Friday, June 6, 2014

Primer on Big Data and Hiring: Chapter 7

This is the seventh chapter of a primer on big data and hiring. The structure of the primer is based on the following graphic created by Evolv, a company that provides "workforce optimization" services. Evolv was selected not because it is sui generis; rather, it is emblematic of numerous companies, from start-ups to well-established companies that market "workforce science" services to employers.

The Evolv graphic below is intended to illustrate the process of workforce science.

Chapter 7: Optimize
Closed-Loop Optimization Constantly Analyzes and Refines Insights

According to Evolv, "closed-loop optimization is the process of using Big Data analytics to determine the outcomes of the assessments and other data collected, and then using the knowledge gained to make ever more effective assessments." Click on this link for an Evolv video that describes the closed-loop optimization process.

The challenge in using a closed-loop optimization process for hiring and employment decisions is that those decisions do not fit within a closed loop. Take for example the Evolv insight that living in close proximity to the job site are correlated with reduced attrition and better performance. Over time, the closed-loop optimization process for that insight means that a growing percentage of the workforce lives in close proximity to the job site. Excellent. Less attrition and better performance across jobsite.

That closed loop, however, does not account for factors like the element of time and the relative immobility of persons and companies. Businesses tend to be clustered; they are not evenly spread throughout the geography. If all businesses in a particular area focus on hiring applicants in close proximity, costs will increase (greater demand for the same number of applicants), employee turnover will increase (since the number of geographically-proximate employees changes slowly) and profitability will decrease (higher wage costs combined with greater turnover).

When two variables, A and B, are found to be correlated, there are several possibilities:
  • A causes B
  • B causes A
  • A causes B at the same time as B causes A (a self-reinforcing system)
  • Some third factor causes both A and B

The correlation is simple coincidence. It is wrong to assume any of these possibilities. Evolv, however, assumes that A (proximity to job site) causes B (reduced attrition and better performance). Therefore, employers should hire applicants who live closer to the job site. 

The correlation could also demonstrate B (reduced attrition and better performance) is caused by C (proximity of job site to applicants homes). Instead of being a hiring insight, the correlation might function better as being a job site location insight. Given the relative immobility of persons and companies, locating a job site (call center, etc.) close to communities with high numbers of lower-income persons could lead to a more sustainable competitive advantage.

As David Brooks wrote, "Data struggles with context. Human decisions are not discrete events. They are embedded in sequences and contexts. ... Data analysis is pretty bad at narrative and emergent thinking, and it cannot match the explanatory suppleness of even a mediocre novel."

Executives and managers frequently hear about some new software billed as the “next big thing.” They call the software provider and say, “We heard you have a great tool and we’d like a demonstration.” The software is certainly seductive with its bells and whistles, but its effectiveness and usefulness depend upon the validity of the information going in and how the people actually work with it over time. Having a tool is great, but remember that a fool with a tool is still a fool (and sometimes a dangerous fool).

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