People and Data Can’t Be Friends as the Sex Part Always Gets in the Way

For those of you who don’t know me, as chief analyst I get to interact with a lot of people and data for a living. Actually I have been doing exactly that long before my current role, but I can now unequivocally tell you that people and data can’t be friends as the sex part always gets in the way.

And yes Sally, I’m talking real dirty sex data.

If you were looking for one of those self-help articles, sorry that’s over in aisle four with the SOS pads.

Well I sort of lied with the Harry met Sally headline quote, but I am going to use some relationship analogies here, because I can.

Like the book from the 1990s, men are from Mars and women are from Venus, I would say people are from earth and data is from the death star. Now this might seem like a dumb analogy, which it sort of is as people are actually from earth and I am also not suggesting data is evil as truth be told data is benign. Now that I think about it more, it really is a stupid analogy but I will try and make it up with a more detailed explanation with additional context from my job and also sprinkle in my observations of interacting with people and data in the world around us.

For the last year I have been taking a deep dive into how recruiters fundamentally interface with data (candidate and job data) from adding it into databases through to leveraging the output as reports. In pretty much all cases I should change the last sentence to read.

How recruiters interface with data from not adding it into databases and not leveraging the output to run any reports. Heck, forget about analyzing the data and getting actionable insights when you can’t even run a basic report because your relationship with data totally sucks.

So back to the relationship analogies. Data is like that geeky boy who is actually good looking behind the glasses (like superman), intelligent, and who came to the prom by themselves, stands against the wall smiling but still no one likes. You’re the one coming in all social like with all your friends and does not want to make the commitment to even talk to data because you think he’s boring and lame (like Clark Kent).

When you get older, wiser, and should have listened to your father Luke, you will realize that data was a great catch and you were just too stupid to see it in your youth. You were also just too lazy to put the effort into even starting the relationship with data as you did not think you could get anything out of it. Truth is peer pressure turned you off data even before the relationship ever had a chance to bloom into something meaningful. They kept telling you stories that you will be putting all the effort into the relationship and data will do nothing but confuse and hurt you.

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To compound this problem in most cases your parents where incredibly absent from explaining the birds, bees, and data. Why it was important to practice safe sex data and the value you would personally derive from putting all that effort in upfront (timely, complete, and accurate information into a database). To be fair, most parents were also naive themselves as their parents never really explained or even understood what a bountiful relationship with data could look like if you just used a thin rubber sheath with your data.

Here is the deal folks. If you are still watching those movies that depict the perfect relationship where everyone is madly in love and ridiculously happy, then you also have to come to the realization that in the real world to reach that outcome you first must put the effort in. If you want that dreamy relationship where data provides you such incredible insights that in turn it makes you look consistently look like a rock star in front your colleagues, boss, and friends — well as they say in the relationship game, garbage in, garbage out.

After reading this piece you need to go back to your girlfriend data and tell her that you were neglectful in the relationship and you are going to try harder to be more attentive. That you’re going to put the effort in to getting information into your database as close to real-time with greater accuracy and completeness.

The other relationship that we often see but does not liked to be talked about is the data ménage à trois. This is where social media giants (and like) in their sexy underwear entice you into a relationship of potential future abuse. Unknowing, or maybe you don’t give a shit about your own long-term relationship with your own data anymore, you willingly hand over information that could leave your jilted and exploited. Not suggesting every social media giant is out to steal your loving data away from you for nefarious purposes to be resold in an Amsterdam red light district.

So what Rob after reading 850+ words, which is 50 more than some editors will tell you is the right length, but I digress … you’re saying, I live a happy existence without a successful relationship with data. Guess what: you can and I am not suggesting for one moment that without data in your life you are not a complete person.

I will leave you with this final thought though. A lot of successful business people have taken the time to make data their friend as they understand the power of the relationship and the incredible insights it can give when the relationship gets taken to the next analytical level. As the famous George Thorogood said, the flip side is data can also be fickle mistress and leave you looking like an idiot if you don’t treat her right.

Rob McIntosh is a talent acquisition leader at Honeywell’s Connected Enterprise business. He is a senior talent executive with 20+ years of global recruiting experience spanning four continents where he has consistently delivered results through building high-performing teams for Fortune 100 companies in senior leadership roles for McKesson, Avanade, Deloitte, and Microsoft. 

As a public speaker his articles, presentations, and case studies have been shared and downloaded over 50,000 times. He is one of the early pioneers of corporate sourcing functions and the co-founder of SourceCon. He is the primary content, strategies, tools, and case studies provider for the Human Capital Institute Talent Acquisition Strategist Course & Certification and ERE Media’s Talent Advisor course.

His strategic advice is constantly sought after for use of advanced metrics/analytics to help tell the business story around the value of talent acquisition, and how to scale delivery while improving quality of hire through optimal talent org designs; shared services, CoE, offshore, outsourcing, and hybrid talent acquisition structures. 



8 Comments on “People and Data Can’t Be Friends as the Sex Part Always Gets in the Way

  1. What is 1 thing you recommend to do for those that are intimidated by their data that is a great baby step to become said friends with that illustrious data?

    1. Amy – I would start with the end in mind and ask what is the problem you think needs solving. If your data does not help you a) know where it is broken b) inform a better cause of action to take, then you need to re-think what you are trying to tack and measure. If it does not inform a cause of action to take hen it is just busywork imho.

  2. So much work to be done in this space. The data is so dirty because there is a lack of process ownership and understanding of data governance. Taking the first step and admitting the data is dirty and focusing on a few business driver metrics is key. The recruiters will enter the data, if the Talent Acquisition leader demonstrates that data is important and you show it to them on a regular basis. Well done Rob – good article!

  3. Here’s one of the biggest issues I’ve seen in an attempt to use data to move from “transactional” to “strategic” talent acquisition (and management): practitioners who start with metrics to answer questions, rather than asking the questions first then finding the metrics and data to answer them.

    In other words, I’ve seen countless senior level HR folks ask, “What’s the time to fill? What’s the time to accept? What’s the conversion rate?” etc, etc. merely to check a box or to report back to their leadership with a metric. Instead, they should ask a particular question e.g., “How do we improve our hire quality?” “What do candidates feel about the hiring process?” “Are we losing applicants and where in the process?” to drive the definition of data and, ultimately the metrics that are collected and reported. It’s not just enough to ensure good process and and a good relationship with existing data; that’s necessary but not sufficient. HR needs to move even further up in the chain and ensure the right questions are asked (i.e., NEEDS ANALYSIS) to drive what the data actually are.

    1. Yes Ben you are spot on. I have also found that most people don’t know what average vs good vs great looks like so they are on a journey to improve but not sure where the sign posts are along the road.

  4. Spot on Rob, well said and you Ben Sian also have seriously valid points. Bottom line is that folks in recruitment that neither know what they are measuring and why, nor what to do with the data, will never be able to build sustainable business cases that will elevate the entire TA/recruitment function, and with that obtain internal credibility and impact. A bit like what Kyle Lagunas talking about here (from 39:00 onwards)

  5. They don’t respect the data because they don’t know how it can help them do what they do… better. Data intrinsically has no value and this is where many are right now with their relationship with data. Now if they knew how to take the data and analyze it, it could possibly offer them some actionable
    “information”. For the relationship to change, it has to start with a real appreciation of what analysis of the data can deliver and how to use that intelligence to make better decisions. Thanks for the humorous analogy that sheds light on a huge lost opportunity for so many.

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