Big Data: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

HR professionals are falling over themselves professing allegiance to the latest and greatest idea to grace the pages of the New York Times and The Economist among others – “Big Data.”  Apparently HR hasn’t been doing much of a job with assisting organizations on the best way to hire and retain people, so now the promise of shiny new selection algorithms and aggregations of “quizzes and games” promise to turn hiring into a “science.”  One blogger writes “No longer are we just trying to fill empty seats as quickly as possible.  Instead, we’re trying to efficiently identify the right candidate for the job,” an admission of past practice which might say something about the healthy skepticism developed toward HR by the corner office.

By using mountains of data regarding everything from online habits to text messages to relationships on eHarmony, companies can now avoid pesky interview questions about past performance and specific behaviors.  For example, Big Data tells us that job hoppers really aren’t a risky hire, they just probably weren’t tested properly (assuming they stick around long enough to validate the results).

Certainly this approach is new, but revolutionary?  More likely this is just scaling up practices that are of limited value to begin with, a form of personality testing on steroids.  No doubt it’s hard to make good hiring decisions, and hiring managers need to continually and self critically assess their capabilities.  HR’s best bet is to help make them more effective, but “Big Data” instead reinforces tendencies that, although highly placed in the pantheon of conventional wisdom, only contribute to HR’s lack of perceived value.


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