In the fascinating Panorama programme about Edward Snowden a couple of weeks ago, we learnt how security services collect metadata from internet and phone communications to track down suspected terrorists.
Metadata is the information that is associated with a phone call/email/text message – when and where it was made and who to – rather than the content of the call/email/text itself.
While you and I might not work in international espionage, the programme did get me thinking. How might we use the concept of metadata ourselves to solve our recruitment and people development challenges?
Could we collect and use data to inform how we recruit people, how we train and develop them and how we retain them?
The answer’s yes. Some businesses are already using metadata to solve their people dilemmas. And you can too.
All businesses use data. They collect sales figures and compare them to last year’s to measure performance. They track cost of sales to ensure efficiency and maximise profit margins.
In recruitment many businesses use psychometric tests to collect data about how an individual might perform in a role.
They might also undertake leadership profiling to identify the future senior managers of the organisation.
But with metadata we can go beyond a focus on an individual. We can combine and compare data from a group to identify shared issues or new solutions.
Here are three innovative examples showing how metadata can be used to inform and solve people dilemmas.
Example 1: training needs analysis
A client of mine was introducing a new programme to help develop leadership capability from within. The employees were typically in junior managerial roles and the company wanted an approach that helped spot potential and support their growth. These employees were joining a talent pool of potential future leaders.
In advance, those employees nominated for the programme all completed a personality profile designed to measure their leadership potential.
The aim of this exercise was not only to identify each attendee’s aptitude for leadership. By combining the scores of each individual, the Learning and Development team were also able to identify trends across the group. They focused specifically on where there might be gaps in the group’s leadership skills e.g. strategy development.
This metadata (the combined scores rather than individual profiles) has enabled the team to design a more bespoke leadership programme focused on meeting the specific needs of this cohort.
Example 2: job analysis
How do you ensure that your recruitment process delivers candidates who have the personality and behaviours you need in the role? Well, first of all, you need to understand what personalities and behaviours equate to successful performance in that role. That’s where job analysis comes in.
Recently, I’ve been working with a client to do exactly that – and metadata played a significant part.
To find out whether particular personality traits aided or hindered success in the role, we asked high-performing employees and poor performers to complete personality questionnaires.
We then combined the data from individual test scores to see whether there were similarities between high performers and between low performers – and what those similarities were.
This metadata enabled us to identify clear personality traits within these two groups of employees. For instance, we found that having the trait of empathy meant you were more likely to struggle in the role while having emotional control could really help you perform better.
This analysis meant we could design the recruitment process to test for these traits.
Example 3: cultural fit
With metadata you don’t need to test or measure a large group of people to get the data you need to make informed decisions.
For instance, I worked with a small accountancy firm recently who were hiring their third member of staff. Having recruited before only to see the new hire quickly leave, they were keen to make sure they got it right this time.
When you have a team as tiny as this, personality clashes can be a real problem. It was clear that the new member of staff would need to have the right personality to fit in with the other two employees.
But what was the right personality? To find out I profiled the personalities of the current members of staff and combined the results to identify any commonalities between them.
The common traits revealed by the metadata suggested they’d behave in certain ways in certain situations. It helped us get a better understanding of the culture of the business and what the new recruit needed to bring personality-wise to fit in and to complement their personalities.
How might metadata help you with your people dilemmas? Think about the issues you face. What information do you need to help you understand the problem? What information might you need to help you solve it? How could you collect that data?
Whether you like your martini shaken or stirred, metadata could play a useful role in how you recruit and/or develop your people, helping you to make informed decisions about the right way forward.
For more on how a scientific approach to recruitment can help you make better hiring decisions, read this.