Studio IX: Hey, Dirk!
Dirk Petersen: Hey!
Studio IX: So let's start with the basics. Tell us who you are
Dirk Petersen: I'm Dirk Petersen.
Studio IX: And what is it you do?
Dirk Petersen: I am building a network of Fortune 500 companies around the theme of people analytics.
Studio IX: And what exactly is people analytics?
Dirk Petersen: It's basically data that you have about your people in your company and the analytics you do to help make the company run more efficiently and hopefully make their lives better and make their work more interesting.
Studio IX: What do you enjoy most about the work?
Dirk Petersen: Meeting and helping smart people in very interesting companies. Our clients include Facebook, other tech companies, such as Vertex and VM Ware, consumer products firms such as Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, and other Fortune 500 companies. Working and meeting those people and helping them think through some of those frontier issues, because it's a really new field, a new area.
Studio IX : How did you get into it? How did you arrive at this point?
Dirk Petersen: About a year and a half ago I was still at the World Bank. I was living in Charlottesville but working in Washington, D.C.. I started thinking about this topic of digital and digitalization’s impact on HR. I reached out to Volker Jacobs whom I’d met at CEB, which is a large publicly traded company in DC (bought by Gartner six months ago).
We started talking about the topic. He was running CEB's business in Germany, Austria and Switzerland at the time. As we started talking about it, we were like you know, this is a really interesting topic, maybe we should do something together. So the two of us decided that yeah, we're going to do something together on that. He would focus on Europe and I would work in the US.
Out of that initial idea our company Insight222 grew that now has its headquarters in London, and offices in Hamburg, San Francisco, and here in Charlottesville. We’re 7 people, soon to be 8, and have 25 clients. I first worked at home, and then I thought maybe a co-working space would be interesting. I looked online, found Studio iX, came by, and the rest is history.
Studio IX: A two-part question for you: What are you passionate about and does this play a part in the work that you do?
Dirk Petersen: That's a really deep question. I think what I figured out that I'm passionate about is to facilitate. I love facilitating in two ways. One, I love to facilitate knowledge and through that help companies get smarter, better, and solve business problems through HR analytics. And I love doing it in person, by being in front of a group and help them get smarter on a topic.
Studio IX: What's an aspect of your work that might surprise people to know?
Dirk Petersen: Oh, goodness.
Studio IX: Or maybe, what's surprising to you?
Dirk Petersen: Surprising to me is how new this field of HR Analytics still is. We've had information about employees for many years. There has been data about people for many, many years, but it's only now in the last three or four years that we've developed tools that actually allow us to get a much more granular insight into employees and their experiences at work.
For example, what we can do now is we can look at employee's emails and employee's calendars and aggregate that and use it to understand how people actually work together in a company, who may be working on similar things, and don’t even know it. We can use it connect them. That's something that I think would probably surprise most people to hear that that's it’s A, possible, and B, not just creepy, but actually could be used for a positive impact.
Studio IX: Right. Is there a memorable story or anything from your work that stands out? A memory?
Dirk Petersen: Yeah, actually last week. We were in a meeting with a group of our clients and prospective clients in Charlotte ... We have meetings in regions and we brought together a group in Charlotte, in a co-working space there. As we were talking, what became clear is that when you think about how people are measured in terms of productivity it's very much still like 20th century. Managers still think that if they see someone at their desk for eight, nine, 10 hours that it’s a sign of ‘working hard’, being productive. And we throw as much email at them as possible, see how much they can manage, and that’s how we think about productivity.
Dirk Petersen: That's very much how we used to do manufacturing in the old days: run every machine at 100% and your factory must be doing well. What happened in manufacturing was Toyota: they basically said let’s not focus on us, let’s focus on the customer. Organize your manufacturing around what the customer needs, so rather than pushing product through the factory, you should pull it out of the factory. If you pull it, it's not about having every machine run at 100% capacity. It's about turning the machine on when you need it and getting the order quickly through the factory.
Dirk Petersen: So if you translate it ... And that was kind of an a-ha moment for all of us... you translate it to people's work: instead of measuring their productivity by how many emails they can respond to, measure it by how fast you get solutions to customer/business problems. If you start measuring it that way, then you can start organizing the entire workflow of individuals around that goal, and that then leads you to say: “do we really need to have a thousand emails a day hitting somebody's inbox? Maybe we shouldn't have to reply all.”
Dirk Petersen: “Maybe we should focus consciously on how do we reduce the volume of emails, of social media, stuff that hits people in a day, so that they can get focused work done quickly.” That's something that's brand new and I'm just starting to think about it and maybe write an article on it.
Studio IX: Yeah, that's exciting!
Dirk Petersen: Thanks. And there are tools now. You can measure now how quickly do people respond to emails and you can develop tools that are a pretty easy jump from where we are now to how fast people get to solutions through their day-to-day work.
Studio IX: Yeah. That's just so cool to see that evolution.
Dirk Petersen: Let's hope it happens.
Studio IX: When I ran an organization I was constantly inundated with email and it burned up so much of my time,
Dirk Petersen: Yeah, and it leads to delays, right? People don't answer you because they can't find your email. You don't answer people because you've got six other things that you think you need to do. It leads to bad choices: I’ll answer the thing I can answer quickly, rather the more important thing that takes a little bit more time.
Studio IX: Where do you see yourself and the industry headed in the next five to 10 years?
Dirk Petersen: I think ... I don't think of ourselves as an industry specifically. I think of us as function specific. So where I see HR heading in the next five to 10 years is a more toward the fundamental rethink of what the role of HR is, based on analytics.
Dirk Petersen: One of the conversations on this topic was in Chicago last week where somebody said, "If HR doesn't focus on analytics and gives it away, passes people analytics into a central function, then we are putting an expiration date on HR."
Dirk Petersen: That means in the future you'll have two kinds of organizations, one that has analytics embedded in every decision, an HR function that is data driven, and then you've got another type of HR function where there's no data analytics, then HR is basically just an admin. In that latter scenario it’s all about automation, driving cost down, and people who work there are going to be just miserable automatons. That kind of shows you my bias of where I want to see HR: with analytics at the center.
Studio IX: What do you enjoy most about working here at Studio iX?
Dirk Petersen: I enjoy the environment. There's a bunch of aspects about it that I really like. One is that over time even though there is no formal introduction to people, you can't help but get to know others... Because you see each other every day, you kind of start feeling they look familiar, so you start talking. That, in conjunction with the monthly events where you have an opportunity to talk to people, it's nice because you get to know people and you get to learn about folks that have a very different career and skill set, different business that they work on, and it enriches your own thinking, gives you another perspective.
Dirk Petersen: I also love the fact that we have a very good coffee shop that not only has decent prices for their coffees (now), and that kind of creates a sense of just casualness that makes it more enjoyable to come in in the morning. I like the fact that we have music playing in the background. That it feels casual and comfortable. I think those are the key things. Yeah.
Studio IX: Thanks, Dirk!