How Big Data Can Make a Big Difference in HR

Originally broadcast on Knowledge@Wharton — Big data has become a necessity for many businesses, but some human resources managers don’t rely on it because they see their role as something different: connecting to the employees and the company. In their book, The Data Driven Leader: A Powerful Approach to Delivering Measurable Business Impact Through People Analytics, Jenny Dearborn and David Swanson say failure to incorporate data into the HR function can be costly to managers and the company. Dearborn, chief learning officer and senior vice president at SAP, discussed the book on the Knowledge@Wharton show, which airs on SiriusXM channel 111. (Listen to the full podcast using the player at the top of this page.)

 An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Knowledge@Wharton: Do you see this book as a teaching tool for companies and their human resources department?

Jenny Dearborn: Yes. It really is designed for executives across all the different functional areas, but especially for HR. It’s HR professionals who are supposed to be monitoring and coaching and encouraging the right behavior for leaders across the company.

Knowledge@Wharton: When you think about how leadership and HR work together, what links big data between the two?

Dearborn: Historically, HR departments have been run by wonderful people who are great people-people. They are great at the human interaction. They’re great at being empathetic. They’re wonderful at caring deeply about how people feel, and that’s fantastic. But to be a competitive differentiator moving forward, we need to move beyond that. We need to use all of the tools available in order to be more effective. Every other functional area in a business is using all of these resources, all of the data and insights. HR needs to use that, too, for their primary responsibility, which is to groom the leadership skills across the company.

Knowledge@Wharton: Does this require HR professionals to change their point of view about their roles in the company?

Dearborn: Absolutely. It really is taking HR departments by surprise, which is part of the motivation for writing this book. It’s trying to give my peers the tools they need to keep up and be effective. One of the pieces of research that I cite in the book is that in 2016, for the very first time, more than 50% of the newly appointed chief human resources officers did not come from HR.

“Most companies have all the data that they need, they just don’t know how to use it.”

If you started at the bottom in HR, you’d think, “With time, I’m going to get to that top job.” Now, more than 50% of the time, that’s not going to be somebody who has started at the bottom. It’s going to be somebody who came laterally from the head of marketing or operations or sales or finance or pretty much anywhere else. The No. 1 reason why is the lack of expertise in data and analytics.

Knowledge@Wharton: Do you expect to see HR departments bringing data scientists into their operations?

Dearborn: That is the No. 1 requested new job that all HR departments around the world are looking for. At the top of their list is somebody who can drive the data and analytics for their department, so every HR department is looking for data scientists. It’s unusual to go to a university recruiting event, go to the data science or statistics department and say, “Hi, I’m in HR. Do you want to come to HR?” The undergraduates are scratching their heads, but it really is the trend.

Knowledge@Wharton: What are the roadblocks for HR in terms of getting access to data?

Dearborn: Oftentimes, the internal data in an organization is kept in lots of different places, so it is not consolidated neatly. I’ve never known of any company where all the data is consolidated neatly. You have sales data in the sales department. You’ve got customer interaction data in customer service. You’ve got productivity numbers all over the place. The coming together of all of this information is where the power is.

Each of these groups is going to hold on to the data they have because it’s a sense of power for them. They’re concerned with: “If I give you this information, how are you going to use it to potentially make me look bad, make me look like I missed a trend or that I wasn’t doing my job as well as I could have?” There’s a lot of searing skepticism about giving over raw data to a central group and saying, “Triangulate this. Put some algorithms on top. See what you come up with.” People are quite reluctant to share.

Knowledge@Wharton: You point out that executives don’t always make decisions based on the data points that are provided to them. Why not?

“There is a very narrow group of people who are making really powerful decisions using data.”

Dearborn: My hypothesis is that most companies have all the data that they need, they just don’t know how to use it. They don’t know how to put it together or what questions to ask. They don’t really know what they’re looking for.

Most companies have tons of information about their customers, about which accounts are more productive, which accounts are high margin, and which accounts are a complete waste of time because the return isn’t there. Companies know this. But they don’t have the time or the discipline to take a step back and ask themselves tough questions like: What are we doing here? What is our purpose? What are our goals? What are we trying to achieve? What is the best way to get there?

Knowledge@Wharton: Companies have all of this data at their fingertips and don’t really know what to do with it, which is a big problem. It’s also a little scary, considering the concerns about the use and protection of data.

Dearborn: There are significant concerns around data privacy. What are you going to do with this information? What is it going to say about me, about my behavior, about my buying patterns, about who I am? How is this information going to reveal something that maybe I don’t want to have revealed to my customers, to my employer? There are also a lot of concerns about employer’s rights in all of this. Some countries have very strong rules and regulations around data privacy, and other countries are less restrictive. It really is kind of a wild west right now.

