Employee data has become a popular talking point for many organizations during the pandemic. Collecting accurate and insightful data can help improve retention and better engage employees.
One company that is ahead of the curve in using data is PayPal. To discuss how the payments company uses data to make better people decisions, UNLEASH caught up with Dr. Serena Huang, PayPal’s global head of people analytics, visualization & HR technology, ahead of her appearance at UNLEASH America (25-26 May).
Summarizing her role within PayPal concisely, Huang comments: “People analytics, at the end of the day, aims to improve decision-making when it comes to talent. That’s the core of what we do.”
Huang goes on to tell UNLEASH about her career the date, as well as the strategies PayPal has used to collect data, and the pitfalls to avoid.
The changing role of data
Huang explains that she has been in the people data space for a long time across industries like food, transportation, and of course technology. During her people analytics career, she has seen companies invest more resources in this area.
Over the years, Huang has seen a change from small teams that work primarily through Microsoft Excel to groups of PhD data scientists working on data models and developing automations.
Huang reflects on a recent event that illustrates this shift: “I had this ‘aha’ moment of being so proud of my clients [when] a VP of HR, who was asking insightful questions around measuring the effectiveness of a talent program, said ‘causation and correlation are not the same things’.”
She shares: “I thought ‘this was a breakthrough. It was no longer a simple reporting request, which I know many analytics teams really dread [as] it takes so much time [and] it’s not interesting. [Instead] they are asking about something that’s going to be valuable to the business with quantifiable financial impact.”
Pondering this thought, Huang adds that the “leaders that our HRBPs (HR Business Partners) support are very tech and data-savvy. They’re not going to be happy with something too basic.
“With that in mind, I think the pressure is also on our HRBPs to be data-savvy, and not just bring data, but actionable insights to them.”
Data and insights enable companies to make informed decisions that further goals and help employees. As we discuss this further we look at collecting data and actively listening.
Listening to employees
When Huang joined PayPal in 2021, there was a lot of discussion about employees returning to the office and this required a revamped listening strategy.
At the time, “There was really no way to get in touch with employees other than the annual engagement survey.”
Huang got to work implementing a new listening strategy; she “redesigned it to be much shorter, more of a pulse. to continuously check in on employee sentiment.”
This strategy included “core questions around engagement and intent to stay throughout the year. This means you can start to see a few trends and also get a heads up on whether or not people are at risk of leaving or and whether or not that’s changing.”
PayPal also “completely redesigned and relaunched the new hire survey for [new] employees. We have now three checkpoints with meaningful questions instead of just ‘did you get your laptop’ in the first week”, notes Huang.
Surveys enable the business to get insight into burnout, retention, and engagement. These continuous listening strategies enable PayPal to get ahead of possible problems rather than playing catch-up later.
However, no one wants a surplus of useless data. Huang comments: “The data has to be credible for the data to be actionable.
“We need to have trust from employees, and the trust from employees comes from transparency upfront, so that’s core to our process and a North star that I have.”
Naturally, making sure that data is collected responsibly is an imperative for PayPal. Huang explains that she has worked closely with privacy and legal teams, to ensure that data is handled correctly across the organization.
She notes: “We have been updating our privacy statements on regular basis to make sure that we are in compliance since the privacy regulations are evolving.” This is done to establish a culture of trust, as well as mitigate risks.
To do this, PayPal aims to be transparent and make sure people know how the data that has been collected is going to be used. “This includes things like whether or not the responses on the survey will be shared back to their managers and what the minimum threshold is for reporting”, according to Huang.
When it comes to smaller teams it is important that data shared is kept and presented in aggregate form; this means not obvious who in the team has responded to a survey. Huang notes that if it was obvious who had responded that may mean people will be afraid of sharing information in the future.
Huang offers a fresh perspective on data collection: “I work backward on wanting to make sure the insights are useful. To make sure the insights are useful, the data has to be credible. For the data to be credible, we need to have trust from employees, and the trust from employees comes from transparency upfront.”
Although Huang couldn’t reveal too much about PayPal’s plans for the future, she did mention what she is looking forward to at UNLEASH America: “I haven’t been back to UNLEASH America since 2018. So, I am very excited to be back in person.
“And I’m most looking forward to learning from other leaders of the space and seeing what they’re doing and exchanging knowledge.
“I’m excited to have real engagement in person and feedback from the audience.”
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