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August 2015

Workforce Management Based on Amazon Bruising Data Becomes More Common

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Amazon Jeff Bezos

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

David Ryder / Getty Images


Amazon isn’t the only company using employee data to improve productivity.

A New York Times article published over the weekend described Amazon’s work culture as “bruised” and “Darwinian” in part because of the way it uses data to manage its workforce.

The article described a work culture where employees are under constant pressure to deliver solid results on a wide variety of detailed metrics that the company monitors in real time – such as what is left behind in acquisition cards. people and what videos people are showing – and encouraged to give praise. or reviews of colleagues in management to add more data on worker performance. The story sparked an uproar on social media.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a note to staff over the weekend that the article does not accurately describe the corporate culture he is experiencing. But experts say the type of data-driven workforce management Amazon uses is set to become more mainstream as technology continues to transform the American workplace.

“Every business is somewhere using data to better understand who their top performers are and to understand where people are at,” said John Challenger, CEO of outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. .

Businesses large and small have moved away from traditional human resource reviews that rely on annual performance reviews. They are moving towards a more data-driven approach with more frequent comments, records and other metrics.

Amazon warehouse

Amazon warehouse

Phil Noble / REUTERS


Consulting firms Accenture and Deloitte both said this year they would revamp their performance review processes, for example, adopting a more data-driven approach that includes more frequent reviews by managers and others. internal comments and data that can be aggregated and analyzed to provide a better performance picture than a single rating. In an essay in the Harvard Business Review, Deloitte said the new approach uses “technology to move from a small data version of our employees to a big data version of them.”

Tech companies have been even faster at applying data analytics to staffing. Google, for example, uses data to determine how to build optimal teams for projects and to determine what makes effective leaders.

Paul Hamerman, a Forrester analyst who focuses on human resources management and financial applications, says the future may look more like what Redwood City, Calif., Based Glint Inc. offers its clients. The company, with clients including music streaming site Pandora and marketing automation firm Marketo, sends employees what it calls “impulses,” or short surveys about how they’re feeling and what they’re feeling. they think about their work.

Glint CEO Jim Barnett said polls allow executives to see how the health of their employees and their business is doing in real time, at the same speed they could check on sales results or impressions. marketing. Since the “impulses” to company employees recur more frequently than traditional exams. And their data can be aggregated to give a clearer picture of the overall situation of employees.

“The old mindset was that once a year we would check in with an annual survey, do an annual review, set goals,” Barnett said. “What we have learned is that the world is changing much faster than that today.”

Amazonian warehouses

Amazon employees

REUTERS


One of Glint’s clients, Marketo, was able to use the data gleaned from the Pulses to find that women in one department were ranking their work / life balance significantly lower than expected. The company has noticed a shortage of personnel in this area and has increased its workforce.

“What they were able to do was increase the staff before they had significant attrition,” Barnett said. “The beauty of systems like this is that you are able to link actions to results.”

The downside of a data-driven approach is that it can seem like “Big Brother ish” to employees. But Glint said the surveys the company sends out have an 80 to 85 percent response rate. “Employees tend to be willing to share,” Barnett said.

Another downside is that relying strictly on numbers can give the impression of a heartless workplace. “It’s easy to dwell so much on statistics that you miss the value of what this person brings to the table in terms of personality, connectivity, and those intangibles,” said David Lewis, CEO of the company. ‘Outsourcing and Human Resources Consulting OperationsInc in Norwalk, Connecticut

This can lead to a dysfunctional workplace. “If everyone is unhappy with what they’re doing at work, it bleeds,” said Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO.

But in general, performance tracking makes sense, he said: “Businesses and jobs shouldn’t be family-owned. You can’t fire a crazy Uncle Jim. Families aren’t measured by performance. . “

Michael Distefano, marketing director at Los Angeles-based executive search firm Korn Ferry, compares the data-driven approach to the workplace to how data has trumped fitness. Rather than having your fitness level measured during a physical or doctor’s visit, it’s now available in real time to everyone with a fitness tracker like FitBit or Apple Watch.

“I imagine a world where we all have wearables and you send a survey a day to a few hundred employees asking them what the different levels of engagement are:” Here are four emoticons, which best represents what you think of your work? , ‘he said. and make a few calls accordingly. “

AP Technology editors Barbara Ortutay in New York and Mike Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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