Emails Can Predict Employee Performance

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.37.34 PMIn 2011, McKinsey & Company called “big data” the next frontier for companies looking to foster productivity growth. The Wall Street Journal recently mirrored the foresight in McKinsey’s early conclusion, citing a survey from NewVantage Partners that indicates high adoption rates across industries.

Only 21% of firms believed that big data was of critical importance to their firms in 2012 — now 70% of firms agree with that statement. Experts agree: investment in data mining and analysis is poised to make a significant impact on the way companies work.

The term “big data” covers all manner of information, including details that accompany digital tools like email. The proliferation of this intelligence gives companies the opportunity to analyze every aspect of each organizational decision. It also offers a clear view into patterns that can predict employee performance without complicated models or high-level statistics.

Chantrelle Nielsen, who works in organizational productivity analytics at Microsoft, brought attention to valuable insights gleaned from email data. In the Harvard Business Review, Nielsen shared two important conclusions from her research:

  1. “Being intensely engaged in online collaboration seemed to independently drive employee performance.” In particular, the highest performers at an organization exhibited 36% stronger ties with internal networks than average performers.
  1. Extensive networks predict high potential junior employees. “High-potential employees’ networks were 52% larger than average, but there was actually a subset of program participants whose networks were below average.” This subset of people clearly demonstrated superior skill sets, but they were less likely to “translate their talents to influence.”  

Companies can use this kind of analysis to increase performance in two ways: awareness or prediction. They can support the creation of strong, broad networks between employees, or use the metrics to predict the success of individuals. As Nielsen concluded, either way, “digital communication that’s seen as a burden may turn out to be a blessing for employees and organizations.”