Work, People & Place: The Art and Science of Workplace Analytics
The art and science of the workplace is the ability to understand how to help people work together to optimize human and organizational performance. Collecting and diagnosing organizational intelligence about how an organization works can help harness the greatest value for your organization. Specifically, it can help you and your teams become more agile and more ready to do the work for tomorrow.
In this Workplace Unplugged interview, we sat down with Kevin Schlueter, Founder and President of WPA North America. WPA is the global leader in visual workforce and workplace analytics. WPA provides a complete visual representation of an organization’s work and people to help leaders and managers make quick evidence-based decisions about their human capital at work.
Kevin has 25 years of experience in innovation in real estate and workplace strategy. He is passionate about human performance and the evolution of knowledge work. We asked him to tell us more about his unique background and experience.
KS: My background really starts in being kind of an innovative thinker and having a high entrepreneurial and strategic spirit, however my college degree was in finance and accounting. Early in my career I went to work for one of the large CPA business advisory firms in the United States. I worked there for a handful of years and after that I jumped into the construction industries, development world, real estate, and design build industry in finance and operation roles.
I also got very involved in national associations that were serving those industries and that was very good learning for me. I learned from a lot of my peers and predecessors and people who I was motivated by about the real estate industry and it’s too often lack of strategic foresight. My peers would verbalize their frustrations and I was thinking to myself, “real estate shouldn’t be this frustrating. Real estate should essentially be a joyous, strategic and opportunistic experience for everyone involved. It has an exponential effect on the success of an organization. It’s a multiplier.”
To overcome this challenge, Kevin created a consultancy that helped organizations understand their needs for real estate and why it was valuable to them. Leveraging his financial background, he was able to quantify those metrics in real, quantitative business terms.
KS: So I created a consultancy and when we created that consultancy we built our team with human resource and organizational development professionals, communications professionals, these types of people – it wasn’t with real estate people. Because I knew inherently that the only answers had everything to do with the DNA of the organization, its people, the work that they do and their strategic plans. So that’s how we built ourselves.
In the process of building his consultancy, Kevin discovered WPA and deployed it on a few of his clients in North America. He found that the program was doing exactly what his consultancy intended to do all along. WPA diagnoses and makes recommendations based on the DNA and the specific attributes and work dynamic and people of an organization so that balanced, informed decisions can be made.
KS: So in the middle of that consultancy we really slowed that process down and invested our time and energy in WPA and that’s when I created WPA North America so we could serve, distribute, deploy and learn more about WPA and work with partners who wanted to focus on the future of the advanced economy, which is how people work together to create the greatest value for their organization.
We asked Kevin to tell us more about WPA, what it measures and how organizations would use it.
KS: WPA which started off being known as workplace analytics has really evolved into work people analytics and work performance analytics. And while the basis of WPA hasn’t changed, it continues to evolve as a program and process. WPA is really focused on understanding an organization’s work dynamic, people dynamic, and culture. So the things that we measure in an organization are people’s very specific behaviors – we are trying to understand what work activity they are doing. For example, am I doing a lot of analyzing or brainstorming or am I doing very specific productive heads-down work? Or am I doing coaching and mentoring and these types of activities?
WPA is completely visual, demographic driven, and interactive. Kevin tells us how you can see and measure your work activities, mobility, human capital, relationships, culture, and environment; the footprint that is unique to your organization.
KS: We also measure the levels of collaboration and complexity of work tasks. So that we have a very keen insight into activities being done, their different levels of collaboration or non-collaboration and the relative complexity of that work. The other things that we tend to measure for an organization are critical relationships. When we are doing those activities, who are we doing them with and how important is it that we have their input to those processes and where are we handing work off to? These are Value Networks or how teams are working together.
We also measure the use of technology, we measure how mobile a workforce is and where work isbeing done. And that could be, quite frankly, anywhere in the world if you think about it in terms of where work is being done. And then we measure the culture of the organization. In simple terms, we measure the culture of the internal team work and we measure the culture of the external market facing or client facing work of the organization.
It’s the total of that information that really helps leaders, consultants and even individual teams and managers within an organization understand themselves and see themselves at work. It is an extraordinarily powerful and quick diagnostic that has action built in.
Kevin tells us what is really important about WPA’s solution is the ability to algorithmically define the work environment that will best support the people in the organization, strongly noting that “work environment” must be a very holistic term focused on people and work.
KS: In terms of physical workspace we never ask respondents to weigh in on what work environment is best for them or what they think is best for them. As a simple example, we never ask respondents if they need a desk or not. Conclusions must be drawn from understanding how you are working. Then it is very easy to algorithmically show them the types, the volumes, the number of work types they need and it is also very easy to show them who needs to be co-located or who can work in a more distributed fashion. So you can figure out very key adjacencies and identify mobility support needs.
