - but how did you decide on and then become an industry leading Data Scientist? Additionally, Data Scientists are in high demand for almost every industry - so why did you decide to focus on HR? 
I started off down this path by studying organizational behavior and safety culture in hospitals.  I learned that when doctors and nurses work well together, there is a significantly lower incidence of infections, readmissions, medication errors, and even “never events” like wrong site surgeries and retained instrument post-operation.  So improving workplace culture through the use of data science can literally save lives! 
At Evolv, we use data and analytics in order to optimize workforce profitability at all stages of the employee lifecycle: (1) hiring; (2) development; and (3) plateau / separation.  Even as I’ve moved afield from health care, I’ve found certain themes that are present regardless of industry: when you bring in better raw talent, train them well, build positive workplace relationships, and create a strong organizational culture, you inevitably see significantly better workforce outcomes that can be a significant driver of workforce profitability for large companies. 
I love my job and I’m pretty sure that I have the coolest job in the world because I get to study what makes people engaged at work, what keeps them longer, and what allows them to reach their full potential.  Through the use of big data and predictive analytics, my ultimate goal is to create a happier and more engaged workforce. 

2. If you don't mind, can also explain a little about Evolv and your role there?
At Evolv, we use data and analytics in order to optimize workforce profitability at all stages of the employee lifecycle: (1) hiring; (2) development; and (3) plateau / separation.  The idea is that we inject data into human capital management in order to replace decision making based on gut instinct and intuition with a data-driven and evidence-based approach to talent management. 
I’m the Chief Analytics Officer at Evolv so I run the Analytics team, which is responsible for applying econometric techniques to analyze client data, performing academic research, producing White Papers, and engaging in R&D and new product development.  So my team is constantly sifting through our massive data warehouse in order to identify interesting trends and insights that we can deliver to our clients in order to create value. 

3. It seems amazing to write this, but it seems like predicting turnover, and quality hires are now becoming "normal" capabilities. So what is the next "frontier" for you or HR to tackle?

Although more organizations are engaging in predictive work, I will just say that not all predictive models are created equal.  For example, the majority of clients and vendors in this space still use turnover models whereas we believe that there is a class of survival models – derived from epidemiology and econometrics – that is far more accurate and robust than dated turnover models. This is something we often education our clients about. 
Likewise, we find more and more of our clients moving beyond turnover and thinking about the performance of their workforce on various KPIs.  But as with turnover, there’s a wide range in terms of the models that they’re using to analyze performance.  We find that traditional BI dashboards with trend lines and moving averages are staring to pave the way to more advanced econometric methods like panel data models that can predict performance in the future. 
4.  I am sure you have many case studies of where your systems generated great and accurate predictions, but if someone doesn't do something with the numbers, it is for naught. So can you share a story where you saw a HR team take the numerical outputs you provided and did some amazing "HR" to address the issues? 

We had a client approach us once with questions about their overtime policies.  They found that they were asking more or less overtime from their employees – dependent largely on holiday season ramps – and wanted to know the effect on employee tenure and performance.  We did an analysis of their overtime data and found that there was a sweet spot: 1 to 5 hours of overtime per week was ideal but any more or less than that led to people leaving more quickly and performing poorly. 

We delivered this insight to the client and they re-vamped their overtime policies to ensure that their employees stuck between these guidelines.  They gave their employees opportunities to engage in some overtime but then capped it unless they had permission from their supervisor.  We’re still gathering data on the outcomes of these changes but they’re on track to save a total of $10M annually from this insight alone. 
5. Last question, what is the coolest, wildest or funniest analysis or outcome you have worked on? 
We stole an idea from Google and give our Analysts “20%” time to allow them to work on projects that are interesting to them but also have potential to yield value to the company.  One of our Analysts was studying the impact of someone’s technology footprint on their tenure and performance so he looked at browser and social media usage and we released those results to media outlets. 
I think he had a couple hours to spare on Friday afternoon and decided to parse people’s e-mail addresses.  So he looked for words like “sexy,” “crazy,” and “boozy” in the e-mail handles that applicants use when applying for jobs and found that all of those terms were associated with shorter tenure and poorer performance.  The lesson: don’t use slang or colloquial terms in your e-mail address when you apply for a job. 
For the record, we don’t use any of that information in our scoring algorithms because our hiring criteria needs to be job relevant. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Symbolic Language Query - the next big frontier

WolframAlpha is coming out with the next HUGE thing, which is taking the power of the internet data, combining it with amazing math, and a common sense programming language to put it together. Imagine being able to write a simple query that displays various companies' stock values with their number of Facebook and twitter followers!

