Integrating Analytics with Empathic Understanding

I was having a conversation with a doctoral candidate about her research using portraiture to study pioneer women leaders in her native culture; a post-colonial society traditionally male dominated. The student had not lived in her home country for more than 20 years. In describing her experience of conducting the interviews she expressed how the process made her feel her former culture in a way that she had lost. That experience was why she wanted to use portraiture rather than statistical analytics.  Her comments paralleled a conversation I had with a former student who remarked at how his children were being impacted by the teaching to the test and use of analytics in their school. Increasingly it was scores and indexes not connection with the world that was being developed. These conversations triggered a connection in my mind about the need for integrating analytics and qualitative analysis.

In today’s world analytics, which typically means numbers, are critical. However, they have to connect to the real world and connecting them to the real world requires empathic understanding. Such understanding only comes from lived experience and inquiring into what’s behind the numbers; further connecting the numbers to what’s meaningful in terms of making sense of a complicated or complex world.  And even as analytics have come to dominate the discourse in business and education the need for connectedness in using analytics is critical.

This is very observable in the findings of a study recently published by the Conference Board that I did with Dr. Amy Lui Abel, Strategic Talent Management: Where We Need to Go.  Linking Talent Management with results through rigorous analytics was essential. Equally, essential were developing social capital across the organization through bridging global and local needs and HR with executives. Understanding the organizational culture and the variations across the global context was critical. While the exemplar Chief Talent Officers didn’t refer to ‘qualitative’ it was clear that observation, listening, and learning the culture was important. In the words of one “How I get intel is probably a state of competency. I have relationship capital. I’m having lunch with people but [I’m] asking a certain number of questions. It is important to be a connector.” One advantage of field research is it provides the competencies for being a connector. One needs both skills sets; they complement each other.


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