Employee Experience Driven by People Analytics: Interview with Serena Huang, Global Head of People Analytics at Kraft Heinz

Interview with Serena Huang, Global Head of People Analytics at The Kraft Heinz Company

Rallyware caught up with Serena Huang, Global Head of People Analytics, at The Kraft Heinz Company. She’s an experienced speaker on digital transformation, employee experience, the future of work, as well as people analytics. Serena is passionate about leading change by building high-performing global teams that help business leaders in large organizations see data as one of the key assets.

How to Implement People Analytics

So, what if you’re heading up a company and you want to leverage people analytics? Where do you start?

Serena thinks there’s no time like the present. “Many companies get stuck and don’t start using people analytics because they’re waiting for the data to be perfect. The data is never going to be perfect, especially in the people space, because it’s so complicated. By the time you wait for the perfect data, you might get five years or ten years down the road. You should start with business questions, and those questions will depend on the business cycle. Let’s say your business is growing, then recruiting may be more important for you – because you’re in that growth mode.

Yet, if you’re in a down cycle, that’s a very different story. You might be thinking more about whether you have the right talent in the right places, and about how you’re going to deal with the downturn that might be coming. You also need to align any data analytics effort with initiatives you’re pursuing, which could be a diversity initiative, for example. Putting data analytics behind all that takes work, and it takes time. That’s why connecting with the leadership team and ensuring the analytics will focus on your current initiatives will be super-important.”

Serena says that people analytics can become a component of your business process. Moving forward, talent can be a part of the conversation when you review progress. Thinking about the people and project metrics alongside one another will make analytics a part of the business rhythm instead of being something that’s tacked on or an afterthought.

How Data Analysis Supports Distributed Workforce Communications

So, how about COVID-19? What can that specifically teach us about data analytics, distributed workforces communicating during the pandemic, and planning for a return to the office?

Serena says that during the crisis, she’s observed colleagues and people leaders getting pulled into conversations they weren’t having before the pandemic struck. She compares the situation for CFOs in the 2008 financial crisis with that of C-level people leaders now. 

In 2008, CFOs were getting asked how businesses could move forward because the economic landscape had radically shifted, whereas now, it’s more about reimagining employee experience.

Serena says that, for employees, communicating during COVID-19 is challenging. Gauging feedback can be difficult when talking via channels like Zoom or Microsoft Meet. A remote worker proposing an idea to colleagues lacks the ability to read faces, and it’s a far more one-way experience than sitting around a table in the same room as peers. Supporting staff and making sure the best options for communication get made available is vital for maintaining effective collaboration in distributed workforces, and that means having the right people analytics systems in place.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, CPOs (Chief People Officers) are being forced to answer many questions while making sure that their people are safe and healthy. How will a safe return to the workplace be achieved, and precisely how will that work? How do we communicate? How do we keep people engaged and productive? How can we make sure collaborations still happen? All these concerns are on the shoulders of CPOs during the pandemic. In terms of my current role, my team’s helping the CPO answer those questions. We’ve used surveys that went out to Kraft Heinz employees regularly, based on questions relevant to the phase of the outbreak at the time and the problems distributed staff members were experiencing.

At the start, it was questions about whether workers had the right technology to deal with distributed working, and about how the company could support them. As time moved on, those questions became about how remote employees were adjusting and if they had access to their team and manager. Based on the data, we were able to provide support exactly when and where it was needed. For example, with working parents who started seeing summer camps get canceled and had a unique set of problems to deal with because of that, we were able to identify those concerns immediately and react to them, then provide the right support.”

Capturing Data During COVID-19 to Prepare for the Future of Work

What about the future of work and how the pandemic has altered the rate of change? What have we observed during the crisis, and what can we learn as we emerge?

Serena thinks that COVID-19 has accelerated transformation and settled the minds of many that were perhaps unsure about the feasibility of distributed workforces before the pandemic hit. She feels we’re in the middle of the largest remote working experiment ever conducted, and that it’s raised some important questions.