Another strong theme in the book, and in a lot of the speaking that I do, is around the importance of diversity in the data scientists so that we can make sure the questions being asked of the data — and the decision-makers of how artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used — are really representative of a diverse perspective across society.

There is a very narrow group of people who are making really powerful decisions using data. It would be better for all of us, in corporations and society, if it was more open and more transparent around how the data is being used, what decisions are being made and if a diverse group of people was engaged in that decision-making.

Knowledge@Wharton: How has your understanding changed you as an executive at SAP?

Dearborn: It has made me significantly more empathetic to the rights of everyday employees and everyday people.

I started this journey wanting to get more information so that I could prove the value of the work that I was doing. I was in charge of a huge department. We had a significant charter to go roll out learning and development in a corporation. Someone said, “How do you know what you’re doing is actually making a difference?” I decided to dig into data and information to get facts to support that what I’m doing is actually making a difference and making a positive contribution to my corporation.

That was the start of my journey. The more I got into it, the more I said, “Wow, this is really powerful.” I now have insights into people’s behavior, people’s choices.

The more sophisticated your analyses are, the more you can start to predict the future. You can say, “I believe this employee will be successful in the future. There is a 90% confidence rate that this particular employee will make quota at the end of the year. I believe this other leader will likely fail, unless there is some sort of intervention.”

You extrapolate that out, and you can start to predict behavior. That’s really powerful. It’s a wonderful tool for a corporation to make sure that they meet their revenue targets. But there are bigger implications for us as a society. I’d love for us, as humans, to be having this conversation about the power of this. How can we use this for good? How can we use this to make the world a better place and improve people’s lives?

Original broadcast and article available here:

A Wonder Woman in Our Midst

Originally published in Gentry Magazine (by Robin Hindery)SAP’s Chief Learning Officer Jenny Dearborn is schooling the corporate world in adaptability, inclusiveness, and forward thinking. Her efforts just might save your job someday.

The first thing I saw was the superheroes. I had just walked into Jenny Dearborn’s Palo Alto home, and there they were: very large colorful canvases of Superman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, and their crusading peers practically leaping off the walls.

Then came Dearborn herself, a striking, 6-foot-tall woman with a friendly smile and confident stride, greeting me with a hug and welcoming me into her inner sanctum. (There’s also a floor-to-ceiling glass display case filled with her collection of hundreds of Pez dispensers, but that’s another story for another time.)

“Growing up, I was convinced I was magic,” says Dearborn, who has spent the past three years as Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at software giant SAP. “I remember thinking I could control people with my mind.”

These were some of the ideas circulating in Dearborn’s brain as she roamed around school “like a feral cat” in her hometown of Davis, outside Sacramento, where she spent her K–12 years. “I came from a big family—I was number five of six kids—and I just sort of got passed along,” she says of a school system that failed to recognize her significant learning disabilities. “When the teachers couldn’t handle me, they’d just send me outside. So I just kind of hung around climbing trees. I spent a lot of time in my own head.”

After “barely graduating” from high school, she says, she moved briefly to New York City to try her hand at acting and modeling. When that didn’t pan out, she returned home to attend American River College in Sacramento. A stint volunteering in the admissions office finally brought her learning differences—including dyslexia and A.D.H.D—to light. “A counselor there said, ‘I think you have learning disabilities,’ ” she recalls. “For the first time, I understood myself. I went from D’s to A’s and became this focused, driven, single-minded machine fueled by bitterness and anger at the system and anyone who ever did anything to me.”

Determined to transform that system from the inside, Dearborn transferred to UC Berkeley to complete her undergraduate degree, and then received a master’s degree in education from Stanford in 1993. She stayed in the Bay Area to teach English and drama at Woodside High School, but it was clear almost immediately that teaching wasn’t the right fit. “I was really terrible at it,” she says matter-of-factly. “I thought it would be the stepping stone to being the leader who is going to change the system, but it didn’t happen at the pace I needed it to.”

In the mid-1990s, there was no Google search available for those seeking a career change. So Dearborn found herself at a career center in Palo Alto watching a VHS tape of a panel that included a woman who worked in corporate education. Intrigued, she leveraged a family connection to get in the door at nearby Hewlett-Packard for an informational interview, eager to find out more about how she could use her education degree, acting skills, and big-picture thinking in the corporate environment.

