The Future of HR: Data-Driven People Decisions

This post is part of our Summer Intern Blog Series! Each of our most recent class of interns wrote a blog post on their biggest accomplishments and lessons of the summer. This installment comes from Caroline, a Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology Concentrator at Harvard College. When she’s not playing with spreadsheets, she enjoys traveling, cooking, eating, and petting other people’s dogs.

Blog Post
The AppNexus Team

I’m a people person. As a psychology and neuroscience major at school, I spend much of my academic year learning how to quantify human behavior and identify the drivers of our decision-making. This summer, I found myself learning about people in a whole new way. As an intern on the People Operations and Analytics team, I learned how data, when applied correctly, can elevate an organization’s culture and bring out the best in its employees.

I’ve had the chance to work on several projects this summer, but the one that I was most excited about drew on the skills I’ve obtained in the classroom, as well as my natural inclination to learn what makes people tick. At AppNexus, the People team produces a variety of reports, sharing aggregate information around demographics, headcount, tenure, and other key statistics. Within my first few weeks here, I quickly learned the core HR analytics skills, such as how to measure headcount trends and turnover across demographics.

I also found that while we had started to track these metrics, there was no resource that allowed AppNexians to learn about the data we were uncovering. Our sharing of information largely depended on emailing reports back and forth — it was clear that we needed to evolve to keep pace with the increasing demands of the business. Suddenly, I was at the forefront of the People team’s effort to become less reactive and build the necessary architecture to share our insights and foster a more engaged workforce.

Spreading HR insights 

For my project, I set out to provide clarity and ease of communication to stakeholders looking for People data. I met with people across different teams to learn about the data with which they interacted and the purposes for which they used it. I made it my mission to document the reports that the People team was publishing and streamline the process for data sharing so that everyone could easily find what they need.

My work produced two key results. The first is that we now have an exhaustive Data Dictionary & Reporting Framework documenting how we use 300+ data fields from every HR report that currently exists today, as well as some reports that will be produced in the future. We used these to build a roadmap for the future of People Analytics, detailing how and when we will implement these capabilities over the next few years and use them to make business decisions.

The second result is that our corporate wiki now has a central hub for any and all People data AppNexians may need. The page contains a visualization for our Data Dictionary & Reporting Framework, as well as a user-friendly repository of reports so that AppNexians can instantly access the insights the People Analytics team is unearthing. It’s my hope that this page will also increase transparency on our reporting practices company-wide.

While my project was challenging, I’ve found a completely unexpected love for HR Analytics. Coming into the internship, I had previously run my own behavioral psychology studies. But the difference is that with those projects, every variable of each experiment was something I chose. In a corporate setting, I have so much more data to play with and the opportunity to think more critically about how each data point is connected to the overall business environment. The field of People Analytics is all about asking questions such as “What do these metrics indicate about our work environment?” or “How much fun is Field Day, really?” (Answer: so much).

When one thinks of the fields considered “disruptive,” HR tends to be far down on the list. But with the sheer amount of data available, HR is finally beginning its transformation into the innovative function that cutting-edge companies need to support their businesses. My summer at AppNexus has taught me that every workplace is one great big psych study, and I have so much to learn from all of it.