Is Stealth Innovation the Answer to People Analytics?

Jan 20, 2017

Is Stealth Innovation the Answer to People Analytics?

We sometimes grow wary of the term “best practice” when we see it used as a buzzword. It may only be our natural aversion to hype, but perhaps we have been influenced by experience. We have seen rare instances where companies were crammed into canned solutions on the basis that it was “best practices,” only to find the solution did not fit.

So, when respected analyst David Green published an article about best practice in people analytics, we dove right in to see what he meant.  What we found is a well-researched, insightful discussion of the mindset and methods that will ensure success. Green outlines 15 characteristics successful organizations share—a complete high-level roadmap to effective people analytics HR

Green starts his list with a discussion of purpose. Successful teams learn the business and focus on what matters.[1] This is characteristic of the companies who have worked with us. Every one of them has had a primary focus on business results.

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Executive Involvement in People Analytics

His next point was the requirement for executive support. We had to stop and think about his opening statement: “Without CHRO and senior executive involvement your people analytics adventure is probably doomed from the start.”[2]

While we agree that an involved CHRO is essential, there are many organizations where HR does not have executive support. We have been reading for years about the lack of confidence in HR’s understanding of the business and analytical competence. The SHRM Foundation’s May 2016 report on people analytics complained about a “residual mistrust” of HR capabilities among a significant minority of CEOs and CFOs.[3] Bersin by Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report said HR analytics was “stuck in neutral,” though more recent reports are more encouraging.[4]

In an organization where the default answer to innovative thinking is “NO” and the CFO gets squinty-eyed at the prospect of investment in analytics, how will a forward-thinking CHRO gain traction?



Stealth Innovation

This line of thinking brought us around to the concept of “stealth innovation.” The idea of developing initiatives under the radar isn’t new. Harvard Business Review published an article supporting the stealth innovation in 2013. The idea is to quietly develop a concept and escape an executive decision until it is proven. Courageous people have had success.[5]

The risk stems from the use of resources. Allocating any assets or people to an unauthorized project creates questions of trust. The managers who have the authority to spend resources also have the responsibility to use them in meeting the objectives for which they are authorized. That authority is where an enterprising CHRO can find leverage.

Start with a Business Problem

Forget about stealth and work on a business issue. Resist the urge to get top-level permission to engage in measurement and get it done with the authority you have. It does not have to be a secret.

Somewhere in your organization is a leader with P&L responsibility who could become an ally. That potential partner has objectives to meet and authority to achieve them. He or she may already be doing it without knowing.

As we recommended in our eBook Align Learning and Development to Business, an HR manager or executive can initiate conversations about performance and act as a consultant to help a line-of-business leader to meet objectives. Our eBook describes using a learning intervention to improve performance, but any well-executed intervention could be a catalyst.

No stealth is needed. You have two (or more) people using their allocated resources to achieve their assigned business objectives. Remember the adage, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission? You may already have permission. No forgiveness required.


1. Green, David. "What constitutes best practice in people analytics?" LinkedIn Pulse. January 16, 2017

2. "Use of Workforce Analytics for Competitive Advantage." SHRM Foundation EIU Report. May 2016.

3. “Global Human Capital Trends 2015.” Deloitte University Press. Retrieved ‎December ‎5, ‎2016. 

4. Miller, Paddy, and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg. "The Case for Stealth Innovation." Harvard Business Review. December 19, 2014. 

Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.

Guide 16 - Building the Business Case for People Analytics

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