One of those questions is about how we collaborate in the future. Another is how we ask ourselves questions concerning whether or not we need to work in the office all of the time after the pandemic ends. Those questions will be critical for success, so, should get based on real data. “After this is all over, we should be asking can some roles work in the office some of the time and others on a different basis, aligned to their specific tasks, goals, and responsibilities. Of course, here at Kraft, our factory employees need to make your favorite ketchup, so there’s a need to be here at the factory doing that, but for white-collar workers, it’s not always the case.”

Serena also thinks COVID-19 presents leaders with an opportunity to learn more about the future of work, and gain data insights right now that will help companies get an edge moving forward. 

”I encourage leaders to think about what data they might want to gather during this period to see what’s been working and what hasn’t and to determine which jobs really need to be in the office every day and which don’t.”

Serena also highlights the way the pandemic has created a need for leaders to be more empathetic. She says it’s not just that we’re communicating remotely, but also that the line between work and home has gotten blurred to a degree. We’re seeing different aspects of teammates’ lives that we didn’t see before, and that presents challenges for managers that didn’t exist in the past.

Skills Gap Analysis – Workforce Segmentation Based on Demographic Data Isn’t Agile Enough

So, how can data improve skills gap analysis and help companies when they’re trying to plan for the future of work and business beyond COVID-19?

Serena says that while that’s the challenge leaders face when moving forward from this point, the pandemic has taught us traditional workforce planning just isn’t agile enough for today’s changing world. 

“One area I’m very passionate about is shifting the conversation away from headcount to skill sets. You can have the right number of people, but if most of them don’t possess the right skills, you cannot deliver for the business. Yet, this is an area where, traditionally, relevant data has been difficult to gather.”

“Let’s say you have two financial analysts with exactly the same job title, and they might even have graduated from the same school. Relying on traditional data won’t tell you if they have vastly different skill sets. You need situations within companies where more collaboration happens between learning and development functions and data analysts. That enables the capture of more skills data, so you can use it to create distributed workforce training and planning to move forward and stay more agile. It’s not about filling roles; it’s about developing people for projects and optimizing the business at the project level.”

Serena says that employee upskilling and reskilling aren’t effective if you don’t have accurate data about starting points for individual employees – and headcounts, job descriptions can’t provide a picture of where employees are at with their development. 

“In the past, analytics used only employee data. I see an opportunity to use a combination of people data and business operations data instead, to deliver the right learning to the right person based on their performance.”

LMS Systems: Distributed Workforce Segmentation and Training Based on Employee Goals Delivers More

How is workforce segmentation changing, and how does data analysis improve the employee experience?

“In the past, we’ve relied on demographic workforce segmentation, but new technology offers companies the chance to use behavioral data to create more meaningful employee experiences. Serena says there’s value in both approaches, and that you do need a handle on basic demographics like tenure with the company, location, education level, and job function. However, she says it’s important to gather additional data that isn’t solely based on demographics. Doing so can identify opportunities for just-in-time learning and highlight individual leadership qualities that go beyond current roles or job titles.

If you want to go beyond traditional workforce segmentation, something that often gets overlooked is LMS data. That lets you see, for example, employees who decided to sign up for training outside their current work role. It lets you look at who’s completed which learning modules and what new skills they learned, but also to get some insight into the motivation behind that too. If you can segment the workforce using that sort of data, you’ll discover things that get overlooked with traditional forms of demographic and performance-based workforce segmentation.”

Driving Success at Scale – Don’t Forget to Find Out What Employees Want!

So, give us an example based on your current role. In a consumer packaged goods company like Kraft Heinz, what kind of data is essential for personalizing that individual path to success?

Serena thinks it’s got a lot to do with identifying people’s goals and aspirations. “I think one piece of data that we often miss is – what do employees want to do, and where do they want to go next? We get so caught up sometimes in trying to create a career path for employees that we forget to ask them if they’re interested and what they want to do. They might want to become a chef here at Kraft Heinz, but they’re currently a financial analyst. There’s no way a conventional LMS will identify that and recommend a course on cooking. It’s so important to ask rather than just assume.”

People Analytics for More Effective Distributed Workforce Training

By embracing people analytics to deliver the right learning to the right person at the right time, Rallyware supports businesses in driving success at scale and improving the employee experience of individuals. If you’d like the ability to gain insights into what motivates your workforce, enhance employee training and experience, and drive success at scale, book a demo today!