One of our best 2016 MBA theses on adoption of human resources analytics

A diagnostic model for adoption of human resources analytics in local subsidiaries : Study focused on multi-national enterprises (MNEs) in Sub-Saharan Africa

By:  Kenneth Wanyoto, 2017



Front-line managers and HR practitioners are principal implementers and gatekeepers of HR practice in organisations and as such, the survival of HR analytics is dependent on their concerted effort to enable it. HR analytics is one of the concepts that organisations can use to become more efficient and effective and to ultimately survive. Whilst the field of HR analytics presents opportunities it is, unfortunately, fraught with several internal and external challenges starting with the alignment of key actors perceptions. This research focuses on the predictors of the degree of adoption of HR analytics.

In this research, extensive literature was reviewed to identify which constructs best apply in the context of the sampled subsidiaries of MNE organisations. A quantitative study carried out using a survey monkey questionnaire in which data from 256 front-line managers and HR practitioners in the subsidiaries of 6 Multinational Enterprises was collected. From the study, a model was developed that shows the best predictors for the level of adoption of HR analytics.

Findings confirm that dimensions such as organisational culture, the organisation’s strategy and national culture are significant predictors for the level of adoption of HR analytics and its effectiveness. Also, from the study, the alignment of perception and trust on the role of HR analytics in the organisations between key actors was found to be instrumental to its success. Such a model is important for organisations to be able to leverage HR analytics investments and for decision-making.


  • HR Analytics
  • Adoption
  • Organisations
  • Line Managers
  • Decision Making


What motivates employees more: Rewards or punishments?

By: Tali Sharot


The 18th-century polymath Jeremy Bentham once wrote, “Pain and pleasure govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think.” Modern neuroscience strongly supports Bentham’s intuition. The brain’s limbic system, which is important for emotion and motivation, projects to the rest of the brain, influencing every aspect of our being, from our ability to learn, to the people we befriend, to the decisions we make.

It is not surprising, then, that when we attempt to motivate people, we try to elicit an anticipation of pleasure by promising rewards (for example, a bonus, a promotion, positive feedback, public recognition), or we try to warn of the pain of punishment (a demotion, negative feedback, public humiliation). But what’s not always clear is: Which should we be using — the promise of carrots or the threat of sticks? And when?

A study conducted at a New York state hospital provides some answers. The goal of the study was to increase the frequency by which medical staff washed their hands, as sanitization in medical settings is extremely important for preventing the spread of disease. The medical staff is repeatedly made aware of this, and warning signs about the consequences of unsanitized hands are often placed alongside sanitization gel dispensers. Yet cameras installed to monitor every sink and hand sanitizer dispenser in the hospital’s intensive care unit revealed that only 10% of medical staff sanitized their hands before and after entering a patient’s room. This was despite the fact that the employees knew they were being recorded.

Then an intervention was introduced: An electronic board was placed in the hallway of the unit that gave employees instant feedback. Every time they washed their hands the board displayed a positive message (such as “Good job!”) and the current shift’s hand-hygiene score would go up. Compliance rates rose sharply and reached almost 90% within four weeks, a result that was replicated in another division in the hospital.

Why did this intervention work so well? The answer provides a general lesson that goes beyond hand washing.

The brilliance of the electronic board was that, instead of using the threat of spreading disease, the common approach in this situation, the researchers chose a positive strategy. Every time a staff member washed their hands, they received immediate positive feedback. Positive feedback triggers a reward signal in the brain, reinforcing the action that caused it, and making it more likely to be repeated in the future.

But why would inconsequential positive feedback be a stronger motivator than the possibility of spreading disease? This may seem odd, but it fits well with what we know about the human brain.

Neuroscience suggests that when it comes to motivating action (for example, getting people to work longer hours or producing star reports), rewards may be more effective than punishments. And the inverse is true when trying to deter people from acting (for example, discouraging people from sharing privileged information or using the organization’s resources for private purposes) — in this case, punishments are more effective. The reason relates to the characteristics of the world we live in.

To reap rewards in life, whether it is a piece of cherry pie, a loved one, or a promotion, we usually need to act, to approach. So our brain has evolved to accommodate an environment in which often the best way to gain rewards is to take action. When we expect something good, our brain initiates a “go” signal. This signal is triggered by dopaminergic neurons deep in the mid-brain that move up through the brain to the motor cortex, which controls action.

In contrast, to avoid bad things — poison, deep waters, untrustworthy people — we usually simply need to stay put, to not reach out. So our brain has evolved to accommodate an environment in which often (though not always) the best way to not get hurt is to avoid action altogether. When we anticipate something bad, our brain triggers a “no go” signal. These signals also originate in the mid-brain and move up to the cortex, but unlike “go” signals, they inhibit action, sometimes causing us to freeze altogether. (Even in situations where real danger is imminent, the freeze response often precedes the fight-or-flight response that may follow it, like a deer in the headlights.)

This asymmetry partially explains why electronic positive feedback was more successful at motivating the medical staff to wash their hands than the threat of illness to themselves and others. There are a number of other reasons too, such as social incentives, that I uncovered when researching and writing my book.

