Media companies should use HR data to enhance employee performance

Matthijs van de Peppel

NRC Media

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Xavier van Leeuwe

Mediahuis Nederland

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Media companies are packed with data: Editors use it to identify engaging content. Consumer departments make better decisions in subscriber acquisition. And retention with data insights and advertisings programmatic … well, that goes without saying.

But how about HR? If you want to build great teams, there’s a growing number of tools to improve recruitment. And one is the use of data. We found it can predict the successful performance of a candidate in a job, particularly when several people have a similar function, such as in the case in call centres or in sales.

Data can predict how successful an individual will be in a particular role.
Data can predict how successful an individual will be in a particular role.

The world of sports has a great data example. The Oakland Athletics baseball team’s coach, the lively Billy Beane, was frustrated by having to scrimp on a wee budget and yet stand up to the big money wielded by other teams. With the help of a data analyst, he found his consolation in statistics. Data gave him new prisms to spot qualities in players others did not have. It led him to sign remarkably good players whose talents went unnoticed by others.

Today, this literally happens all the time. Algorithms assess CVs, not forensic specialists. Data extracted from the past profiles of successful staff are used to identify the best new candidates. And gamification is increasingly applied as a technique: A job candidate can upload their CV and play a game before they ever see anyone from the company they’re applying to. The data from their CV and the result of the game are reviewed by an algorithm, feeding into the decision whether or not to invite them for an interview.

Media companies can work more efficiently with HR analytics — and enhance their recruitment. If it works well, it can also save employees time and reduce stress.

The downside is that it can feel rather cold and aloof. Indeed, Amazon stopped using such an algorithm after a year, as it judged men were more suited than women for a software development job.

We find insights derived from data are valuable input, but not the conclusion, especially when it concerns the assessment of human qualities. Data has a role in recruitment as information to help shape decisions.

Evaluating management

Data can also be collected about managers’ performance. At NRC (and increasingly more media companies) a periodic survey is conducted among employees. Among other things, the qualities of the management are reviewed.

This feedback is given to each department. It can be an uncomfortable confrontation. Employees are less likely to give direct feedback to a manager in their daily work than the other way around. In an anonymous survey, however, this does happen. It may lead to surprises and is not always easy, but the feedback a manager receives from employees is the most valuable there is. The manager can then talk to the employees about how they can improve to be a better leader.

We take this to the next level and ask ourselves this question: Would I hire myself again? As a manager of an organisation, you have the responsibility to put the interests of the organisation first, even if this is at the expense of your own interests. We like to encourage every manager to ask themselves at least once a year whether they are still the right person for the position. If the answer is no, we believe it is better for both you and the company to look for another job. You avoid a painful process for both sides.

Deeper data insight into the team

In the field of HR data, we work with personality tests to understand and address (im)balance in the team. There are many methods for this, such as the enneagram types and DISC. Multi-millionaire Ray Dalio swears by Myers-Briggs.

We use Management Drives, which provides insight into the drives of individuals and teams. The basis is to understand each individual. When others realise and acknowledge colleagues think differently and have different feelings, the team can develop better. Whoever might seem to be an opponent of your ideas at first can turn out to be the greatest strength at a later stage, precisely because you are different from each other. This gives us a better picture of our colleagues.

As a leader, you can quickly gain insight into the team’s blind spots with this test. If there is a lack of alignment of energy drivers, you run the risk of a lot of confusion and conflicts when the group is under pressure.

For example, if there is little energy for structuring, you may not meet deadlines and nothing is documented. If the team is already formed, a short-term solution may be to invite someone with the missing drive — even if it is only a little of it — to give feedback at the end of each meeting. That keeps the team on its toes. In the long run, it is better to look for team members who are different from each other so they complement each other and make the team complete.

Remember success never comes from individuals. Think of Olympic champions who thank their teams. In fact, that team is a collection of people, such as coaches, therapists, advisors, managers, and trainers. And behind them are the parents, teachers, and talent spotters who shaped them and launched their careers. They are all crucial for the results of the athletes on stage.

This blog series is based on the book The Human Touch, in which Xavier van Leeuwe and Matthijs van de Peppel share their experiences as media executives in turbulent times. They deftly applied smart data and technology, but the quantum leap lay elsewhere: in the connections between people, within and beyond their companies.

About Xavier van Leeuwe & Matthijs van de Peppel

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