'We Can Get Data/Metrics On Employees With Wearables But There Would Certainly Be Data Privacy/HIPPA Considerations'

Interview with Faranak Raissi, Senior Director of Integrated Talent Management at Gap


There has long been recognition of the benefits organizations can realize through analysis of the data they collect about customers, but the information they garner from their own employees is often forgotten. The ability to better understand staff behavior has tremendous implications for efficiency, and the amount of data we can collect has exploded in recent years, particularly as more and more organizations have begun to provide their employees with wearable devices to track behaviors. Oil giants BP, for example, distributed more than 24,500 Fitbit fitness trackers to its North American staff in 2015, and many have followed their lead.

There are, however, a number of ethical questions around forcing employees to wear wearable devices, and many argue that it is a slippery slope and could even prove severely detrimental to morale. Location tracking and audiovisual capture are perhaps the most troubling of the capabilities. MarketWatch uses the example of an employee attending a union meeting. An employer could be accused of either spying on the meeting itself or, if the location tracking is accurate enough, determining exactly which of their employees had attended. It is difficult to imagine a world in which employees are entirely comfortable with GPS tracking, particularly outside of working hours, and any company that implements trackers should do so with strict requirements that employees either leave them in the workplace or disable them upon leaving, and it will take a lot for companies to trust their employers to do this. If what you are doing makes your employees uncomfortable, ultimately you probably shouldn’t be doing it, and any wearables will have to be introduced extremely sensitively to the concerns of staff.

Faranak Raissi is Senior Director of Integrated Talent Management at Gap, with over 15 years of experience in leadership development, talent management, HR business partnership, compensation, recruiting, and HR operations and analytics across a wide variety of industries. We asked her for her thoughts on wearables and data privacy, as well as how information is being used within HR more generally, ahead of her presentation at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit, which takes place this June 19-20 in San Francisco.

How did you get started in your career and what first sparked your interest in analytics?

My career has spanned both HR business partner and talent management functions. I first became interested when I was working as a talent management director and we started exploring what metrics we could look at to tell the story behind our talent movements (9 box placement, succession planning, risk, etc.).

Do you feel HR is behind other departments when it comes to implementing data initiatives? If so, why do you feel this is the case and what can HR leaders do to rectify the situation?

Yes, I do feel HR is behind other departments when it comes to data. I think just as marketing became a data-centric function about 20-something years ago (by looking at market segmentation, customer scoring, looking at ROI on marketing spend, etc.), so is HR beginning to go down the same path. I think the case that HR leaders need to make is that the business spend of human capital (most companies spend at least half of their total revenues on payroll, give or take) mean there is a big opportunity for us to look at analyzing that spend to see if we can quantify things like productivity, whether or not we have the right people in the right jobs, are we paying them the right amount of money, etc. In other words, as HR professionals, I think we have an opportunity to make the case on how HR analytics can help us understand if we are optimizing our employee spending.

How important is it to introduce a data-driven culture across the organization? How is it best achieved?

I think it’s important to introduce a data-driven culture across the organization as it will help us better understand how we can best organize/manage talent to measure the business results we are trying to achieve and to track progress against those results. The key to getting this is: know what you are going to measure (e.g. KPI’s), do you currently have the tools/technology/processes to collect that data?, specify what/how the data will be used and how that data will inform business decisions, determine the frequency the data is needed to derive actionable insights, and package the data in such a way that it tells the story (taking into account the quantitative and qualitative aspects).

What technologies do you see as having an impact in the analytics space in the near future? Wearable devices are an obvious way to collect data on employees, do you think we will see them being used more in the future? Should they be?

I think we can get data/metrics on employees with wearables but there would certainly be data privacy/HIPPA considerations. I think one of the key things is making more technologies accessible through mobile devices (e.g. LMS, HR platforms) because more and more people are doing things on the phones vs. laptops. I think also moving away from traditional methods of collecting feedback (e.g. in performance reviews with the manager writing the review) to more crowd sourcing type technologies. Lastly, I think the ability to create linkage analysis across the various data platforms and use data visualization tools like Visier will also help us in being able to make analytics more readily available to HR and managers. 

You can hear more from Faranak, along with other leading experts in the field from the likes of Facebook, Airbnb, and Chevron, at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit. View the full agenda here.

BONUS CONTENT: Brian Fruchey, Manager of Analytics at Facebook gives an overview of Facebook's approach to workforce analytics, how data is used in hiring and training of staff, and employee engagement


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