IIAnalytics Blog: What Measurable Human Factors Drive an Individual’s Business Performance?

Greta Roberts, CEO, Talent Analytics, Corp.
16 May 2012

It is a common and natural question for leadership to wonder what “human factors” drive (or hinder) performance in their enterprise.  And further, whether it is possible to reliably measure these factors and use them for ongoing improvement.

In today’s discussion we will share some of our thinking and research to build models that measure what drives humans to perform. Future articles will review the real challenges of actually defining or quantitatively measuring their performance.

Does Education or a Well-Aligned Degree Drive Performance?

One of the top five proposed factors for a performance model is the individual’s education – both the level of their degree, as well as their concentration of study.

We know from past experience that degree “types” and expected job performance don’t always align.  Consider, for example, the phenomenon that many excellent computer programmers have formal degrees in music.  In this case, there may be a pattern with this unrelated degree, or better, we might search even deeper for greater insight.

Data seems to show that the music degree, in this case, is a likely proxy measure of a creative streak, an out of the box thinker, someone who is intrinsically driven to create something elegant, balanced, and imaginative, someone with a native capacity to quickly “visualize patterns” in music or programming, or any variety of other role types.

Even for industry experts, it is easy to confuse knowledge with performance.  But of course they are not the same.  Technique and knowledge are important; you have to know what you’re doing.  But this is not the same as getting things done in an organization.

Does Experience Drive Performance?

Years of experience, or years in this role, can be predictive but have issues as factors that drive performance.  There can often be “survivor bias” when creating a model to measure human factors that drive performance.  Survivor bias can lead to good performers staying in a role, while “less suited” individuals would not stay in the role.

However, the “experience factor” leaves us no way to identify people who are up-and-coming.  Is there a way to know if a fresh graduate is well suited for a role?

Do Job Title and Organizational Size Drive Performance?

Job title and organization size tell us little to estimate their performance, but tell us much about the context of their performance.  Some may perform well in large groups but very poorly in small ones.  Depending on the domain, there may be interesting proxy measures for performance capacity – such as which tools they use and prefer.

Do Intrinsic Human Factors Drive Performance?

Another approach is to look at innate employee characteristics, such as the “types of tasks” an employee tends to be attracted to (their natural behaviors) or things they find deeply fulfilling (their personal drivers).  These are quantifiable by several methods and tend to remain stable through a worker’s career making them interesting to study over the long-term.

Innate human factors show what someone is intrinsically driven to, but don’t reveal whether they have the training or intelligence to perform.  As such, these innate factors are very interesting ways to discover raw talent before it has manifested in a career path.

Business progress continues to press on looking for ever-more-direct links between an individual and their business performance. Smart models will include intrinsic human characteristics and in the end, continued research will tell us which factors are strongest.  We will keep you posted as these studies progress.

Originally published by International Institute for Analytics.

Greta Roberts is a Faculty Member of the IIA and CEO of Talent Analytics, Corp. Follow her on twitter @GretaRoberts.

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