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Opinion Editorials

How to ruthlessly use data like a boss without becoming inhuman

(EDITORIAL) The use of analytic data is already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. But there’s something at the core we aren’t always talking about here.

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Risk and predictive analytics

Through the power of predictive analytics, I can tell you when your employees are looking for new jobs, based on such factors as the timing of their sick leave requests, their word choice in company memos, and the number of emails that they send and to whom in your organization.

If I want to outsource that responsibility, I can tell you through the efforts of any one of a number of third-party vendors what the likelihood of your employees leaving you is, simply by examining the employees’ behaviors on social media sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn and aggregating that into a risk factor.

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The power of prediction in business

The use of such analytic examinations in human resource functions isn’t a widely established practice yet, but it’s already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. For example, in perhaps an unlikely place, consider amusement parks.

In research conducted by Pikkemaat and Schuckert, they identified key factors that determined customer behavior, including warning signs of customer behaviors that would lead to the failure of parks altogether.

Having the ability to know what your customers think and believe and how those factors will predictably translate into action is an amazing tool, one which allows you to harness hundreds and thousands of data points and utilize them in preparing your business for success.

Predictive analytics are being used to seemingly trivial things, such as determining which items Amazon recommends for you to the challenge of predicting civil unrest in Latin America, which Virginia Tech’s EMBERS project has been doing since November 2012.

Consider: We are human

I’m not denying either the importance or the power of using predictive analytics to help you better understand your employees or your customers. Having data and utilizing it in a timely fashion to drive planning is the hallmark of a good business plan. You should be appropriately investing in these segments, but at the same time you’re doing so, you shouldn’t forget that behind each of these data points is a real human being.

We’re drowning in information, while dying for wisdom; we have so much data at our fingertips about the actions of people that we often fail to consider the person individually.

Some of this is the ease which data can be amassed and quantified; quantitative research is fairly simple to conduct, assuming that your data points are clear from the beginning, and that you have enough of them, appropriately sampled, to make a generalizable conclusion about the population.

Some of it is science; Dunbar’s number, a theory proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, proposes that humans can hold space for approximately 150 close stable social relationships, although we can obviously tangentially know many more than that. With the human limitations on getting to know one another in a meaningful way, and the speed at which we can now analyze the actions of the group at large beyond our immediacy level, it’s often easier just to let that amalgamation of information serve as an entrée to understanding who your customers and employees actually are as people, rather than just relying on reports on them.

Your impact, your challenge

But those reports don’t tell you the whole story. The human touch is what provides the value to your data, and helps you understand how the practices that you take as a leader and those that you implement in your company actually impact people.

So here’s a challenge for you. Gather the data, but leave your office more.

Take the time to call or talk to your team face-to-face rather than just relying on emails or texts to communicate. Write a hand-written note of appreciation when things are going well, or more importantly, a word of encouragement when things aren’t. Ask your customers and staff for input, but only when their input actually matters, and ask them for their support when you need it, with logical reasons why they should care.

A small lesson

Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was in public office for nearly five decades, partially because of a lesson that he learned in his first campaign in 1937. Walking outside of his house on election eve, O’Neill was stopped by a Mrs. Elizabeth O’Brien. Mrs. O’Brien was O’Neill’s high school elocution and drama teacher, and a neighbor who lived across the street from him, and had for years.

“Tom, I’m going to vote for you tomorrow even though you didn’t ask me,” Mrs. O’Brien said, looking up at the politician. Her statement shook him; he’d had a neighborly relationship with the woman for years, and had helped her around the house with small chores from time to time

“I didn’t think I had to ask for your vote,” he said.

She replied, “Tom, let me tell you something: People like to be asked.”

Data doesn’t equal heart

People like to be asked, included, and made to feel welcome, customers and employees alike. We all want to feel as if we have value to our workplace, and to the places we brand ourselves with by being a customer of.

Relying only on an impersonal touch doesn’t give you that same level of intimacy, nor does it make anyone feel as if they actually matter. The data collected isn’t as important as the soul welcomed, nor is the ability of your company to make a predictive guess as what’s going to come next as vital as making people feel integrated to your company

Make a customer experience so strong at both the interaction and the heart level, and people will flock to work or buy from you. Ignore that in implementation, and all the data in the world won’t be able to rectify what you’ve broken.

#BuildRelationships

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

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Opinion Editorials

AT&T hit with age discrimination lawsuit over using the word “tenured”

(EDITORIAL) 78% of workers are victims of age discrimination. As awareness arises, lawsuits show what may constitute discrimination, including verbiage.

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Older man at cafe representing age discrimination

According to the AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. As awareness of ageism increases, lawsuits that allege age bias can help employers understand what constitutes discrimination. A recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Smith v. AT&T Mobility Services, L.L.C., No. 21-20366 (5th Cir. May 17, 2022), should give employers pause about using other words that could potentially be a euphemism for “older worker.”

What the lawsuit was about

Smith, a customer service representative at AT&T, alleged that he was denied a promotion because of his age. His manager told him that she was not going to hire any tenured employees. The manager wanted innovative employees in the management positions. Smith took this to mean that he was being denied the promotion because of his age. He sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Texas law.

The district court found that Smith failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to one claim and failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination as to the other two claims. Smith appealed. The Appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, but they did say it was “close.” AT&T did not discriminate against Smith by using the word tenured, because there were other employees of the same age as Smith who were promoted to customer service management positions.

