Work Analytics Podcast - Coffee Chat with Stela Lupushor

We are so excited to start our Coffee Chat series for our Work Analytics podcast with an interview with an esteemed expert in the field of People Analytics, Stela Lupushor. For those who don't know her, Stela has written two books on Hybrid and Remote work, teaches at New York University, and has been a practitioner in the field of HR analytics for more than 25 years. Please watch our interview below or read the transcript for details and great insights into the trends and key changes she is seeing in this fast evolving dynamic industry.


00:00:00 Shwetha Pai

Thank you, Stella, for being with us.

00:00:02 Shwetha Pai

We wanted to chat with you really quickly about the big trends you're seeing and all the work that you've done so far with the remote hybrid people analytics space as well as in the diversity analytics space.

00:00:17 Shwetha Pai

Thank you so much.

00:00:18 Shwetha Pai

Welcome and I'm really excited to hear more.

00:00:20 Stela Lupushor

My pleasure. I hope it's OK if I have the water instead of coffee.

00:00:24 Shwetha Pai

No, no worries. Whatever works for you.

00:00:29 Shwetha Pai

So let me just ask you, I want to hear about the two books that you've now written, or you're about to publish the 2nd, but you already published one book with Anna, so I want to hear more.

00:00:46 Stela Lupushor

And I think these two books, it's interesting that they both come on the same year, although I started writing the second book much earlier than the first one.  So somehow the book was on a we had that much more compressed timeline and got published much faster.  So the first one for the audience is humans at work, and that came out in March. And then the second book is called Humanizing Human Capital and that one is Co written with Solange Charles. The two books are coming at the world of work from 2 directions 1 so the one the humans at work, it's more of a philosophical, historical, conceptual frameworks on how we can think from HR perspective, from workplace perspective, of creating a differentiated workplace experience.  I intentionally am not using the word employee because I believe the workforce is a broader and a lot more inclusive term.  I also intentionally focus on the workplace, because workplace is no longer a physical space, it's no longer an IT technology stack, it's the integration of the two, and it requires a different design, different set of technologies with different set of insights and analytics to create that experience.

So in the humans at work we dive into how the world of work is changing, how we see that workforce composition shifting in light of demographic changes and lot of different expectations and different. A relationship that workers now expect to build with organizations. How did that definition of workplace is shift and how might we use technology? Or how might we use design thinking? How might we use analytics to inform how we change the workplace?

In the second book, the Humanizing Human Capital we espouse the same human centricity, but we make it compelling for business leaders to use data and quantify the impact of different actions they make to create a better experience and visualize why it's important to invest in it.

So, think of it to look at the organization as a whole system and look at the workforce, and then using analytics to look at the impact we want to make in a more meaningful way.  So does the employee experience change as a result of investing in certain programs and certain capabilities, does the program itself has a certain level of efficiency? Does it meets its expected goal because many times we deploy a lot of system, it all sounds sexy, right?  They sound great, but they don't end up being great. The last group is how might we link what happens in the world of the workforce and how that impacts the business outcomes be that customer satisfaction and PS scores, revenue and kind of the bottom line numbers etc. So we walk through the end to end lifecycle and give examples of different kinds of analytics and measurements themselves that can be used to quantify the impact of actions you're making and and investments you're making in workforce experience.

00:04:15 Shwetha Pai

Yeah, that's interesting. So what are the kind of big high level trends that you've seen as you've been doing a lot of you know research it sounds like on both sides with the data that is available which is often novel, right?  Because we haven't had this much data available for companies to use even if they wanted to, and now expectations are changing.  So what are the big trends? Where's the intersection of both data and expectations? What are you seeing as you look forward?

00:04:47 Stela Lupushor

I think there is a tension that is brewing. On one side, it's exciting to be in the world of analytics because we can quantify so many things, we have access to so much data, we can see patterns, we can create nudges, we can create recommendations, we can look at the network, we can answer a lot of questions previously unanswerable so.

00:05:00 Shwetha Pai

Yeah, exactly

00:05:07 Stela Lupushor

The world of HR became easier because now we have facts. We can sit at the table and say, you know, this person is important to be retained because they hold the kind of the integration between two vast networks and if this person leaves, you're going to lose that relationship between two big cohorts in our organization. Compared to previously, it was more of a well who knows whom, how long people have been, did they have more presence in the office versus working from home? So very subjective values that made it into decision making. On the flip side, I think we are really starting to get to a point where HR has also the responsibility to step into this conversation and have the right to say time out. We cannot use this kind of data for these kinds of decisions.

00:06:03 Shwetha Pai


00:06:03 Stela Lupushor

Let's look at the negative impact on certain minority groups. Let's make sure that just because we can measure that is the right thing to do. There's a a podcast I listen I think on The Daily is about the quantification of Productivity and all of these auditory solutions.

00:06:18 Shwetha Pai

Yeah, I I heard that.

00:06:20 Stela Lupushor

You heard that right.

