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Villanova Wildcats on Cloud Nine

Perhaps you were getting a snack during the halftime break of the NCAA basketball championship game and you missed the predictive analytic experiment that Google Cloud conducted? Using data from the first half of the game, along with NCAA historical data, Google made predictions about what will happen during the second half. These were broadcast during a halftime ad and included confidence probabilities. In the championship game, for example, Google projected that there would be at least 21 3-point attempts in the second half. Their prediction carried a confidence level of 76.4%. What actually happened? There was a combined total of 26 three-point attempts by the two teams.

Using data to make predictions is becoming increasingly prevalent in organizations and HR is not on the bench! I attended the fifth annual People Analytics Conference hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (PAC18) last month. There has been an almost three-fold increase in companies with employees focused on people analytics since 2009. Almost 6 in 10 people working in this area started in the last five years.


Organizations that are able to collect and use data to answer questions, and especially ones that involve people, their employees and customers, will thrive in the coming years.


What are they asking their data and what are we learning?

  • Hilton is using their people data to improve the lives of their employees with an eye toward increasing retention and improving engagement.

  • Dan Pink, author of the bestselling book Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, spoke about his new book, When - The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, in which he draws on research findings from psychology, biology, and economics to organize our day to be most productive and happy. Hint: work on highly analytic tasks early in the day!

  • Google no longer conducts ten interviews per candidate because they learned that they only needed four interviews to get to the same place 90% of the time. Frees up a lot of time for engineers to work on other stuff.

  • Howie Roseman of Eagles fame reminded us that he went against analytics in trading draft picks to move up in the order to select Carson Wentz. Apparently, there are times when the data only goes so far! (Howie is pictured below with Wharton Professor Cade Massey during his interview at PAC18.)

  • Research at Oregon State is using data to examine institutional betrayal in the context of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. This will help organizations take actions that are more supportive of primarily women, particularly useful in the new #metoo world.

  • 65 million text messages sent to a crisis text line revealed the significant terms in a cry for help message that are most predictive of who is truly in need of immediate counseling. First, they used their best guesses as to which words would be most predictive and did pretty well with 53% accuracy. Using analytics, they boosted their accuracy to 86% and learned that “Excedrin,” “Ibuprofen” and a crying emoji were reliable and strong indicators of potential self-inflicted harm.

Organizations that are able to collect and use data to answer questions, and especially ones that involve people, their employees and customers, will thrive in the coming years. Here at Villanova, we have always known the value of analytics. In this dawning age of more data and greater computing power, its value is only going to grow. It needs to be done well and be built on strong methodological foundations, and it’s why we created a certification program in HR Analytics inside our MS program. What data does your organization have or should have to improve its functioning and impact its employees and customers? gave Villanova the best chance of winning at the start of the tournament at an 18% probability, 4 points higher than Virginia. Of course, with last night’s overwhelming victory over Michigan, predicting that Villanova would win its second national title in two years may look obvious in hindsight. The trick is to do it in advance and that’s what predictive people analytics is all about. Who knows what type of analytics Jay Wright uses? I suspect that the team benefited from them. And when combined with what he preaches on attitude, playing a strong defense, being multi-dimensional, the importance of team, and playing “Villanova basketball,” the result is what was on display during the 2018 NCAA tournament by the Wildcats!


Gerry Brandon, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is the Director of the Graduate Programs in Human Resource Development at Villanova and an Associate Professor. Learn more about him here!

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