Here is a more in depth explanation.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

An in-depth Q&A about Assessments with Hogan Assessment Systems @hoganassessment

Ryan Daly headshot
Ryan Daly at Hogan Assessment Systems, did a fantastic job providing an in-depth view into Assessments, how they should be used, and culture bias issues. I enjoyed learning from Ryan . The Interview is below:

First of all, please tell us a bit about Hogan.

We are a global provider of personality assessments and consulting services. Founded in 1987, our company pioneered the use of personality assessment to improve workplace performance. Twenty-five years later, we are committed to the same spirit of innovation and attention to science that helped us grow from a four-employee test publisher to one of the most successful and well-regarded assessment providers in the world.

You created an award winning product that measures soft skills, which is administered online. So share a bit more as to how that is possible and how Reflect™, by GMAC, powered by Hogan, was created?

When it comes to predicting career success, decades of research show that cognitive ability (IQ), background, education and technical skills are only part of the story. What really matters are people’s emotional intelligence (what we call EQ) and interpersonal skills. Yet, as effective as they are at teaching hard skills – math, science, etc. –students are not adequately prepared when it comes to developing their interpersonal skills. 

We teamed up with the Graduate Management Admissions Council, the organization that designs and administers the GMAT, to design a state-of-the-art tool that measures and coaches students’ soft skills. We use the same personality assessments used at more than half of the Fortune 500 to measure participants’ EQ and interpersonal skills, which we plug into a 10-scale competency model. The Reflect platform helps users create a custom development plan and tailor a library of resources to suit their needs. 

Although we designed the tool with MBA students in mind, the competency model is universal. In other words, no matter the industry, organization, or job level, leaders need these 10 competencies to succeed. Many companies have caught on, and are using Reflect to provide their high-potential employees a low-cost, high-impact development resource.

Tough Question: One of my personal concerns with assessments is the issue of cultural bias when testing to competencies. How do your products address this issue or do you limit the use of products to specific geographies or demographics? 

This is a complicated question so I’ll answer it in multiple parts. 

First, our assessments are designed not to discriminate. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for companies to use discriminatory hiring practices. One of our founders, the late Dr. Joyce Hogan, who was consulting for the U.S. Justice Department at the time, pointed out that although standard measures like IQ discriminated against protected populations, personality did not. Fifty years later, we employ the largest group of dedicated Industrial-Organizational psychologists in the industry to develop, test, and monitor our assessments to make sure that they are fair and accurate. In all of our years in business, our assessments have never been successfully challenged. 

Second, we make sure people know how to use our assessments correctly. We require our customers to attend an intensive two-day certification workshop before they can use our assessments. Making sure our clients are using our assessments correctly and appropriately is one of the reasons they are the most effective in the industry.

Finally, our assessments are available in 56 countries and 43 languages, so assessing across cultures is absolutely a challenge our multinational clients face. We address this in a few ways. First, we rely on a network of trusted partners and distributors to ensure that our assessments are locally supported. Second, we use a combination of forward and back-translation to ensure congruence between the original and translated forms of our assessments. Next, we adapt our assessment content by allowing local language and cultural issues to inform the translation process. Finally, we develop local and global norms for interpreting our assessments. Normative groups are samples of the general population against which users can compare participants’ assessment scores. For example, organizations interested in selecting job applicants inside the Czech Republic would be interested in how applicant scores compare to other Czechs instead of Americans or other groups. We develop local norms within cultures by collecting assessment data on the local audience. Multi-national organizations face a unique challenge. Many of our multi-national clients require a common comparison group to interpret assessment scores of job applicants from multiple locations. To provide an apples-to-apples metric for these comparisons, Hogan uses a multi-language norm comprised of data representing many languages and cultures. 

Unfortunately, personality assessment is an unregulated industry, which means the marketplace is littered with assessments that cause cultural bias and adverse impact. For consumers, the best way to distinguish between assessments is to use a third-party assessment review like the Buros Mental Measurement Yearbook.

One of the goals of these tools is to bring in talent that will succeed in the receiving environment. What is an example of your best success story?

We worked with a multi-national financial services provider that was experiencing an increase in customer complaints, sinking morale, and turnover rates among its sales staff approaching 50 percent. Hogan’s consultants uncovered that even though all of the job candidates the firm hired were well-qualified, many exhibited poor person-job fit.
Hogan’s consultants revealed that the sales positions depended on social interaction, helping others, and accomplishment. By screening candidates for high scores on those three scales, the company significantly increased its success rate. Prior to implementation, the organization reported a turnover rate of 48 percent. After one year, they reduced turnover to 18 percent. 

