During my first semester of college, a good friend and I decided we needed a great adventure in our college experience, so we decided to go skydiving. But we also decided that we needed the full experience – jumping on our own and not being strapped to an instructor. We attended hours of training and then the time came for our jump. I exuded confidence on the ground while masking the very appropriate nervousness. After reaching our jump height of about 10,000 feet above the ground, the door of the plane was opened, and it was time to climb out on to the wing strut. I had an instructor on each side of me, and, of course, a cameraman to record the whole event. The “jump” was more of a letting go action and then the fall began. The cold, bitter wind whipped against my body as I fell at more than 100 miles per hour. The fall was odd, though, in that it never quite felt like falling even as the ground remained very far below me. After 30 seconds of freefall, I pulled my chute and slowed my fall from more than 100 miles per hour to about five miles per hour in a couple of seconds. I then had many minutes to slowly come back to the ground, enjoy the views and reflect on the experience.

As I look back on the experience now, I see the event very differently. My jump was not really a solo effort.  I had a team behind me from pilots, jump instructors, a cameraman, and a good friend to encourage me and help me be successful. As I consider this experience in the context of our different companies, people are one of the most important and valuable assets we have. I personally believe that most people understand the value of the people around them in an organization. However, few organizations have the capability to truly measure the impacts of people and identify clear and measurable ways to help people (and the organization) perform better.

In September 2015, Microsoft announced the acquisition of a company called VoloMetrix. This acquisition was one that caught my attention as VoloMetrix was pioneering ways to better quantify and measure the impact of people. After the acquisition was completed, the group began working on two new services that would build on the Office 365 platform – MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics. The MyAnalytics tool provides a personal and individual way to measure collaboration while Workplace Analytics (WpA) provides a tool focused on the entire company, specific divisions, or service teams. WpA takes many of its core signals from Office 365 and data found from emails, meetings, and Skype conversations while allowing additional data sources to be combined like data from a CRM system, employee survey, social media usage, and more. These data points can then be combined to drive rich insight into an organization.

WpA has been deployed in several major companies identifying amazing trends, ways to improve, and ways to help people be more productive at work. For example, one company found a single meeting being held by the more senior leadership team was costing the company more than 300,000 productivity hours every year with a total financial cost of about $30M! The reason was due to all the planning and review meetings that would happen across multiple levels in the organization to prepare for this meeting. Or, another organization with a large campus and numerous buildings was able to identify a significant amount of lost time with teams going between buildings. Making some adjustments to their facilities plan reduced the amount of travel time required significantly giving people back more time to get their real jobs done.

A study was published in the Harvard Business Review last year where WpA data was used to better understand the impact a manager has on their team. WpA was able to clearly demonstrate how team members will follow the behavior of their manager in both meetings and how they manage personal time on the weekend. In many of the cases the manager was not trying or asking the team to work – the behaviors of the manager, though, changed the behaviors of the team.

Real people data, applied correctly, has the potential to help make significant business change and drive significant return on investment. I see people data, and the transformation that can come from that data, as one of the top ways organizations can drive business innovation and transformation. This data can be used to identify hidden communication channels in an organization, identify where different groups are not working together well, confirm how well groups are coming together in an acquisition, improve the layout of physical space and buildings, identify and drive best practices, and getting deeper insights into how a group or department are working.

The first time I saw WpA being used and the insights it could provide, I was excited about what we might do with the tool. Over the last several months I have had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest and most insightful people I know as we have not only implemented WpA within Hitachi Consulting, but also created a new solution based on WpA. Identifying the patterns and behaviors helps generate insight into the organization, but the real power is making meaningful and lasting change. Our Organizational Effectiveness team is focused on helping organizations implement new technologies, communications, training, but most importantly, helping organizations achieve successful and meaningful change.

While the WpA service has been referred to several times here, driving change does not come from a product. It comes from hard work, a desire to improve, measuring the progress, and adjusting along the way. And, most importantly, being willing to change.

Over the next several weeks we will be sharing details on successful organizational change, behavioral analytics, and moving towards a people-centric analytics platform that can better help identify areas for improvement, find best practices, identify new business opportunities, and improve the overall organization. Click the link to view the published overview on our workplace analytics solution.

People are the most important asset any company has and the most successful people in an organization have always been surrounded by a team helping them. Understanding what makes a group successful can drive meaningful change as other groups adopt those best practices. This is why WpA is such a powerful tool and why I am so excited to share more about our journey with WpA.