Employee trust key to unlocking $3.1 trillion value of workforce data, says Accenture

24 January 2019 Consulting.us 5 min. read
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Organizations can squeeze a great deal of value out of workforce data and the insights held therein. In order to do so, they’re going to have to get employees to trust them in their quest for information.

From the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press to today, the amount of available information has exploded. Personal computers and smartphones connected by the internet have ushered in perhaps the world's most revolutionary data spike, as well as business’ and government’s requisite desire to collect it.

Within the vast swaths of people’s personal data trails, companies are trying to unlock value. For many, that means tailoring a customer relationship that’s customized to a specific consumer’s profile. For most, it means their actions are tracked, fed through algorithms, and given specific internet ads – even when they're pretty sure they only talked about a subject rather than typing it in.

But the explosion in data, and the various advanced ways to track, collect, and analyze it, also holds potential for employee productivity. At first glance, it reads like spying on workers to make sure that they do their jobs well and don’t waste company time. But obviously the issue is more nuanced than that.

Nonetheless, employees are bound to have trust issues with their employers collecting their data, not only regarding how it would be used, but how safe it is. When you have news stories about China’s 24/7 monitoring, facial recognition, and merit system – seemingly ripped out of a mediocre "Black Mirror" episode – as well as the constant reminders of Facebook’s careless approach to consumer privacy and data, it’s not unreasonable for employees to think, “No thanks to more of that.”

The trust dividend

A new report from tech consultancy Accenture asserts that employers need to win over the trust of employees in order to implement effective workforce data strategies. If they are successful, responsible workforce data strategies can boost revenue growth by 12.5% at companies that do it right, versus those that don’t.

The report, entitled "Decoding Organizational DNA," surveyed 1,400 C-suite executives and 10,000 workers across the globe. Decoding organizational DNA means analyzing a great deal of data from employee computers, smart sensors, microphones, and wearables, then converting it into insights that improve the firm. This means that companies are able to better understand how the organization works, and can then make changes to improve processes.

Effectively decoding that organizational DNA has the potential to unlock up to $3.1 trillion in global revenue, Accenture says.

The surveyed execs are already aware of the importance of harnessing organizational data. Ninety-one percent recognize that new tech can unlock value "trapped" in their businesses, 77% said that new tech and workforce data will be important to growth, and 62% are already using new tech and workplace data sources to a "large or significant extent."

On the flip side, 43% of workers said that they would strongly resist collection of new sources of data on them and their work, while 52% said it would damage trust. A further 62% of workers responded that they would refuse permission to collect data if their company didn’t have strong measures for responsibility. Seemingly, employers would have to build up employee trust to have an effective, non-confrontational rollout of such measures.

Data's Wild West

“Executives are entering a new era of workforce data without sufficient tools and strategies to help them drive revenue growth through developing stronger digital trust,” Eva-Sage Gavin, leader of Accenture’s Talent & Organization practice globally, said. 

Only half of execs said current legislation is sufficient to guide business leaders in the responsible use of workforce data. When asked what they would do in the absence of sufficient legislation, 49% of executives said they would use new tech and workplace data as they saw fit. 

For now, it’s up to businesses to act responsibly, nurture trust, and unlock mad gains. “Business leaders can take proactive steps that improve the potential of workers while achieving new business value,” Sage-Gavin said. “They can share accountability for the use of workforce data, co-create new systems with employees and give their people more control over their own data. This responsible approach will strengthen the resilience and agility of workforces and help CEOs navigate disruption at a time of intense competition and volatility.”

Trusting me, trusting you

To get employees on board with workforce data collection, Accenture recommends a three-pronged approach to build workers’ trust.

Give Control. Gain Trust: Giving more control to employees over their data makes them more open to the prospect of sharing it. Seventy-three percent of employees said they want to own their work-related data and take it with them when they leave their jobs, with 56% of executives open to that option.

Share Responsibility. Share Benefits: Leaders should involve employees in workforce data systems design to get maximum buy-in. Currently, only 29% of businesses co-create data system design with their workers, though a further 33% intend to do so.

Elevate People. Use Tech Responsibly: Firms need to leverage AI and other emerging tech to improve fairness and growth opportunities for workers. Eighty-two percent of employees responded that reliable data gathered by new technologies could improve fairness in pay and promotions.

“At a time when companies are using newly available workforce data to drive greater value, responsible leadership is the key to building employee trust,” Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer, said. “Trust is the ultimate currency — it’s the path to innovation and fuels growth by unlocking people’s potential.”

Related: Accenture wins quantum computing–related patent