The recent 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report from Deloitte highlighted the rising importance of people data and analytics to organisations in Asia Pacific. Figure 1 below highlights the top 10 trends in the APAC region, with People Data ranking as the fourth most important trend (it ranked second globally). The study shows that 89% of respondents (the global figure was 85%) believe that people data is important or very important, but that only 38% (42% globally) believe that their organisations are ready or very ready in this category.
From speaking to people in the HR Analytics community in Asia Pacific, it is clear that the challenges around building and sustaining capability with regards to people analytics are different to those in Europe and North America, and also vary considerably across a region that is home to 65% of the world's population.
This article, which is part of a series focused on people analytics in Asia Pacific that will be published during the course of 2018, explores the main differences. It is equally intended to provide guidance to global organisations with operations in the APAC region as well as Asia Pacific based organisations themselves seeking to capitalise on the many benefits – both to the business and employees – offered by people analytics and a more data-driven approach to HR.
The series of articles is a collaboration with Arun Sundar, Chief Strategy Officer of TrustSphere, who as well as providing an explanation of the differences associated with practicing people analytics in Asia, will also invite comment from other experts in the people analytics community in the region. This article includes contributions from Nick Sutcliffe of The Conference Board, Jayesh Menon, HR Director of Moet Hennessy, Junko Owada of Hitachi and Alexis Saussinan from Merck. Arun and I would like to thank each of you for your invaluable contributions to this article.
I split my time doing a few things that I am passionate about. These activities include evangelising and actively getting involved to help shape the potential impact that technology could have for the ‘greater common good’. Platforms like the Asia Analytics Alliance where I am Chairman, and various organisations, technology ventures and initiatives which I am involved in help me to do that. I am also one of the management team members of TrustSphere where I am the Chief Strategy Officer. In addition, I am also an avid evangelist of ‘Social Capital’ thinking (see Figure 2 below) for which I created the Social Capital Institute.
Good question David, fortunately, they are! I am a huge believer in Social Capital, which I define as the value that is derived from the relationships an individual has. I believe that Social Capital is the currency that will propel the evolution of the human race moving forward. However, the world at large doesn’t seem to appreciate and leverage this ‘invisible’ force. If it did, I believe that Social Capital would have a substantial positive impact across all walks of life. To evangelise this thinking, I founded the Social Capital Institute with a few other ‘believers’. Analytics is complementary as it helps us uncover the ‘invisible’, which again if done well has an extraordinarily positive impact to people and communities at large. Nevertheless, its understanding and evolution needs a closer involvement of the entire eco-system. To enable this, I founded the Asia Analytics Alliance as a special interest group within the non-profit Asia Cloud Computing where I am a board member. TrustSphere interestingly is an intersection of both social capital and analytics, as our technology helps organisations leverage the collective strength of their social capital. I feel extremely fortunate to have my passion meeting my profession.
Any technology should ultimately cater to the ‘greater common good’ of people. Understanding and leveraging the drivers ‘of’ people ‘for’ the people has a profound impact here. However, it cannot be done purely ‘by’ people given the scale and diversity of data, this is where people analytics becomes important and interesting.
Technology (and analytics) should ultimately cater to the 'greater common good' of people
There has been significant interest in the discipline of People Analytics in Asia, which is heartening because two-thirds of the world’s population lives here. Most organisations, above a certain employee size and revenue have already invested or are seriously considering investing in people analytics (they might call it by a different name though including ‘HR Analytics’ or ‘Workforce Analytics’ amongst numerous others). These companies see it as a source of competitive advantage even if most are still short of forming a strategy, technology and process around it. Fortunately, in most cases, the region is more optimistic and impatient about the results they expect to achieve and are less aware of the complexities that the journey may require. Typical obstacles that need to be overcome include the level of HR maturity and influence, constraints on investment as well as a lack of understanding of what analytics can do. While the buzz around People Analytics is rising in the APAC region, the ‘journey of adoption’ has to be substantially different compared to the rest of the world. This is because people in the east are significantly different to people in the west: their culture, history and legacy are very different.
In my experience here in Asia, I have seen some forward-thinking companies circumvent these challenges in the most admirable fashion. One common trait that I have seen in all of these companies is they have a ‘champion’ leader who understands Asia’s nuances and appreciates the value of contextual People Analytics. Some of the smartest leaders whom I have had the benefit of interacting with in close quarters have been kind enough to share with me some noteworthy insights from their experience in the Asian region.
Nick Sutcliffe is the Managing Director, Asia-Pacific and India at The Conference Board. He leads The Conference Board’s Human Capital research projects across the region. He has co-published research reports on leadership, talent development and human capital practice, with specific focus on Asia.
"The Workforce Analytics Institute was established in Asia as it is probably the hardest place to undertake analytics studies owing to the diverse nature of the region, the differing levels of economic maturity and multiple human capital management systems in place. Having said that, these challenges also represent opportunities as it has forced organisations to not just consider the internal drivers but also the external drivers including the macro economic outlook, the demographics and future consumer demand.
Having partnered with businesses throughout the region we have seen centres of excellence in terms of driving productivity, predictive analytics around talent acquisition and retention and the development of strategic workforce planning in particular with regards to the future of work and critical roles. One of the most unique analytics studies I have been involved in included the mapping out of future consumer demand in 200+ cities across China and using this data to focus on talent acquisition outside of the traditional tier 1 cities. The premise being consumer hotspots are driven by a strong business outlook and in turn represent talent hotspots. This project allowed our client to shift focus and direction in attracting new talent.