00:06:23 Stela Lupushor

In pursuit of trying to ensure people are productive, we are minimizing the human aspect that is impossible to quantify.  So we are really at the precipice, where they need the language, they need the skills and they need the business acumen to be able to make those determinations and engage in conversations with eager analytics solutions or business leaders that are narrowly focused only on one number at the bottom of the page to make sure that humans are not missed in the process and we are not creating down side effects that at this point in time we can't even think of or attempt to define. I think you heard on that podcast right where there was a point system where top ones were given based on the type of engagement with family of those who are about to die or visits they need to to people in the hospital. That's such a wrong way of using analytics and I think in the world of of work we have so many opportunities to use it for better bettering the human conditions as opposed to just myopically focusing on business outcomes.

00:07:37 Shwetha Pai

Yeah, exactly.  So, How do you see when you're looking at all the research and all the work that you've been doing with so many companies, how do you see that, that kind of balance playing out in the long run?

00:07:49 Stela Lupushor

I think it'll be, as with any tensions, right, the pull and push there will be a push for more quantification and we see that companies are realizing they cannot address the shortages in labor with just, you know, paying more because people at the end they're not going to necessarily come even though you're paying potentially more. You'll have to automate certain things, so the ability to automate it of course will give a lot more ways to shift work that shouldn't be human in the 1st place to automation. On the flip side, I think we will have humans that are going to feel disenfranchised and disempowered like in that example in the podcast where every 10 minutes there is a system that captures the screen and if you happen to be looking away or not typing within the last 30 seconds, the whole 10 minutes goes away and you're not getting paid for it.

So the quality of how the data is captured and how the decisions are being made will have to be scrutinized increasingly more and more. And I think when when we deploy AI solutions, the challenge is this, you know, conflict between, well, we cannot disclose how our algorithm works because then we'll disclose intellectual property. That kind of argument probably will hold just for a little bit longer until there will be a bigger demand for disclosures, for transparency, for responsible design of a lot of these algorithms, so the end users can understand, not. Only how the decisions are made, but how might we change it to improve the accuracy of recommendations or kind of the the decisions that are being made as a result of it?  The other I think challenge will continue to see is this shift between traditional workforce and non traditional workforce. I think there is a huge shift towards independence. We saw people who during the pandemic first they had to predominantly parents they quit just because they couldn't cope with.

00:09:52 Shwetha Pai

Right. They could manage, but...

00:09:56 Stela Lupushor

Manage and it's difficult to bring a lot of them back, right?  Huge amount of older workers are retiring or choosing early retirement. There aren't enough babies being born, so our fertility rate is declining. So technically we, unless we figure out a different way of resolving the immigration issue or automating there aren't going to be enough workers to begin with, and we will have to think about where we find talent and how we engage with them, right?  It's no longer, well, you'll be a full time employee and therefore we control the time and how you work. It's now about can we engage with you regardless of how long you want to come to work for us, be that for a day, for a project, or for lifetime?  And how might we make this relationship fair? Not everybody wants to be, you know, 150% engaged. Not everybody comes to work for anything beyond the paycheck. So how from analytics perspective can we look at the demands and needs and values and expectations and then personalize that experience because we've been so conditioned to have a one-size-fits-all a set of offerings and no longer that will be.

I think the workers as consumers already have learned that a lot of things can be personalized, a lot of things can be tailored. Why can't we expect the same thing from the work?

00:11:29 Shwetha Pai

Right, That's an interesting take. You're absolutely right.  On one hand, we have that that push or this pressure to commoditize knowledge workers the way that you know, way that we've seen kind of more blue collar work be commoditized over, you know,  the Industrial Age really ao there is that that need for hey, can we commoditize that and use technology like you've mentioned but then on the same. On the same, at the same time, we also have knowledge workers and in general skilled labor being so minimal and in so much demand that, yeah, where is that balance that's really interesting and I love that personalization, yeah, I mean, I think that is one of the big trends that we are constantly seeing is this, move to, it's not just about being fully remote or hybrid, it's about being flexible to your needs.

00:12:31 Stela Lupushor

There's another trend that I think we're somewhat of  not too early, but still early compared to other workplace trends like hybrid. I see a lot more effort and energy around building ecosystems. I think organizations are realizing they no longer can solve a lot of these workforce issues alone, right? When it comes to solving access to talent pools, you really need to engage with the local workforce development with educational institutions, and with different development partners with local infrastructure to make sure people have bandwidth and their broadband access, transportation, childcare. So they are thinking a little bit more holistically and trying to organize the the players in a way that supports this end to end value creation.

I'll give a couple of examples just to make it real. A few years ago, Lowe's, the big warehouse organization, has realized that there are fewer and fewer. People who are coming into the trades business, it's not sexy, it's not, you know, advertised as everybody goes into it in software development and all the other things.

00:13:42 Shwetha Pai

Right, right. Yeah, yeah.

00:13:45 Stela Lupushor

But trades people are really critical. They're in high demand. There's all these need for those kind of skills. And what was interesting is their current workforce predominantly used to be contractors. Former contractors that would have all the skills and knowledge and then they would retire, they would come to work fellows, be able to advise the customers, etc.

00:14:08 Shwetha Pai

Yeah, yeah.