Be aware of the verbiage used to speak to employees

This case is another example of how careful employers need to be about age discrimination, not only in job postings. It’s imperative to train managers about the vagaries of ageism in the workplace to avoid a costly lawsuit. Even though AT&T prevailed, the company still had a pretty hefty legal tab. Don’t try to get around the ADEA by using terminology that could screen out older workers, such as “digital native,” or “recent college grad.” Remind employees and managers about ageism. Document everything. Pay attention to other cases about age discrimination, such as the iTutor case or this case about retirement-driven talk. You may not be able to prevent an employee from feeling discriminated against, but you can certainly protect your business by doing what you can to avoid ageism.

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Opinion Editorials

Writing with pen and paper may mean your smarter than your digital peers

(EDITORIAL) Can writing old fashioned make you smarter? Once considered and art form, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past, but should it be?

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Writing on paper job titles.

When I was in college, in 2002, laptops weren’t really commonplace yet. Most students took notes by writing with pen and paper. Today, most students take notes with laptops, tablets, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The days of pen and paper seem to be fading. Some students even wait until the end of class and use their cell phones to take a picture of the whiteboard, so in effect, they are not absorbing any of the information because they “can just take a picture of it and look at it later.”

Is it easier to take notes on an electronic device? I think that largely depends on preference. I type faster than I write, but I still prefer to take notes on paper.

According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes generally outperform students who typed them.

Writing notes help students learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.

While most students can type faster than they write, this advantage is short-term. As the WSJ points out, “after just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.” So while it may take a bit longer to capture the notes by hand, more likely than not, you will retain the information longer if you put pen to paper.

As I teach English Composition at the University of Oklahoma, I would also like to say that while I find this to be true for myself, every student has a different learning style. Typed notes are much better than no notes at all. Some students detest writing by hand and I understand that. Everything in our world has gone digital from phones to cable television so it makes sense, even if I don’t like it, that students gravitate more towards electronic note taking than pen and paper.

While I would like to see more students take notes by hand, I certainly won’t require it. Some students are navigating learning disabilities, anxieties, and other impediments that make taking notes digitally more advantageous.

I imagine the same is true for other areas as well: instead of typing meeting notes, what would happen if you wrote them by hand? Would you retain the information longer? Perhaps, and perhaps not; again, I think this depends on your individual learning style.

I would like to suggest that if you are one of the more “electronically-minded” writers, use a flashcard app, or other studying tool to help you review your classroom notes or meeting notes to make them “stick” a bit better. While I find this type of research intriguing, if you enjoy taking your notes electronically, I wouldn’t change my method based on this.

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here, writing everything down with pen and paper.

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Opinion Editorials

5 reasons using a VPN is more important now than ever

(EDITORIAL) Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but now, more than ever, entrepreneurs and businesses really should have them.

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VPN

Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but some recent developments in technology, laws, and politics are making them even more important for entrepreneurs and businesses.

A VPN serves as an intermediary layer of anonymity and security between your computer and your internet connection. Your Wi-Fi signal is a radio wave that can ordinarily be intercepted, so any data you transmit back and forth could be taken and abused by interested parties. VPNs act as a kind of middleman, encrypting the data you transmit and protecting you from those prying eyes.

Top10BestVPN.com offers a selection of some of the best-reviewed VPN services on the market; there you can see the different approaches to security and anonymity that different brands take, and get a feel for the price points that are available. But why is it that VPNs are becoming even more important for business owners and entrepreneurs?

These are just five of the emerging influencers in the increasing importance of VPNs:

1. The rise of IoT. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already taking off, with a predicted 8.4 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the end of the year. All those extra connections mean extra points of vulnerability; hackers are skilled at finding tiny entry points, so every new channel you open up on your Wi-Fi connection is another opportunity they could potentially exploit. Using a VPN won’t make your network completely hack-proof—user errors, like giving your password away in a phishing scam, are still a potential threat—but VPNs will make your network more secure than it was before.

2. The popularity of ransomware. Ransomware is growing in popularity, seizing control of devices, sometimes for weeks or months before activating, then holding the device “hostage,” and demanding payment in exchange for releasing the files that are stored on it. These attacks are fast and efficient, making them ideal for hackers to use against small businesses. Again, using a VPN won’t make you immune from these types of attacks, but they will make you harder to target—and hackers tend to opt for the path of least resistance.

3. The escalation of attacks on small businesses. Speaking of small businesses, they happen to be some of the most frequent targets of cybercriminals. About 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses, in part because they have fewer technological defenses but still have valuable assets. Protecting yourself from cyberattacks is a must if you want your business to survive.

4. Political attacks on net neutrality. Politicians have recently attempted to attack and eliminate net neutrality, which is the long-standing guarantee that internet providers can’t violate user privacy by collecting and/or reporting on certain types of data, and can’t create “slow lanes” that throttle certain types of traffic. If net neutrality is abolished, you could face slower internet traffic and decreased privacy on the web. A VPN could, in theory, protect you from these effects. First, your web traffic would be anonymized, so internet providers couldn’t gather as much data on you as other customers. Second, you’ll be routed through a private VPN server, which could help you get around some of the speed throttling you might otherwise see. It’s uncertain whether net neutrality will ultimately fall, but if it does, you’ll want a VPN in place to protect you.

5. The affordability and diversity of VPNs available. Finally, it’s worth considering that VPNs are more affordable and more available than ever before. There are specific VPNs for all manner of businesses and individuals, and they’re all reasonably affordable. Inexpensive options can be yours for as little as a few dollars per month, and more robust, secure options are still affordable, even for frugal businesses. If you try a VPN provider you don’t like, you can always cancel and switch to another provider. This availability makes it easier to find exactly what you need.

If you’ve never used a VPN before and you’re confused, try not to be intimidated. VPNs sound complex, but connecting to one is a simple login process you can use on practically any device. The hardest part is choosing a reliable provider that suits your business’s need. With the influx of coming changes, it’s a good idea to get your VPN in place sooner rather than later.

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