Far from an immediate “aha” moment, it took a total of 46 informational interviews across multiple departments at HP before Dearborn landed on a position as a senior manager in learning and development. “It immediately clicked; it had the entertainment and drama I was into,” she shares. Over the next two decades, she moved around the Bay Area tech landscape in various corporate education roles, including positions at Sun Microsystems and Success-Factors, a maker of human capital management software that was acquired by SAP in 2012. Following the acquisition, Dearborn took on her current role as SAP’s Chief Learning Officer.

Dearborn was relaxed and casual at home on a recent Thursday morning, surrounded by boxes of her newly published book, The Data Driven Leader, her second tome focusing on how companies can use data analytics to boost sales, productivity, and employee performance. The day before our meeting, however, was “a busy day,” she noted nonchalantly.

What does a busy day for Jenny Dearborn entail? To start, a 6AM broadcast from SAP’s TV studio for the German-based corporation’s European audience, focusing on “the future of work”; then a video call with the human resources leadership team; a digital presentation to nearly 30,000 individuals around the world on “what’s coming in 2018”; face-to-face coaching meetings at her Palo Alto office; a radio broadcast promoting her book; a quick workout and dinner at home; and then back to the same TV studio for a 9PM broadcast to the Asian-Pacific audience repeating many of the same talking points she started the day with 15 hours prior. At this point, my note-taking hand cramped up, but I assume she also went to bed eventually.

Seated in her living room with the superheroes looking down on her, the mom of four spoke with an almost maternal passion as she talked about the employees whose jobs she is working to protect and enrich through education and training. She explained, “I feel quite righteous about my field. You spend all this time and energy at work, and if you don’t do your job well, you don’t feel good about yourself. Everybody needs to know where their job fits into this ecosystem that makes the world work. Everyone is important.”

Dearborn works hard to look ahead not just to the next quarter, but several years down the road, so that her company and others can anticipate changes in the landscape and prepare their employees accordingly. She’s also a proponent of establishing comprehensive computer science standards in schools throughout the country, including California, which currently doesn’t have them. And she’s extremely proud of SAP’s top ranking globally when it comes to promoting women; 25% of the corporation’s leadership roles around the world are held by women, with a target of 30% within the next five years, she says.

Her efforts have earned her many accolades, including the Athena Leadership Award and the Silicon Valley Women of Influence Award, but she knows she has a lot of magic left to do. “With each recognition, it raises the stake of my obligation to those who come after me,” she says.

Or, as a fellow Spiderman fan might note, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Original article available here:

Palo Alto tech leader wins Female Executive of the Year award

Originally published in the Palo Alto Daily News (by Kevin Kelly) — Jenny Dearborn has a passion for diversity in the workplace that dates back to her formative years facing a number of challenges that inhibited her education.

“I’m diagnosed as dyslexic, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), OCD (obsessive-compuslive disorder), things unique to how my brain works,” said Dearborn, the global chief learning officer based in Palo Alto for Germany-based corporate software firm SAP. “I wasn’t treated fairly. I wasn’t treated with respect and empathy. I didn’t have people saying, ‘You have merits and talents and skills that need to be developed.’ ”

She wasn’t diagnosed with her learning differences until she was in college, by which time she had begun to “identify on a personal level with the downtrodden, disenfranchised … people who are treated badly.”

That didn’t stop her from five years ago creating the position of chief learning officer at SAP, a position she previously held at three other tech companies. She now leads a team of 380 employees with an annual budget of roughly $240 million. The team provides SAP’s 90,000 employees resources and training to help them perform their jobs better. She also works as a data scientist for the firm, attempting to identify new and future workplace trends.

“Every company is sitting on a gold mine of information on their customers … but they don’t know how to mine it or what questions to ask or they don’t know how to put (results) into motion,” Dearborn said, adding that large companies worldwide are all looking to hire data scientists and jobs requiring computer science degrees are growing faster than other jobs in the U.S.

On Nov. 17, Dearborn was named Female Executive of the Year for business products with more than 2,500 employees at the annual Stevie Awards in New York. The winners for the international competition were picked from a pool of 1,500 nominees from 25 nations.

“I’d like to dedicate this award to all the women who have given me a hand up throughout my career, and for those women who need a hand, I’m on my way,” she said when she accepted the award dressed in a Wonder Woman-themed gown.

Dearborn attributes the award to all the work she does at SAP beyond her core training and trend-hunting activities. She’s also the global sponsor for SAP’s LGBT and women’s communities, and works with schools locally and governments around the world on education initiatives. She recently advised Assemblyman Marc Berman on future education and workforce trends while he analyzed the state’s master plan for higher education.

“Really, the ticket is education, that’s the path to equality,” she said.

