As C-suites increasingly desire actionable insights to help run their business, and boards seek the right metrics to understand management’s progress, workforce analytics is becoming a key focus area. Last month, I wrote about the potential in this area—a timely topic as more companies begin to mine employee data as they do consumer data. From mapping which teams consistently deliver peak innovation, to removing barriers so employees’ workdays are more productive, workforce data insights are growing in number and impact.

Impact On Business Performance

Many board members and executives
that I speak with are surprised when they learn that these data driven insights
can add to or detract from business performance by as much as six percent. For
example, Credit Suisse used algorithms to identify high-performing employees who
were a high retention risk. The company then trained special managers to focus
on and retain these employees, saving roughly $70 million per year.

In another example, shoe retailer
Clark’s use of workforce analytics showed leaders that every one percentage point improvement in employee engagement led to an
improvement of 0.4 percentage points in business performance. By analyzing the
characteristics of its 100 best-performing stores, the company created a
blueprint for high-performing stores, along with an engagement toolkit for
managers to use with teams.

While these
are examples of point solutions, imagine an enterprise embedded with an
interconnected web of solutions, created and fueled by workforce data insights.
These insights could accelerate a company’s transformation, unlocking value
hidden within its own workforce data. One way to think about it is that each
company and workforce has its own unique organization DNA that can be
understood and analyzed to unlock hidden value and capabilities. Boards can help C-Suite leaders more
quickly transform their business by insisting that the company’s management
team engage in responsible workforce data collection and mining practices, as
part of a framework of thoughtful governance. And we’re seeing that leading
companies engage employees as partners in that process.

Responsible Practices

Given that this is a greenfield for some organizations, I’ll share
some thoughts on how to ensure organizational DNA is handled responsibly. While
these ideas are not a prescription—after all, each company’s needs will be unique—they
are suggestions for some best practices I’ve seen work well. At the heart of
the issue: Boards must find a way to provide oversight, ensuring the company is
generating the insights it needs to enhance business performance and drive
growth. The board must also hold itself responsible for ensuring that employee
data is protected and  privacy is
respected.

Consider forming an artificial
intelligence (AI) or data oversight committee. Risk professionals must be involved due to privacy and security
issues, but these issues need to be weighed against the opportunity for growth.
The establishment of an AI or data governance committee, in conjunction with the
risk and audit committees, could be a wise idea for a company that is deeply
mining its employees’ and customers’ data.

In addition, executives engaged in the areas
of highest data growth and usage should have a chance to help shape the system.
For example, in Accenture’s
latest research on the topic, business leaders said they expect to use workforce
insights primarily to place people in the right roles (70 percent), to increase
productivity and workforce performance (69 percent), and to enhance
organizational agility and speed (61 percent). Using that mix, team members for
the chief human resources officer (CHRO), the chief operating officer (COO),
and chief digital officer (at a minimum) should be included on the team that is
responsible for executive use of employee data and should report to the board
for oversight reasons.

Create a
coalition for accountability. By appointing at least one C-suite executive
to own this area, the board communicates the importance of C-Suite accountability.
Who is responsible for employee data—the associated risks and the great
potential it holds for positive changes to the business? Many times, this is
the CHRO because it is an employee-centric issue. But other C-suite areas are
impacted by the actions that may be considered because of data insights—from
the COO to the CFO.

Companies
that do this best break down siloes to ensure they include the right players
and inputs. For example, a data or information executive’s informed perspective
is essential—from security practices to incorporating data collection into the
day-to-day business. From those who onboard and coach employees to those who
design the systems that gather information, boards should ensure an environment
of teamwork for specific outcomes, versus ownership of siloed processes.

Employ an agile
governance structure. A firm, clear governance structure contributes greatly to
responsible business practices as stewards of employee data. However, as any
board member can attest, businesses today must be agile. They must change with
their consumers, their employees, and the competitive environment.

To
help foster agility but set clear guiding principles, some companies use a code
of ethics linked tightly within their governance structure. A strong code:

Establishes the conduct expected regarding employee data gathering
and use;Goes beyond compliance with the law to reflect the company’s
ethical values; andGets regularly reviewed and updated as new technologies and
applications emerge.

Governance
structures should account for innovation that isn’t on the radar yet, as
technology allows for new wearables, increasingly sophisticated AI and
analytics, and new levels of security needed to address increasing
cyber-threats.

A Fast Track to Unlock Hidden Value

These suggestions are just starting points, but they do provide food for thought if your board is leveraging workforce analytics strategically. While there are many perspectives to consider, the overarching takeaway is that while workforce data insights are quickly becoming a competitive advantage, they are best used as part of a strategic governance framework and in partnership with employees. Companies that take this proactive and responsible route put themselves on a fast track to unlock the value hidden within their own workforces.

Eva Sage-Gavin is senior managing director of Accenture’s Global Talent and Organization consulting practice.