Other work demonstrates how we are biologically wired such that anticipating rewards elicits action. In an experiment led by neuroscientist Marc Guitart-Masip, which I and others collaborated on, we found that volunteers were quicker to press a button (that is, to act) when we offered them a dollar (anticipating a reward) than they were to press a button to avoid losing a dollar (anticipating punishment). However, they did a better job when they were asked not to press buttons (to not act) to avoid losing a dollar than they did when we offered them a dollar in return. In the latter case they sometimes instinctively pressed the button.

While we should be cautious translating such basic research to real-world situations, it would seem that creating positive anticipation in others (perhaps with a weekly acknowledgment of the most productive employee on the company website) may be more effective at motivating action than threatening poor performance with a demotion or pay cut. Fear and anxiety can cause us to withdraw and give up rather than take action and improve. In line with this notion, studies have shown that giving people small monetary rewards for exercising or eating healthily was more effective at changing behavior than warning of obesity and disease.

There is another reason why warnings often have limited impact. Our research has shown that the brain encodes positive information (such as learning that the likelihood of obesity is lower than previously thought) better than negative information (such as learning it is higher). In fact, people often assume negative information is unrelated to them, but view positive information as very much relevant, which generates an optimistic outlook.

When we notice others making suboptimal decisions, we automatically fast forward in our heads and visualize their failure, leading us to warn them about the devastation we envision. But what the research here suggests is that we need to consciously overcome our habit of trying to scare people into action, and instead highlight the rewards that come with reaching our goals.

4 reasons small business owners should let millennials have their way

By: Carol Roth January  31, 2017


If the millennial generation had its own logo, it might have an image of a smart phone superimposed over a participation trophy, right? Not so fast. If the stereotypical view of millennials has you worried about the future of your small business, it’s time to open your mind to the opportunities that a new mindset can bring. Millennials may view the world differently, but their methods sometimes offer significant advantages to your business. Maybe it’s time to stop giving millennials a bad rap and listen to what they have to say. Representing more workers than any other generation in today’s workforce (and an increasing percentage of your customer base, as well), they deserve a little respect. If you understand and embrace the following four traits of millennials, you will see the wisdom of letting them have their way — at least some of the time.

  1. They work smarter, not harder.

What’s wrong with working smarter? Federal legislation ended sweatshops back in 1938, but it didn’t automatically end the belief that long hours of non-stop work create the most output. Millennials who get their jobs done in less time are not lazy, as long as they do good work. In fact, a smart business owner will value that extra efficiency, particularly when a sudden rush order requires more work in less time. If your employees are completing all assignments within a small fraction of their work days, maybe you need to add new challenges to their jobs. But, if you can harness the creative thinking that increased their efficiency, you can use it to develop methodologies that make all workers more effective in their jobs as they create high-quality products and services.

  1. They love their smart phones.

Early 2016 statistics from PEW Research showed that 72 percent of Americans use smart phones, so people of any age are increasingly attached to their devices. Still, millennials are better-versed in using all new technology to stay connected and do some pretty resourceful things. Granted, expressing yourself in 140 characters takes its toll on traditional communication (not to mention spelling), but the loss of one skill can enhance another. Millennials may not excel at small talk during a traditional sales call. However, their communication is succinct and millennial customers may appreciate that attribute.

  1. They have a strong social conscience.

Some millennials may not even accept positions that don’t provide them with meaningful ways to make a better world. On the job, they will be watchful for ways to make operations better for the environment and the community. And, they welcome off-the-job time spent for volunteer endeavors. Don’t let visions of dollar signs stop you from providing time off to volunteer or spending money on the extra containers and time needed to recycle items normally relegated to the trash. By all means, run the numbers to see how your generosity will affect the bottom line, but don’t discount the goodwill and PR that can add value to your business.

  1. They want to be engaged.

Even the top job in the company has some unavoidable drudgery, but you wouldn’t keep your doors open if you faced nothing but repetitious boredom day after day. Previous generations viewed benefits and paychecks as the ultimate reward. Millennials need to care about the work. As a small business owner, you hire people to perform specific jobs, but a small workforce benefits when employees can wear many hats. Do not over-define any position. Let your employees spread their wings within any areas of interest, even if they don’t have the full skill sets in the beginning. Engagement comes from expanded responsibilities and learning. Let your staff see more of the company’s big picture, and your business will benefit from the resulting positive attitudes and creative ideas from employees who stick around longer.

Each generation brings change to your business.

You built your business based on certain ideals and with a great deal of hard work. Changing your core values based on a new generation of employees is neither advisable nor necessary. Still, you have to keep up with a constantly-changing world, and welcoming new thoughts and ideas is essential. It’s time to stop trying to fully assimilate millennials into your traditional business environment, when integrating that environment into new ways of thinking makes good business sense. Learn to take advantage of the benefits that millennials can bring to your business now — before Generation Z starts taking over the workforce!

