In my work with the C-suites of leading
global companies, we are shaping an exciting workforce-related transformation
that can significantly impact the bottom line. A wealth of companies are
sitting upon information and insights that—if unlocked—can lead to immense
value, sizably impacting future revenue growth. 

It’s what I call “decoding your organizational DNA.” Accenture’s new research on the topic —presented at the 2019 World Economic Forum—shows that organizational DNA impacts the C-suite and board.

Workforce data itself does not move the needle. Rather, it’s
the insights companies can glean from the data, using artificial intelligence
(AI) and advanced analytics, that are pure gold. The difference between using
workforce data responsibly and failing to do so impacts revenue growth by as
much as 12 percent, which makes it a sizeable balance-sheet factor. Collecting
and using workforce data can be a goldmine or a minefield, depending on how
it’s handled.

It’s a business performance issue

In NACD’s 2019 projections on emerging board matters, 70 percent of directors reported their boards need to strengthen their understanding of risks and opportunities affecting company performance. Workforce data is just such a risk and an opportunity, rolled into one. Chief human resources officers should lead on this issue, but they need to actively partner with their C-suite peers and seek the wisdom of their board to navigate these uncharted waters.

Companies mine consumer data to provide better, more
personalized value to their customers. Some of those same companies are just beginning
to do the same with data on their workforce. From using wearable technology to gauge
an employee’s workday stress levels, to determining the informal worker networks
that produce breakthrough innovation, workforce data shows great potential for improving
business performance. But only if it’s mined correctly and responsibly for
truly useful insights.

Measures of responsibility

At Accenture, we call identifying and analyzing this data “decoding
your organizational DNA.” This decoding brims with positive possibilities, but also
comes with great responsibility to employees’ privacy and security.

Accenture’s research shows that while 62 percent of
businesses are now using workplace data to a large or significant extent, only 30 percent of C-suite leaders feel very
confident they are using it responsibly. In fact, roughly half of C-suite
executives (49%) say
that, in the absence of sufficient legislation, they would continue using workforce
data without additional measures of responsibility.

Given the regulatory activity in the
consumer data area (the Global Data Protection Regulation being the most
prevalent), we can expect to see similar policies stated in the employee area. Company
leaders must act now to identify and mitigate privacy and regulatory risks for
employees’ data just as they do in the consumer data sector of their business.

As
the World Bank’s Tina George, co-lead on delivery systems for the Social
Protection and Jobs practice globally, put it in the Accenture report: “Technology and trust are not
sufficient to protect people and their data. We need to develop systems and
guarantees allowing people to make reasoned, consensual choices about how their
personal data is used, while also ensuring that advantage is not taken of the
digital footprints they leave behind inside or outside of work.”

Putting employees first: A matter of trust

The responsible use of workforce data can engender employee
trust. Beyond that, it contributes to more innovative, productive, and
satisfying workplaces, creating workforces that are more agile and resilient even
in uncertain, volatile times. Nearly
60 percent of employees Accenture surveyed think workplace data will improve
their lives and performance. Although a similar proportion have concerns that
their data could be misused, nine out
of 10 are open to the collection
of data on them and their work—if it improves their performance or well-being,
or provides other personal benefits.

Benefits already playing out for
leaders

Companies
that are able to get the trusted collection and use of employee data right
stand to gain significantly. Their employees benefit also, not just from the
shared effects of growth but from an individual perspective. Hitachi is a great
example of this win/win. Its manufacturing
employees wear special glasses and armbands to track their eye and hand movements.
AI uses this data to improve operations—making employees safer and more efficient
while also improving quality. Many Hitachi employees also now wear smart badges
loaded with sensors that collect behavioral data on them 50
times a second. AI then uses this data to suggest ways to improve their
happiness (e.g. how to best structure their day). In one test, sales divisions
that strongly adopted the technology not only showed improved levels of
happiness, but generated 27 percent more order volume than those divisions that
used the technology far less.

The Accenture Decoding Organizational DNA report put it well: “On one hand, value as far as the eye can see: employees who are more motivated, engaged, and highly productive. On the other, the potential for misuse of data: individual rights ignored . . . and employees’ skills underutilized.” A board that proactively navigates this issue with its C-suite is far more likely to tip the scales toward the goldmine of improved revenue, rather than toward a minefield of unmitigated risks.