Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile.


People Analytics is the use of data to get insights into people, generally in an organizational context. That is a nice generic description, but it begs two critical questions.

“Who are the insights for?”
“What kind of insight?”

Who are the insights for?

As we have discussed before, most data analytics solutions are focussed on HR managers. They are not designed to help individuals or teams get insights into their own performance.

Does this make sense?

Knowledge workers are generally expected to take responsibility for their own work, identifying problems and finding solutions. This will only continue as companies become more reliant on innovation for success and as millennials come to dominate the workforce. In an open, collaborative environment it is the individual contributors who make a difference and who should be supported by insights.

The other group of people that need insights is people who work on teams, which is most of us. We work on teams, but our HR systems and the insights they generate are almost all about individuals. As a team member, I want to know about the people I work with and how to work more effectively with them. People analytics has an important role to play here. This has been demonstrated by Sandy Pentland at MIT in his research into team performance (see The New Science of Building Great Teams).

If you accept that people analytics should help individuals to improve their own performance, what insights are you looking for? Let me know at

What kind of insights matter?

What insights really matter to a company? In her interview with McKinsey in March 2018, Unilever CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer) Leena Nair said that her team asks:

“’Which are the five or ten or 15 roles where the biggest impact of value creation in the business could be seen?’ Then we use analytics to see whether we’re putting the right people into those roles.”

Leena Nair’s team asks the following questions about the talent being put into critical roles.

How equipped are they?
What’s their level of readiness?
What’s their level of capability?
What’s their level of experience?
What’s their level of passion and perseverance?

These are all important questions, critical to performance. They are not the sort of question that your typical people analytics system can answer. To answer this sort of question, one must integrate data from applications beyond HR or even talent management, learning and performance. Answering these questions requires insight into skills (readiness, capability and experience) and attitude (passion and perseverance). Effective people analytics systems will need to move beyond the narrow world of HR applications.

McKinsey consultants Ram Charan, Dominic Barton and Dennis Carey go deep into this in their recent book Talent Wins. You can read about their ideas in the article An agenda for the talent first CEO. One compelling quote from this article …

“People allocation is as powerful as financial allocation.”
Greg Case, Aon CEO

Think about all of the tools we have to improve our allocation of financial assets. We have detailed information about what the assets are, how they are performing, and portfolio management and risk mitigation strategies. If we are to pay as much attention to people allocation, then we need a similar quality of information. Essentially, we need to know the following:

What skills do our people have?
How are these skills being deployed?
How does this impact performance?

These are the questions that a skill management platform answers.

They give individuals, teams, and the organization the insights needed to improve performance and prepare for the future.