All stories

Measuring the immeasurable

Last week I had the honor of speaking at the annual Wharton People Analytics conference, organized by Adam Grant, Cade Massey, and a slew of hard-working Wharton students. This conference pushed the bounds of what we consider people analytics:

  • Adam Silver talking about how the NBA is changing player rest policies in response to better biometrics analytics, with a huge reduction in the rate of injury
  • Maxine Williams of Facebook pushing us to dig in and understand the unique challenges of Black and Latinx tech employees, using small data when big data isn’t available
  • Malcolm Gladwell challenging us to think through new employee evaluation methods that correlate more closely to people’s real job performance
  • A panel of gamification researchers sharing the results of a pediatric oncology game designed to get kids to think differently about their treatments — resulting in huge shifts in white blood cell count and other positive immune response indicators

In other words, people analytics isn’t just for HR at enterprises anymore. Across many new domains, practitioners and researchers are pushing the bounds of data and analytics to profoundly change the way that people live and work.

Practitioners and researchers are pushing the bounds of data and analytics

I was thrilled to be on a panel called “Measuring the Immeasurable.” Moderated by Cade Massey at Penn, the panel included Steven Huang from Culture Amp, Anita Woolley from CMU, and me. Our conversation was wide-ranging. We talked about how you measure not only organizational culture and collaborative effectiveness in teams, but also the very specific impact that your language has on the way your environment functions.

Measuring the environmental impact of language has been the centerpiece of my career, from work in NLP, search, and software globalization up through what we’re creating at Textio. It’s astounding how much we can measure today compared to when I started my technology career. The kinds of findings the Textio platform has revealed about the impact of the language in your job posts could not have been conceived of a decade ago:

  • How using “growth mindset” language will significantly increase how fast you can fill a role versus “fixed mindset language”
  • How clearly the language in your job post predicts the gender of who you will hire
  • How much language changes over time, some words that are positive today weren’t even in the lexicon last year

But it’s not only that we can measure more than we used to, it’s that we now fundamentally expect to. The Wharton People Analytics conference was a strong reminder that people analytics techniques are reinventing the way we operate, not just in our domain at Textio but everywhere. If the conference is any indication, here are some things that we won’t do without the help of people analytics in five years:

  • Hire, promote, or fire someone
  • Put together an individually appropriate treatment plan for a medical condition
  • Play professional sports
  • Plan your daily nutrition and sleep
  • Elect someone for office
  • Sell or market a product
  • Write anything at all where you expect a result or a response

So much of this is already happening, and we’re just at the beginning. Thanks to everyone who organized this amazing event!

All stories
Get stories like these delivered right to your inbox.