A recent concern that she’s wrestling with is a “tech lash” against tech giants, in which their products, particularly social media, are increasingly being viewed negatively by users who say the firms wield too much power on society and wield it badly.

“We haven’t talked about the role of tech in our life,” Dearborn said. “Wouldn’t it be important for people having conversations about ethics and tech, wouldn’t you want a diverse community making those decisions?”

Dearborn is also recognized by the National Diversity Council as among the 50 Most Powerful Women in Tech. She received the 2017 Athena Leadership Award from the Palo Alto Chamber and she has written two books on data analytics, one of which, “The Data Driven Leader,” was released in November. She lives in Palo Alto with her husband and their four children.

Original article available here:

Key Qualities to Look For in AI and Machine Learning Experts

Originally published on Forbes (by Adelyn Zhou) — Recruiting machine learning (ML) talent is different than for traditional software development. The field of artificial intelligence is so young that it can be difficult to parse candidates by their background and experience alone. Instead, hiring managers should look for certain skills and qualities that are particularly valuable for machine learning projects, many of which are highly exploratory and experimental. While there are many different artificial intelligence job titles, these are the overall qualities to look for in when hiring for AI teams.

solid background in mathematics and statistics is helpful in traditional software engineering but is mandatory for work in machine learning. Fred Sadaghiani CTO of Sift Science, said, “We are looking primarily for people who have a principled understanding of the statistics, probabilities, and math necessary to grasp the problem. That’s the foundation of this all.” This fundamental knowledge allows machine learning engineers to understand which algorithms best address a problem and how to optimize outcomes.

While many graduates have the prerequisite mathematical foundation, more nuanced character traits truly distinguish top candidates. Look for individuals with an innate curiosity and creativity to excel in the field. They are the ones best able to grapple with abstract information and deduce novel ways to approach problems especially common in machine learning. According to Sadaghiani, “a good machine learning person is a curious person, is somebody who can be creative, is somebody who can take an extremely abstract unclear problem and bring to light clarity around the possibilities.”

The ability to understand data and derive meaning is also useful. While data scientists are often paired with business analysts, it’s essential that they also understand the applied implications of their research. Jenny Dearborn, SAP’s chief learning officer, noted that “[We’re not always looking for] the right answer, but what is the right question to ask. What is the insight, meaning and purpose of the analysis that was overlaid on the data?”

Machine learning research is a new field and few projects are easy. It can take many months and countless iterations to achieve accurate results. Good researchers have perseverance and a relentless driveto seek answers. Explains Cole Shiflett, head of people operations at ThoughtSpot, “we’re really looking for people who have capacity; who have the commitment to having an impact in the space and engaging with the big questions around AI.”

Being quick to grasp new concepts is valued in any career, but the rapid evolution of AI makes it critical in this field. Even experienced researchers and engineers must constantly uplevel their skills to stay abreast of new developments. Furthermore, employers struggling to find experienced AI talent are broadening their hiring radius to trainable recruits and implementing in-house retraining programs for existing engineers. At ThoughtSpot, said Shiflett, they are seeking candidates who “of course are interested in the AI space, but really have the ability to learn quickly and stay on the forefront.”

Perhaps the most important quality to look for in a new recruit is a passion for the work you doWe get plenty of resumes from people with talented machine learning and data science backgrounds,” said Zhen Jiang, lead analytics supervisor at Ford. “What I am much more concerned about is whether they have a passion for cars and mobility.” Once you’ve identified a pool of qualified candidates, focus on the ones that have a particular interest in your unique problems and proprietary data sets.

Finally, make sure not to make these common recruiting mistakes for AI talent. Recruiting for AI is a challenge. The number of job openings far exceeds the number of experienced candidates meaning you will have to look beyond the resume to identify potential talent. Seeking out the traits discussed here is one-way companies in the space are recognizing recruits with the capacity for machine learning success.

Original article available here:

Bay Area Life: Jenny Dearborn making a difference for women in tech

Originally broadcast on ABC7 — Jenny Dearborn is the Chief Learning Officer and Senior Vice President of SAP as well as being the author of the well-known book Data Driven: How Performance Analytics Delivers Extraordinary Sales Results and Data Driven Leaders. She also has a new book coming out in November, The Data Driven Leader: A Powerful Approach to Leading with Analytics, Driving Decisions, and Delivering Breakthrough Business Results.

Dearborn is known as one of the top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology in 2014 and 2015 by the National Diversity Council and Fortune Most Powerful Women Network. She alongside her team was named by eLearning magazine as the #1 top performing corporate learning organization in the world.

Click here for more information on Jenny Dearborn.

