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The data driven HR function powering WeWork’s explosive growth

data driven HR data driven HR
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Soo Hong established the people function at one of the world’s most exciting startups. She waved goodbye to traditional approaches to talent, and brought data to the fore.

Receiving $1.4 billion in funding since opening its doors in 2010, the New York based shared-office startup is now valued at $16 billion with around 50,000 members globally spanning 21 cities around the world.

The sheer size, talent and energy of its global community is something never seen before from a co-working space, and each new location is aimed to inspire and stimulate the informal interactions that stir innovation among its members.

Such rapid growth, however, has meant hiring a huge number of people in a short timeframe, which can often be the Achilles heel of businesses experiencing hyper-growth.

It is for this reason that Soo Hong was brought in by the two founders, and has overseen the growth of the business from 250 to 1200 employees since joining at the start of 2015.

Hong shared with Hot Topics the story of her journey, as well as some ideas on creating a data driven HR function.

HT: What makes the people function at WeWork different from other HR departments?

When your professional passion of helping people discover the best version of themselves intersects with the company you work for whose mission it is to do that for its members, it is the perfect storm.

And in the past year, I have had the pleasure of watching WeWork grow from 250 to 1200 employees worldwide. It has been quite a ride.

We count on the people we hire to deliver against our mission, and so in creating people programs and paying very close attention to how we recruit, create experiences, deliver training, our culture is very different to what you would traditionally imagine.

We concern ourselves with doing things in the right way, which we go about through constant testing, constantly looking at data and also using research to continually improve.

HT: Given the immense growth WeWork has seen over the course of the past year, hiring must have been paramount. How are you using data to help ensure your hiring methods are working effectively?

So, my background before WeWork was not just in the people business, but actually in commercial management consulting.

Running regressions and looking at data has always been a passion of mine, so when I shifted into people issues, I sought ways to apply analytics for people insights.

To give you an example, when I first joined we said that we were going to grow 2 or even 3X from the 250 employees we already had.

Now, I knew coming from an executive search background that whenever you put data into a system, what usually happens is as follows: garbage in, garbage out. If the quality of information you capture in the first circumstance isn’t great, the decisions you make ultimately can’t be great either.

It is for this reason that I felt we needed to implement a robust applicant tracking system, a system that was able to capture from our largely millennial population, (who frankly don’t have a lot of time) the information that would determine whether or not someone would be a great cultural fit.

And so now for every interview we do, we have a very simple scorecard; thumbs up or thumbs down. We look at this data retrospectively against the hires we make, comparing it with the interviewing panel that were involved in hiring that particular person.

We then look at how is the hire doing after 90 days or even 6 months?

This way we can see start to see who the best culture testers are in our company from an interview panel standpoint.

We had some hypotheses initially, those we thought were real culture carriers, but it is amazing to see in the data, based on scorecards, based on who got hired and based on how these individuals performed, who is most effective at candidate assessment.

HT: What approach do you take to understanding how happy and engaged your workforce is?

I was at a conference earlier this year and there were many HROs and Chief People Officers, all of whom are extremely esteemed and for whom I have so much respect.

They were talking about employee surveys, and I suddenly remembered 15 years ago when I was part of a large-scale employee survey programme, the kind of questions they were asking and the type of data that would have been produced off the back of it.

Contrasting the end result of these massive one size fits all surveys with what we are trying to achieve at WeWork, and because of the nature of our culture, doing a comprehensive survey didn’t seem quite right for us.

I wasn’t sure what we’d get back would be as informative as empirical behavioural data, which probably stems from my early exposure to quantitative marketing.I much prefer looking at what people actually do, not what they say that they will do.

So, one of the proxies we’ve been watching as a people team, is the percentage of our employees that refer friends or someone they know to come and work for WeWork.

What we’ve seen over the course of the year was that employee referral have grown 3-4X, meaning between 30 and 40 percent of our workforce have referred somebody to work here.

These numbers make us feel like we’re doing good things, or at least trending directionally well. I mean, what kind of friend is going to refer someone to work somewhere if they are miserable at work?

There are a lot of things looked at by traditional HR leaders, but we actually think there are other ways to look at information and data to really lay the foundations of a data driven and progressive HR function that works well for WeWork and our mission.

HT: What steps are you taking to ensure diversity in the WeWork employee population?

I am really proud of the fact that we have an incredibly diverse workforce.

Our front line facing team, our community department, has a very balanced ratio of gender (near 50-50), and actually in 2016 so far, we have seen more women promoted than men at WeWork.

I think that’s a really powerful statement, that one of our most important departments (who really impact our member experience and our overall business) has such diversity. .

We’re also very conscious of the fact that we are training young men and women to become real leaders.

With this in mind we look at data to monitor that, and provide opportunities for these individuals through the implementation of an extremely robust global platform that allows team members to see how they’re doing. .

The day that we launched, we wanted to find out whether or not certain teams were more engaged than others, and whether certain teams were more likely to log on through their mobile app versus online.

On the first day as it turns out, we had over 50% of our team log on and conduct a transaction.

Initially I wasn’t sure how I felt about just 50%, but the external implementation partner told me that in the history of this platform, they had never seen activation numbers so high.

I believe it is all about creating a culture where you use data to get feedback about your teams, so that we can improve the overall experience and make people feel that they are really and supported in doing their life’s work.