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Shaking the Stereotypes: Using Workplace Data to Make Better Decisions

Featured Events Future of Work | Mar 16, 2020 |

By Stephanie Trovato

Data with solid context can prove to be priceless in the business world.

Haig R. Nalbantian, senior partner, co-founder and co-leader of Mercer Workforce Sciences Institute, shared the rationale behind this assertion at Gabelli’s School of Business Centennial Conference: Work 2040: Future of Work in a Sustainable World Conference.

Mercer analyzes workforce and business performance data to measure and identify where businesses derive value from their human capital, and to determine which management practices are effective in increasing this value, helping bridge the world of data analytics and creative forecasting as companies plan for the future.

What Is Measured?

Current global trends are having a large impact on the future of business as we know it. Accelerating technology, globalization of labor markets, changing demographics of customers, an aging workforce, and a continued push for gender equality are some of the key factors that shape the business landscape and the kind of data that businesses need to collect and analyze.

The ability to analyze data in ways that allow leaders to fully understand the context of the numbers will allow them to move forward in beneficial ways for their employees and shareholders.

Nalbantian used an example of how companies address an aging workforce.

“There is a traditional view that productivity declines with age,” he said. “In a reaction to this view, older employees tend to be viewed less as an asset than a liability, and often pushed out or given less responsibility in hopes they will retire.”

However, studies show that cognitive skills decline less than expected, particularly when controlled to account for people with conditions like Alzheimers. In addition, emotional and affective factors associated with older people may actually support better performance, particularly within teams.

There are two ways to view what is being measured: the micro view and the macro view, he said. In the age example, the micro view shows that once an employee gets past the median age, everything turns negative, including probabilities of promotion, performance ratings and the rate of pay growth. But the macro view where one looks at group of unit performance, shows that often higher numbers of older and experienced employees in a group are linked to better business performance.

So, how can we reconcile the differences?

Nalbantian explained that focusing on individual outcomes alone can be misleading because it neglects the positive interactions between older and younger employees. “It turns out,” Nalbantian says, “that the performance of older workers shows up not in their own outcomes but in the performance of those with whom they work.”

Gender diversity also continues to be a topic raised in many aspects of a business. While interviewing Nalbantian, Megan Comerford, vice president of global talent development for PVH Corp., reflected on a job interview from earlier in her career.

“One of their first questions was whether I would be having children in the future,” Comerford said. “I knew they were asking this to determine if I would be taking time off in the future and if my priorities would change.”

Data from Mercer’s 2020 “When Women Thrive” study shows that the average global organization has achieved essential gender parity in hiring, promotion and retention. That’s the good news.

“The bad news is that even with such parity, it’s going to take a very long time for gender parity in senior management to become reality,” he said. “This is because there are simply insufficient numbers of women in the talent pipeline of many organizations.”

When a company is assessing this data – specifically, the trajectory of career advancement for women — it is important to consider the circumstantial factors that influence success, for example, roles and reporting relationships.

According to Nalbantian, “women and minorities tend not to be in situations that are as conducive to success as are their male and white counterparts, respectively. Organizations are starting to use this data to proactively ensure women and minorities are, in fact, being positioned to succeed.”

Multiple Leadership Models

Data collected by Mercer highlighted the importance of upper-management selection in the future.

A single or “monolithic” model of leadership reflecting the historic dominance of white males in corporate leadership no longer aligns with the realities of increasingly diverse customers and workforces most everywhere. Instead, companies need to acknowledge that a diverse management team will lead to greater success.

He cited a global consumer products company for whom he consulted. Analysis reflected that while most minorities were equally likely to be highly rated with respect to results, when it came to leadership ratings huge disparities existed.

“Clearly the company was evaluating leadership based on a model that reflects the composition of the current executive team, which was all older, white and mostly male. The starkness of the data spurred them to create models that more readily embraced involvement of women and minorities in top management roles.”

Using data enables companies to create a successful management system, and leaders can be flexible, making smart decisions to create and manage diverse teams that strive for – and achieve – goals.

“Shake the stereotypes,” he said. “Data shows if you rely on stereotypes as a business leader, it will be very hard to grow your business to its full potential. Transparency internally and externally creates trust among your team and your customers. And that is where real success comes from.”

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