In terms of the future Asia will continue to harness and develop analytical skills, if anything to primarily meet and support future business growth."
Jayesh Menon has led numerous data-driven practices across companies in Asia. At present he is the HR Director at Moet Hennessy Asia Pacific where he holds both regional and global responsibility to drive technology enabled and data-driven decisions with regards to talent:
"One of the biggest beneficiaries of People Analytics should be Asia especially if the organisation’s HQ is located outside the region. It is easier to pilot some projects in the region for two critical reasons: 1) The region has a strong millennial workforce with a very large appetite for technology and, 2) Being located away from the corporate HQ invariably means that an experiment or pilot here does not 'upset the apple cart' and can be managed without too much risk. People analytics will also help break a few myths starting from what we keep hearing as an “Asia Pacific strategy” as the region is not homogenous. It will also help showcase the diversity of the demographics and culture of the region and hence help CXO’s to better appreciate and understand why some of the people practices in the region require a different approach."
Junko Owada is an Evangelist at the People Analytics Lab for Hitachi. She is passionate about the use of data for people decisions and has an authentic and hands-on view of the People Analytics journey in Japan
"One of the biggest challenges for People Analytics in Japan is that public data about people is limited. This is due to the culture in Japan where senior and talented people don’t reveal their experience and knowledge on social media platforms such as LinkedIn or upload resumes. Data sources are myriad and sporadic making the critical stage of data collection challenging. Doing data analysis also has its unique trials in Japan, this includes the inability to use text mining algorithms that are developed for the English language and consequently do not work for the Japanese language."
Alexis Saussinan is the Global Head of Organization Development and Analytics at Merck Group. In his current role at Merck and in previous companies, Alexis has focussed on driving global business, culture and organisational change through organisation analytics as well as enhanced business decision making through AI and predictive modelling.
"At Merck, we have experienced high growth in Asia over the last years. Asia is diverse, and hence we approach each country and business with specific insights and solutions, sometimes using Asia to pilot and/or test new ideas related to People Analytics and organisational development."
Drivers are a rendition of culture and values. The East is starkly different from the West in this facet. If you look at it broadly, traditionally in the east, communitarian values abound where the interests of society take precedence over that of the individual. This has implications on the difference in the behaviour and culture of employees as well as those responsible for deciding and executing the projects in the region. This in-turn changes the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of people analytics in Asia compared to the West. For example, an analytics project to ‘understand and optimise leadership behaviour’ will not be regarded as a priority in a traditional Asian organisation. This can be attributed to the power distance and often excessive belief in a 'leader’s wisdom' more than data. Nevertheless, this scenario is starting to change with more cross-cultural exposure and ‘liberal’ Gen Y coming into the workforce whose priorities are different, which is making it an interesting concoction of priorities. For example, ‘wellness’ is a very high priority topic for Gen Y whilst the decision makers and business leaders typically still belong to the traditional thought process where their focus is on use cases that are more holistic and team/community driven as opposed to being focused on the individual.
In the words of Junko Owada:
"Enhancing productivity and ensuring work life balance are areas where the use of People Analytics is of immense interest amongst Japanese companies. However, we are still struggling to get a consistent definition of productivity and work life balance in Japan".
The differences are many and vary with each sub-region in Asia, which makes it even more complicated. Every country and every sub-region is different. A simplified frame-work to ‘start’ making sense of this difference would be to have a consideration that analytics basically has the following four phases as shown below in Figure 3:
Each country in Asia is at a different stage and hence requires a different approach when embarking on the People Analytics journey.
Take 'Data Creation' for example: the population sizes in the region create massive amounts of data. Data is a product of people and people a product of culture. The type and scale of data that gets generated therefore will have a flavour of culture. Take the example of a data structure that captures the extent of 'conversation data' between a group of people. This data-structure will find more datasets in an extrovert culture versus an introvert one.
When it comes to ‘Data Collection’, whilst companies in Asia have a strong awareness of the importance and value of the data they collect, uninterrupted and ubiquitous sharing of this data differs by region and technology maturity. A region like Indonesia will compare starkly low to Singapore in certain cases, for example when capturing enterprise communication data, despite the population sizes being drastically higher in the former - as employees in Indonesian companies typically use a lot of personal email ids for business communication.
‘Assimilation and Interpretation’ is the layer where People Analytics leaders need to be most mindful of culture. For example while deriving an insight on 'employee wellness' from a data set it is important to understand that each sub-region in Asia Pacific looks at it differently. In South Korea and Japan, research demonstrates that the traditional culture is to work long hours, in others like Singapore it is a mix of ‘hard and smart’ work which is mostly aspired to. In countries like Australia active work-life balance is more appreciated.
The final stage of ‘Consumption of Analytics’ also varies with region. Factors like the extent of hierarchical pedagogy, power distance, generational biases and treatment of social capital versus human capital are examples of the types of nuances that practitioners need to be mindful of.
People Analytics in the west starts with the lens of human capital, meaning the empowerment of the ‘human’. In the east this lens has to be that of ‘Social Capital’, one has to be mindful of the communities. Even though I believe Social Capital is the primary driving currency across the world, its explicit rendition is stronger in the East.
Thanks to Arun, as well as Nick, Jayesh, Junko and Alexis for sharing their knowledge and insights in this article. Also a special thank you to Dipti Gulati for supporting Arun and me with research and project management. Stay tuned for subsequent blogs in this series where Arun and I will examine and provide examples of how organisations are managing the differences highlighted in this article with regards to people analytics in the Asia Pacific region.
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