Those are some of the algorithmic components of the program that come out of the data itself. It’s important to note that most knowledge workers don’t know what work environment they really need because it is not their job or expertise. If I am a scientist or if I am a credit analyst I don’t really know the world of real estate and space and environment support such as technologies or training – that’s for experts in the architecture industry and so many other associated industries. THese are the professionals that know what can apply and what can optimize. What those consultants need to know, however, is the work you are doing, then they can create beautiful, valuable solutions.
THIS is how you tie the value of solutions back to the business. What is unfortunate is that too many people start at the end, with the solution rather than the beginning, which is the work and people of the organization. In fact, if you’re not deeply diagnosing work and people of that specific organization, I challenge that you’re just guessing and that’s reckless disregard for an organization.
In other words, WPA’s program and its engaging process diagnoses an organization just as a doctor would diagnose a patient.
KS: Exactly. A doctor doesn’t prescribe you pills based on somebody else’s medical records and they certainly don’t just prescribe a pill without really understanding who you are, diagnosing you and doing tests on you.
Once they have that information it is very easy for them to say ”Oh here’s your prescription” So WPA is very much on the diagnostic end so that we and the consultants and the people we support can create beautiful, valuable and globally aware prescriptive answers and solutions for their clients.
The WPA client base spans Europe, Australia, and North America and has analyzed over 90,000 employees worldwide. We asked Kevin what the biggest differences were in WPA findings of North America compared to Europe and Australia.
KS: My partners in Europe have less of a challenge in promoting workplace strategy as a high corporate initiative. Workplace strategy is much more readily understood and acted upon as a strategic initiative by the C-suites in Europe and Australia. In the United States, workplace strategy itself is understood by C-suites because they understand the importance of culture and the whole work environment but it still has not risen to the level of being a critical corporate initiative for these organizations. So that’s one of the challenges in North America, saying that workplace strategy matters. But that has also been a real opportunity for WPA because WPA is really less about workplace strategy and is more about understanding human capital. And optimizing human capital IS a high corporate initiative in North America in the c-suite, specifically human agility and readiness.
With the many changes in the way we work over the past decade, there is growing importance of COWs (Chiefs of Work) to high-performing organizations. We asked Kevin to tell us more about the role of a COW and why more and more workplaces can benefit from having a COW on their team.
KS: We believe that every organization needs a Chief of Work and that the Chief of Work is really responsible for understanding the work environment and understanding what people need to do their best work within an organization. What’s unique about that is that it requires a different skill set to be a Chief of Work. That person, in general, needs to be able to do several things. They need to be able to understand human capital so they have to have a human resource or an organizational understanding – they need to understand people and teams. They also need to understand, at least at a high level how work environment and support systems help a team function. So they need to understand the effect of things like technologies, the built environment, even training and development programs and organizational dynamics in an organization. I also challenge that they need to understand financial performance in an organization. Having those skill sets make them most prepared to evolve work in an organization on almost a day-to-day basis.
That’s where we see the chief of work as being very critical because our research has told us that the only thing that we are really doing in these big knowledge workforces anymore is figuring out how to get humans to work well together and to produce the way that they need to produce for their organizations. That is the art and science of today and it will be the art and science of tomorrow and that’s what WPA is intensively immersed in.
We asked Kevin to share the most challenging thing about his role.
KS: It is two fold. Number one since everything that we talk about and that we are doing in this industry is only about people and work, there is a tremendous amount of complexity so there aren’t any silver bullet solutions. There is a significant amount of research, trying, testing, learning and doing. So the difficulty is that we are talking about humans working together and that is extraordinarily complex and dynamic. At the same time that is probably the most beautiful and gratifying thing and I think that is one of our great strengths at WPA. We truly are one of the only programs that engages a workforce in the most successful way. Because we are not focused on likes and dislikes and their feelings on things, we are focused on the work they are doing and how to help them do that better. So number one is people.
Number two is drawing that line from people to quantifying it directly into the financial performance and other success metrics of an organization. And we get better at that day by day but that’s probably the other difficult thing.
Those two things that I shared, understanding humans at work, and drawing lines from work into how that quantifies in terms of success reveals itself in terms of how you market and sell to others as well. People ask ‘why is this valuable how does this matter?’ It matters because work and people are the ONLY way that an organization can be successful. In fact, the organization that is better at this will be the organization that wins. Further, one of the things WPA does extraordinarily well is that we take very complex matter and make it very simple to see, understand and use.