00:14:08 Stela Lupushor

Newer workforce didn't have that skills because they contractors would stay and keep the business open just because there's such a huge demand.  And so what Lowe’s brilliantly did, they created a whole chain of developing internal employees. They partnered with the trades guilt to have hands on training for employees over a period of nine or 12 months and then another 9 to 12 months of apprenticeship. And they formed the relationship was a variety of employers who provided apprenticeship opportunities. And additionally, then at the end of the program, the employees were expected to leave to become contractors and as a result come and provide services on part of this bigger ecosystem.

00:14:55 Shwetha Pai

Yeah, yeah.

00:14:59 Stela Lupushor

Another example of this type of it's more geographic driven, so Buffalo, the city of Buffalo. They are creating this local Tier 2 talent ecosystem where people can leave, earn, learn, have entertainment. So the Real estate development is involved. The local employers are pulling money together to create boot camps for people who want to upskill themselves in digital skills. They are attracting investors and venture funds they are attracting a whole collection of startups focused on fintech and biotech. They are investing in entertainment and stadiums.

00:15:40 Shwetha Pai

Wow, I didn't know that  

00:15:44 Stela Lupushor

So the way of solving talent issues because you do need to think about a lot of those adjacent issues. You need to think about the commute time in order to make it compelling and attractive. So I feel like that's an interesting model, that it's evolving and obviously no one owns everything, but you have to have champions across the entire network to be able to bring everybody together to have that conversation and drive the change in the system.

00:16:12 Shwetha Pai

And you need companies involved, to your point about workplace being not just about a physical location anymore, it's how your cities that you are operating in now work exactly.  That's an interesting, that's an interesting trend. I mean, you know where I think there was always this push from companies, well, there's been this push that companies #1 focus should be about shareholder value, right? But now because of this, I'm wondering if that will shift to be that we have to build communities so that we can have attract the right type of workers and think about worklife balance, right?  You are providing a model that we didn't necessarily have before.

00:17:05 Stela Lupushor

Or have a language or a definition for HR, right? It's a network driven insights.



00:17:11 Stela Lupushor

You at the network level provide recommendations, you observe patterns or how people communicate with each other, how managers engage and you create those type of recommendations for the network. Imagine that at the broader scale it optimizes the relationships I think that's that's where the potential opportunities for barriers and reducing them

00:17:32 Shwetha Pai

Right, right.  That's fascinating.

I know we have a little bit of time, but I just wanted to also hear about some of the work you've been doing around the around on the diversity side. You know, that's a passion area for me so I want to hear more about what, where do you see companies kind of changing past the pandemic?  How has that response differed from what you saw? Because you've been doing this for so many for so long. I'd love to hear how has it evolved and where do you See it going?

00:18:06 Stela Lupushor

It was a fascinating time to be in the middle of the social and racial justice movement that happened during the pandemic. It was incredible to finally see that companies are making commitments and companies are taking a stand.

00:18:21 Shwetha Pai


00:18:23 Stela Lupushor

I think the challenge we all need to really pay attention to is not to get fatigued by DEI options and on one side I think lot of actions were kind of done in this part of the moment or declared them as part of the moment, but there was not as significant of a commitment to really meaningfully adopt sustaining practices. One of my current clients is called 110, so that's another example of an ecosystem. It's a coalition of Fortune 500 organizations that has committed to create 1,000,000 jobs for black talent over the next 10 years. So to me, this is a perfect example of how you could sustain a change, a systemic change, and companies. First of all, they make the the the both financial and organizational commitment that they will create these jobs. This requires rethinking of credential requirements of the experience and skills requirements that requires internal practices change. That requires technology and analytics change too.

00:19:30 Shwetha Pai

Love it.

00:19:30 Stela Lupushor

To see how you're making progress, you also need to engage with development talent developers, right? Boot camp providers. You know, upscaling and apprenticeships are up around services to support the talent so they can build trust and saying, okay, this time I'm going to apply and somebody is gonna give me a chance. It's not going to be automatically disqualified by the ATS just because I don't have a four year degree.

00:19:55 Shwetha Pai


00:19:55 Stela Lupushor

So these kinds of organizations are meaningfully of making the commitment and taking actions. The challenge I think is these type of changes take time. Just think about all of these organizations takes a long time to make systems changes, to make process changes, change the culture to not require four year degrees.  All of those expectations for a fast change may not necessarily come soon enough for for all of us and for talent that is affecting, but I see positive energy and movement around that. And I think the more you raise awareness, the more you show what success could look like, the more likely others are going to follow. And of course, this is just one specific segment, this is just for black talent, but it's a start, right?

00:20:46 Shwetha Pai

Yeah, yeah.

00:20:46 Stela Lupushor

If we can make it work for one segment, we can make it for others as well.

00:20:52 Shwetha Pai

Yes, that's fascinating.

00:20:54 Shwetha Pai

Well, we're that was really insightful.

00:20:56 Shwetha Pai

We're at times, so I don't want to take up too much more.

00:21:00 Shwetha Pai

Thank you so much, Stella.

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