Tangent: You get to measure a lot about competencies. So if you were to advise a HR leader – what competency would you tell them not to spend any time on, and what competencies do you see getting lots of traction and resulting success? 

Companies get caught up in their competency models, but we’ve identified four universal characteristics that matter for quality leadership: 

Integrity – People need to know that the person in charge won’t take advantage of his or her position; that they won’t lie, steal, play favorites, or betray subordinates.
Judgment – Most businesses fail as the result of bad decisions that are compounded by an unwillingness to evaluate the decisions and change direction.
Competence – Subordinates see leaders who lack business acumen as empty suits, and are unwilling to follow them.
Vision – Good leaders explain to their team the significance of their mission and how it fits into the larger scheme of things. This vision clarifies roles, goals and the way forward, thereby facilitating team performance.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Interview with SAP Chief Diversity Officer - Anka Wittenberg. Global Diversity done Right

SAP Executives Wittenberg

I had the unique pleasure to interview Anka Wittenberg, and she is truly a positive example of what Diversity Officer’s can do for a company, and people in general. She provides some concrete examples of what SAP is doing on their Diversity front.  


1. Anka, please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I have - as some people might say - an interesting CV. I actually started my own business when I was 21. My husband and I opened up our own international tennis camp for juniors in Germany – very similar to American Summer Camps.  That was during the time when Boris Becker was at the top of his career. Back then I was already taking care of employees – mostly students from America who wanted to gain some experience working abroad and get work permits. During that time I also had my three children. They were all raised in this really vibrant and global system, living with children from all over the world, who were spending their summers in our tennis camp. 

2. Before we jump into Diversity, how and why did you get into HR? What has your journey looked like?

After working in my own start-up, I realized that I needed a more profound education to ensure that my business would be successful in a sustainable way. So, I studied economics and got my master’s degree. 

After finishing my studies I applied to several German companies but was turned down because I had three small children. That was the time when I decided that I really wanted to have an impact on creating a working environment in the corporate world that values the talent every human being brings to the table.  I made my way into the corporate world working the first 20 years of my career only in American companies and held various HR positions in companies like TRW Automotive and in GE (General Electric).

After being self-employed, it was sometimes tough to maneuver in the corporate world. But, in 2008 I finally joined Benteler, a German, family owned business, where I headed the global HR organization with 25,000 employees. 

I always believed that HR was the difference between a good company and a great company. To me, this means having the right people with the right skills and passion in the right place. However, it is also vitally important to ensure that our employees have an environment that allows them to work flexibly, in a caring and trusting environment, where respect for one another is the bottom line.

3. Given you are the Diversity Officer for a global company, let me start with the basics. When you say Diversity - what does that mean to you and SAP?

Diversity is to strike the balance of all the demographics. Diverse values in general are all forms and differences that deal with our unique combination of culture, race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, physical or mental ability, work-life situation.

4. It may sound strange, but does the definition of Diversity differ around the Globe - and if so, how?

Sure the definition differs around the globe and in the U.S. It’s always a matter of perspective if one is a diverse candidate or not. Some believe diversity means different skin color, while others believe diversity means difference in beliefs. Despite having various definitions around the globe, the overall aim of diversity management should be the same – to create a workforce with a group of individuals who are as different as possible – not for the sake of being different, but in order to make a difference. 

5. What types of strategies is SAP using in terms of attracting and engaging a diverse workforce? 

Diversity is an inherent part of SAP’s business strategy today. For example, SAP committed to increasing the number women in management positions from 18% in 2010 to 25% by 2017. To achieve this goal, SAP continues to support women through mentoring programs. In 2012, SAP’s overall percentage of women in the workforce remained stable at 30%, and the percentage of women in management positions increased from 18.7% in 2011 to 19.4%. Going forward, SAP is trying to continue to make progress with female leadership development and succession planning in the different Executive Board areas. 

SAP is also putting a stronger focus on managing generational diversity and recently launched a global recruiting program targeting workers with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The company is trying to reflect the proportion of people diagnosed as autistic in society within its 65,000-strong workforce - or about 1 percent. 

6. Looking into the future 5 to 10 years, do you see Diversity programs being the same or what will they need to be doing differently?

If Diversity and Inclusion Officers do our jobs well, our positions wouldn’t be needed anymore in 10 years, because diversity and inclusion will become part of a company’s DNA.