You are a data series in a profit-making algorithm

If you only read one psychology article in the next few months, make it the startling and unsettling Atlantic piece on how ‘people analytics’ is being applied to managing, selecting, and promoting employees.

The idea behind people analytics is that job performance can be measured and predicted by analysing the huge amount of behavioural data generated by the digital tools we use or from specifically designed online tests.

The prediction part comes from analysing data across employees to find out, for example, what characteristics best predict a good team leader, or a poor performer, or someone who needs a specific sort of support or intervention to develop.

The potential power of this data-rich approach is obvious. What begins with an online screening test for entry-level workers ends with the transformation of nearly every aspect of hiring, performance assessment, and management. In theory, this approach enables companies to fast-track workers for promotion based on their statistical profiles; to assess managers more scientifically; even to match workers and supervisors who are likely to perform well together, based on the mix of their competencies and personalities. Transcom plans to do all these things, as its data set grows ever richer. This is the real promise—or perhaps the hubris—of the new people analytics. Making better hires turns out to be not an end but just a beginning. Once all the data are in place, new vistas open up.

In other words, the idea is to develop software that can identify predictors of specific behaviours and use them as the basis of management decisions.

Essentially, you have become a data series in a profit-making algorithm.

It is an important and fascinating article that is worth reading in full as it heralds a future of human resources that will be driven by ultra-personal data.

Link to Atlantic article ‘They’re Watching You at Work’.

3 thoughts on “You are a data series in a profit-making algorithm”

  1. Article uses as an example Knack, a startup company that generates personality profiles to use in evaluating employees. In discussion, this sentence: “… his [Royal Dutch Shell innovations] team could focus only on those whose ideas genuinely deserved close attention …”
    The oil company looks for “game changing” strategies, but it takes too long (up to two years)to decide which ideas are worth funding. The Knack profile is seen as a shortcut to evaluation.
    Notice the fallacy. You’re looking for good ideas, but you’re going to choose the ideas based on the personalities of the proposers? So the redneck on the oil platform with the social grace of a rattlesnake has an idea that would extract a billion extra barrels of oil, if only his supervisor would listen. Somehow this idea goes into the hopper. And the innovation team says no — the guy who came up with it is a loser. Way to go.

  2. Sounds like they are ignoring the psychological “quantum effect”: You cannot observe a behaviour without changing it.
    As soon as people find out what criteria they are judged by, they will adapt their behaviour.

  3. big data is a great tool but only up to some fuzzy point. I believe the majority of us sense this but in a world of 7billion, efficiency seems to *need* to trump reality.

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