Two questions to help you become more successful in life, according to a Harvard professor

By: Shana Lebowitz August 4, 2017


Michael Phelps and Winston Churchill make early appearances in Eric Barker’s book, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.” Barker uses them as prime examples of people who succeeded because of — not in spite of — their eccentricities. Phelps has an unusual body type; Churchill was a “paranoid loose cannon.” And yet both found a niche where those oddities would be helpful instead of detrimental, and subsequently rose to the top of their field. It’s a process anyone can replicate (though there are no guarantees that you’ll earn international fame).

Barker spoke to Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda and Mukunda boiled it down to two steps, based on the Leadership Filtration Theory that he developed:


1. Know yourself. You can ask yourself: What are my “signature strengths?” Those are the skills you’re particularly good at.


2. Pick the right pond. Barker recommends asking yourself: “Which companies, institutions, and situations value what I do?”


Barker broke it down further in an interview with Wharton professor Stew Friedman on the Work and Life podcast. He explained that certain personality characteristics might be counterproductive in most situations, and therefore seen as negative qualities in general.

Take stubbornness, for example. Here’s Barker:


“In your standard hierarchical corporation, stubbornness would not be a positive. … But when we talk about entrepreneurs, we always talk about ‘gritty, stick to it, don’t give into failure.’ And what is that? Well, in many cases, that’s stubbornness. There’s many characteristics which can be negative on average, but given the right circumstances, they can become positive.”


Barker went on: “That’s another critical element of that alignment formula of success.” That is, you’ve got to know what you do well and what kind of work environment would allow you to do it.


For Phelps, having a somewhat awkward body type made him a pretty bad runner and dancer — but it also made him an incredible swimmer. For Churchill, being paranoid meant that he was once “deemed unsuitable for the highest offices” — but it also meant he recognized Hitler as a threat to the world.


The bottom line is that you’ll have to do some serious introspection: Are you a rule-breaker? A rule follower? Somewhere in between? And then you’ll have to be honest with yourself about which environments you’re best suited for. Maybe it’s not the corporate world; maybe it’s not starting your own company. It may take some experimentation and even failure, but in the long run you’ll be better positioned for success.

AI Gains Ground With IT and Business Leaders

By: Samuel Greengard September 27, 2017


The opportunities to put AI to work include high-level strategic decision-making, customer service, product development, marketing, cyber-security and much more.

Operating smarter and cost-effectively is the goal of every organization. But gaining deep insights into activities, events and processes is often a daunting task—particularly as the data deluge grows and making real-time decisions becomes a critical requirement. As a result, business and IT leaders across a wide swath of industries are increasingly tapping artificial intelligence (AI) to take insight and performance to an entirely new level.

A 2017 Economist Intelligence Unit report, “Artificial Intelligence in the Real World,” noted that 75 percent of business executives surveyed believe AI will be actively used in their company within the next three years.

“The technology provides answers to important questions, and it delivers transformative capabilities for organizations,” observes Nicola Morini Bianzino, global lead of AI for Accenture. “It helps organizations meet objectives and move to new digital business models.”

Over the past couple of years, AI technology—including cognitive computing, deep learning and other components of machine learning—has taken a giant leap forward. Far more sophisticated features and capabilities have emerged, and the ecosystems of business and IT platforms using AI have expanded dramatically.

“We have gotten to the point where if you don’t move forward with AI—and move fast—you’re at the risk of being left behind,” Bianzino warns.

“AI helps organizations take action quicker and in a more agile manner,” adds Victor Thu, global head of product marketing at Digitate, an AI division of consulting firm TCS.

Diving Into Disruption

The opportunities to put AI to work aren’t lost on today’s business and IT leaders. The technology has ramifications for high-level strategic decision-making, customer service, product development, marketing, cyber-security and much more. Market research firm IDC found that 40 percent of all digital transformation initiatives—and 100 percent of all effective internet of things (IoT) efforts—will plug in cognitive or AI capabilities by 2019.

Yet, it’s tempting for business and IT leaders to think of AI in somewhat monolithic terms. The reality, however, is that it’s a vast array of technologies and solutions that infuse software and systems with greater smarts.

The field spans cognitive computing (an IBM-created term that refers to technology that generally addresses human problems), deep learning (which taps complex artificial neural nets to spot correlations and other patterns), and machine learning (which allows computers to learn and adapt algorithms without human intervention and explicit programming). These fields increasingly overlap and intertwine.

Accenture’s Bianzino says that discussions about AI are rapidly moving away from specific topics such as computer vision, natural-language processing and specific machine learning algorithms—all important and valuable pieces of the puzzle—to a more holistic, nuanced and multidimensional view of the space.

“The focus is on the engagement of a strategy to transform processes and create greater overall value,” he explains. Moving forward, “There’s less of a technology specific view—such as what Alexa can do or how an image processing chip can deliver benefits—than thinking about how to transform a process or solve a major business challenge.”

There are also opportunities to take IT systems and cyber-security to a more advanced level through artificial intelligence. Digitate’s Thu says that the technology can help organizations manage internal IT resources more effectively, pinpoint system problems more quickly, and reduce the risk of breakdowns or outages that could cripple the enterprise.