People analytics: Between what’s possible and what’s legal

The gap between what’s possible and what’s legally right in people analytics needs to be bridged in order to check unethical practices.

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People operations are getting transformed by the technologies in people analytics. Today, business leaders base their work on evidence, proof and information than on intuition. This is now the chosen way to style HR decisions.

Technological advances and the use of people analytics have led to the increased gap between ‘what is possible’ and ‘what is legally allowed’. This gap makes way for unethical practices. HR needs to play a crucial role in filling this gap. The question raised here is, ‘What is ethically possible’?

A crucial factor in people analytics is the decision between what is right or wrong, and the issue is, ‘who will decide the right or wrong’? Kinjal Choudhary, senior vice president and group CHRO, Eicher Trucks and Buses, says, “HR must be rigorous in monitoring “machine- related” decisions to make sure they are reasonable and unbiased”.

Different people will have varying views on the best use of analytics that helps managers make decisions about their employees.

As Choudhary says, “If you are head of HR for 10,000 people company, the data may tell you that people with certain characteristics are more likely to be promoted. But if a manager uses that data to choose between two specific candidates, they can get it very wrong. That’s because the data does not tell you anything about those two individuals, it only tells you about the population. Managers have to decide at what point using that piece of learning becomes unethical.”

Privacy and ethics in people analytics is not just a top-down issue, it is an organisation-wide issue, which requires the involvement of not just the board members but also managers, and finally employees. However, all employees should keep the following guidelines in mind while implementing people analytics.

Compliance with the law

It is extremely important for any organisation to comply with government legislations. European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which came in effect from May, 2018. However, this can be the minimum standard of compliance for maintaining privacy and ethical behaviour within an organisation.

Definition of unethical behaviour and privacy policy (on paper)

Defining patterns and actions of unethical behaviour on paper will very well make employees understand the code of conduct for implementing people analytics. This will also reduce the chances of privacy erosion.

Veracity declaration

The company should include an integrity statement into the mission and vision of company values and culture. This will make employees understand the importance of ethics in people analytics.

Kinjal Choudhary

“If you are head of HR for 10,000 people company, the data may tell you that people with certain characteristics are more likely to be promoted. But if a manager uses that data to choose between two specific candidates, they can get it very wrong. That’s because the data does not tell you anything about those two individuals, it only tells you about the population. Managers have to decide at what point using that piece of learning becomes unethical.”

Establishment of reporting apparatuses

To avoid unethical practices in people analytics it is important to shape an effective and elaborate reporting system, which clearly defines the wrongs and explains how employees should report delinquency. The company’s ‘open door policy’ should be emphasised.

Confidentiality maintenance

If any employee wants to report a case of unethical behaviour or a case of privacy erosion in people analytics then make sure that her/ his information is kept highly confidential.
Organisations should be open to employees as to what their data will be used for and how will it benefit them as well as company”. So, rules of transparency follow not just for decision makers but also employees.

Clarity of purpose for the use of personal data of employees

It is very crucial to have a clear sense of purpose with regard to why and how data will be utilised in people analytics. When personal data is combined, there is hardly any limit to what can be done or what can be discovered about people. Avoiding data usage in a way that gets invasive and manipulative is the ethical and correct way.

Transparency in operation

While analysing information in people analytics, the entire team involved in decision making should follow rules of transparency. All information should be shared equally, keeping all on the same page.

Kanwal Kaul

“There is an increased need to predefine the scope of the data, its collection, storage, accessibility and usage. Defining these parameters within an ethical framework, acts as the biggest deterrent to misuse and better controls.”

Choice of ‘right source’ for data collection

In order to reach any decision in people analytics, the correct sample should be collected for analysis. Sometimes, people in the organisation unintentionally misuse the data by choosing or taking the most beneficial data for analysis. Correct source and right data pool are a must in making the right decisions in people analytics.

Analysing the data used in text and social networking sites of employees to understand employee engagement or what employees think about company policies and processes. Is it ethical to do so? Can company analyse such type of data?

Measure the results at each stage

Assumption leads to misleading results in people analytics. Measuring each outcome and not jumping to conclusions is the key to ethical practice in people analytics.

Kanwal Kaul, director, head of resourcing, RBS India, says, “There is an increased need to predefine the scope of the data, its collection, storage, accessibility and usage. Defining these parameters within an ethical framework, acts as the biggest deterrent to misuse and better controls”. In addition, Kaul says, “Validate! Do not turn statistically significant effect into practical effect”.

Organisations today are in a big way building their HR analytics teams. People analytics is not just a ‘concept’ any more; it is gaining momentum. As we move into the world of technology, data analytics, high-quality customer service, and innovation, if ‘ethics and privacy’ are not maintained well, then today’s tech-revolutionary scenario will need serious rethinking.

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