A modern Wonder Woman: Jenny Dearborn, chief learning officer at SAP

Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle (by Carolyne Zinko) — She has auburn hair, wears a golden cuff on her wrist, flies to 20 countries a year, meets with world leaders and is on the list of the 50 most powerful women in technology.

No, Jenny Dearborn, chief learning officer at software giant SAP, can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. But the married Silicon Valley mother of four is considered something of a Wonder Woman for battling injustice surrounding disabilities that threatened her success and for turning her Kryptonite into a force for good instead.

Dearborn, raised in Davis, was an articulate child but struggled to read or sit still in school. She was placed in special education and told to run laps around campus to burn off energy.

“Teachers would say, ‘You’re dumb,’ and give you busywork and just moved you along from grade to grade,” she said. “But if I could listen to things, I could repeat it back. Visually, nothing was connecting.”

She narrowly graduated high school. In junior college, someone suggested she might have learning disabilities, and tests showed that she did: dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Comic books had allowed her to follow a story line without reading. Armed with new tools — books on tape, and textbooks — she began to read for real, listening and training her eye to look at letters and patterns to anticipate what words might be formed.

She formed a purpose for her life, too. “I became filled with rage and bitterness and anger at all these wasted years and how I was treated,” she said. “I became so focused on how I would never let this happen to someone else that I decided, ‘I am going to be a teacher. I am going to fix the world and save every child.’”

She transferred to UC Berkeley, majored in English and obtained a master’s degree in education from Stanford University. At Woodside High, she taught English, public speaking and drama. But with her ADHD, “my nature is that I get restless,” she said. “I knew I needed to tackle something bigger.”

That something was corporate education at Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems and several startups. Today, as chief learning officer at SAP, she is responsible for classes and training for nearly 80,000 employees worldwide.

It’s the type of challenge for which dyslexics might be well-suited, said Jeffrey Gilger, a UC Merced professor of developmental psychology and a former board member of the International Dyslexia Association.

Jenny Dearborn (left) teaches personal branding to sophomore students Jennifer Hernandez (seated, left) and Karina Ramirez at Sequoia High School in Redwood City.
Photo: Liz Hafalia, San Francisco Chronicle
“In my experience with people with dyslexia, they often think more holistically — they can see things in a big-picture format,” he said. “They aren’t so caught up in Westernized, linear-style thinking,” he said.

Dearborn has come to see her “disability” as an advantage. “I feel like I can see around corners,” she said. “I can see in the past and the future. Yeah, you have a hard time reading, but your brain is wired differently. And that’s a gift. And I am thankful for it.”

She still reads with audio recordings. Her staff makes sure her reports are pristine so she doesn’t obsess over spelling or punctuation errors. (In line at the bank, she has no qualms about picking stray hairs off of strangers’ clothes.)

As she travels the globe, thriving on the variety of her experiences, she visits SAP branches to educate, and foreign governments and schools to advocate.

Worldwide, there aren’t enough girls and women studying for careers in science, technology, engineering and math, and computer science curricula — now very theoretical — needs to be more practical, she said. Students are coming up short in job interviews in which they’re asked to take a problem — like, “not enough clean water” — and explain the collaborative tools and design thinking processes they’d use in a solution. “It’s very hard to adapt and change in the academic environment,” she said, “as fast as the world is changing.”

On a recent weekday, Dearborn led a personal branding class with computer animation students at Redwood City’s Sequoia High School, where 59 percent of the student population is Latino and 41 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals. She flashed Starbucks, McDonald’s and Nike logos on a screen and asked students how they perceived the brands. Then she asked how they portray themselves on social media.

Next, she led them in creating a personal branding plan that would not only help them clarify their goals but also help them think about the messages they post — and possibly increase their earning potential by focusing on the long term, not just the short term.

“It’s how people remember you,” Dearborn said. “It can affect future opportunities.”

Rosie Franco, a sophomore, said she’d been considering a career as a probation officer or a kindergarten teacher before the class but now was considering technology or graphic design. “It was eye-opening,” she said.

So were Dearborn’s revelations about her own disabilities and accomplishments. “It showed she went through a lot,” Franco said, “and could still achieve.”

Yes, Dearborn is a fighter for truth, justice and the American way. Even the walls of the 100-year-old Victorian that she and her husband, real estate broker John Tarlton, are renovating, are filled with portraits of Wonder Woman — oils on canvas copied from her old comic books, painted in her spare time.

“I love superheroes,” she said, perched on a couch and unfazed by workers with electric saws and hammers renovating the house around her. “I love what they stand for, what they represent — the values of justice and helping the underdog and overcoming adversity.”

Original article available here: