We have this talent principle called you author, we enable, right? So employees take ownership and responsibility for kind of charting that career path. And we’ve always had a career playground, but we’ve not always made it easy to get into it or get onto it. And that’s what this, this system is doing. It’s going to allow us to really enable folks to figure out how to path their own, their own career, and to build the skills, right? That could allow them, you know, multiple careers within J&J.
Episode 409: Using Data to Improve Work Effectiveness With Sarah Brock From Johnson & Johnson
Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrill, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:56.20] Welcome, Welcome to the Workology podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. These are two courses that we offer at Workology for HR certification and recertification for HR leaders. Before I introduce today’s guest, I would love to hear from you. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. That’s 512-548-3005. Ask questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. So I’m so excited for today’s guest. I am pleased to introduce Sarah Brock. She’s the Vice President and Head of HR, HR Decision Science at Johnson & Johnson. On today’s podcast, Sarah is focused on transforming health for humanity through science-based people decisions. Most recently, Sarah led Johnson & Johnson’s approach to talent assessment, performance, and succession focused on identifying and developing the right talent at the right time to support business strategy. She is a certified executive coach and has consulted with leading organizations across industries on succession management, executive assessments, and high-potential identification and development. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Tulsa and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Spanish from Wellesley College. Sarah, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Sarah Brock: [00:02:26.38] Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:28.66] I want to talk about your role as head of HR Decision Science. I think you’re the first person that we’ve had, certainly on the podcast, but that I’ve run across that has this title. Can you tell us a little bit about your role and how your career has led you to where you are today?
Sarah Brock: [00:02:46.96] Of course. And really thank you so much for your interest in HR Decision Science, or as we refer to it, people science. We think it’s a pretty exciting space, and I really do feel so fortunate to be the first within Johnson and Johnson to take on a role in a team like this in our HR and our global talent management functions. So you might ask, why decision science? Um, really, it’s, it’s no secret, right, that in nearly every facet of society, from our business to government to our everyday lives, we rely on data and relevant information more and more to help inform our decisions. So whether this is customer segmentation to help retailers advertise effectively, or census and voting data to help regulators and policymakers shape laws and governance, or whether it’s you and, you know, you or I, Jessica, looking up Yelp scores or rotten tomato ratings to help decide where to eat and what movie to watch. Data, and more importantly, the insights gleaned from research, analysis and data gathering helps make more informed and better decisions. So why wouldn’t, right? Why wouldn’t we also extend that to focus on a company’s most valuable asset, its people? So at Johnson and Johnson, that’s what we do in the decision science team is in the business of what we say is making people smarter about people. So we empower the business with actionable people insights. We leverage predictive solutions to anticipate future capability needs who are going to help us get where we need to go. Um, we’re helping build out one of the most effective, efficient, and fulfilled workforces in the world so that we can solve the most important health care challenges in the world.
Sarah Brock: [00:04:34.72] So in terms of how I got here, as you mentioned, I’m an industrial and organizational psychologist by training. I’m passionate about the scientific study of human behavior in the workplace. My research, much of my career has been deep in this talent assessment space, which really involves understanding the capabilities an organization needs, then assessing what it has or what it could have, and eventually using these insights to improve workplace decisions, hiring decisions, promotions, succession development decisions. Um, I started my career in consulting and spent 15 years consulting for leadership development and assessment firm, ultimately leading their talent assessment function. And a little over ten years ago, I had the opportunity to join Johnson and Johnson to create a talent assessment strategy, starting at the top of the house and then expanding across the leadership pipeline. It really was a blank sheet of paper type of opportunity, which made it very fun. And in the initial years, we put assessment practices in place that predicted and continue to predict performance and potential. And then over time, we connected that data more and more to our talent practices. And so we took on some additional responsibility for people practices such as performance management and succession. And then most recently we created this decision science team and added our skill strategy and our people analytics function to it as we saw just this phenomenal opportunity to connect people data to our people practices in order to make better decisions.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:09.68] Well, I think everybody who is listening or watching says, wow, and now you know why I was so excited and honored? Because this is where the future of HR is going. And in, in my mind, you’re one of the first to, to bring that to to its fruition. So let’s talk a little bit about your team structure and what does that look like. Who do you report to?
Sarah Brock: [00:06:36.47] Yeah thanks, Jessica. So I’m fortunate to be surrounded by some of the smartest people, not only in decision and data science but really in all of business. So as we all know, amazing leadership starts at the top. And I have been extremely fortunate to have unequivocal support from both our CEO, Joaquin Duato, as well as our CRO, Peter Fasulo. They really believe that to be the best, we need to hire, grow, and develop the best talent with data-driven decision-making at the center. So specifically, I report into our Head of Global Talent Management, Michael Errett. I do give him credit for pushing the value proposition of what we do in HR decision science. He truly understands how important it is to use data in everything we do, from a workforce perspective, to build stronger teams across our global enterprises, and to make sure we have the talent we need for both today and tomorrow. So in terms of how we’re structured, the decision science team has several end-to-end people practices, and today this includes performance management and enterprise succession.
Sarah Brock: [00:07:52.31] We have a couple of enablers that are really important to our team that I’ll talk about in a moment. And what we do, though, is support with these enablers, broader talent practices like talent acquisition, total rewards and learning. So those sit outside of our team, but we support them through our enablers. And these enablers that power decision science include our skills strategy. So really defining what good and what great looks like talent assessment. So that is assessment for selection development team effectiveness and identifying upward potential as well as people analytics which is employee listening, advanced analytics and data science, a metrics team. And then to ensure we’re ever connected to doing work that matters, we have a business unit insights team that helps connect the broader work of decision science to the business. And I’ll tell you, Jessica, I continue to be in awe of the talent on this team. We have diverse backgrounds. We have industrial and organizational psychologist, data scientists, consultants, and those with broader HR backgrounds, and even talent architects helping us think through how our work connects and integrates with other talent practices.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:09.26] It’s so interesting and exciting. I hope everybody was taking notes there in terms of maybe how they’re going to build out their team. I want to ask, how does decision science work in the sense of where you’re getting the data from and how do you approach that?
Sarah Brock: [00:09:28.19] Sure, yeah. Great. So data sources are all around us, right? We know this. It’s about understanding needs, setting goals, gathering the right type of inputs or data to drive the insights that help propel performance across the organization. So since most of our work focuses specifically on talent management and human resources, my team and I are really laser-focused on using data to create, evolve, improve, and grow our capabilities as a premier talent management function to,again, get that talent was talking about in terms of what we need today and for tomorrow. So in close partnership with our digital solutions HR team, there’s a data hub where data from various sources gets connected. This includes everything from talent assessment data, employee sentiment, talent acquisition, broader workforce systems such as workday. So again, a lot of data that we’re bringing together to, to help answer the questions we have. And, you know, one of the things that I chuckle about, Jessica, is sometimes thinking about HR decision science being branded as a new discipline, right? That using data to support people decisions is a new idea. Truthfully, the field of industrial and organizational psychology has been around for over a century, and we’ve been applying psychological principles and science to the world of work for a long time. That said, the last few years have truly been transformational in this space, and we’re now using data in ways that we have not before. Think there’s this expectation now more than ever. And I think you even said it earlier that HR is a science, and using data to improve work effectiveness is table stakes. But we can’t do this in a silo, right? So data of any function all by itself doesn’t have a lot of meaning, but connecting it in new or novel ways to help solve problems is really game-changing. So it’s certainly an exciting time to be in this space.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:36.63] Talk to us a little bit about the data hub and the tools that you’re using for visualization for us.
Sarah Brock: [00:11:44.07] Sure. So a couple of things within that. Data for data’s sake is never going to be able to deliver meaningful results. We can have all the data in the world at our fingertips, but unless it’s kind of want to say map back to a strategic vision, it’s not necessarily effective for driving insights. So our decision science team is really rooted in strategy that aligns with our broader organizational vision and needs for workforce development and talent management. So grounding our work before data gathering analysis begins is paramount, I would say, to getting it right. One of the biggest challenges facing many HR functions today is in connecting data and ensuring accuracy. Our data hub is the backbone of how we do this. Like I mentioned, it’s managed by our HR digital solutions group and is, we HR decision science, one of the primary users of people’s data, we work very closely with this team and, and, and how the data is connected and structured, quite frankly. And I think you asked a follow-up question too, around kind of the tools that we’re using for data visualization. Is that right?
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:54.24] Yes. I’d love to know more, more about that because it’s not just the data, it’s how you display and kind of put the data together to uncover patterns, right?
Sarah Brock: [00:13:03.30] Yeah. So how we put it together to uncover patterns and then frankly, how do we make that data available to others to democratize that data, right? So when we think about data democratization, it’s really this process of enabling employees to be able to work with the people data comfortably, to feel confident talking about it, and as a result, to be able to make those data-informed decisions that help their teams, their, their business unit and the broader company. So data democratization is a core principle of, of decision science and specifically people analytics. We use the vizier people analytics visualization platform as our primary digital solution for secure and ethical democratization of people data at J&J. And so to give you a little bit more background on what this, what this is and our strategy around this, we’ve started within our HR function. So access to the data and this platform is a beginning. And, and by the way it’s not just about providing access. It’s also about building capability, right? So our HR function has access to the data and to standard reports within vizier as well as being able to drive their own analysis. But we have supplemented that. The team has done a phenomenal job of continuing to build capability so that folks are able to use the data. So we are now leaning into this more and more, I would say, and thinking about how we might advance our strategy to work to get people, leaders and employees access beyond HR, right? And to do so in meaningful ways, and helping them as well build capabilities so that they can figure out how to make sense of the multiple sources and potentially seemingly kind of disparate pieces of data. And then, and then I would say, personally, Jessica, I’m really excited and looking forward to how we continue to explore and evolve through solutions like Microsoft Copilot or others in terms of opportunities to further connect data, to make it easier to do some of this analysis, and to put this at the fingertips of our leaders to make better decisions.
Break: [00:15:17.37] Let’s take a reset here. My name is Jess Miller-Merrell, and you are listening to the Workology Podcast powered by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. We are talking today with Sarah Brock. She’s the Vice President and Head of HR Decision Science at Johnson and Johnson. Before we get back to the podcast, I would love to hear from you. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. That’s “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. You can ask me questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training community and over 100 on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.
The Importance of Data Democratization
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:10.38] You mentioned employees. In addition like not just HR people having access to this data, but maybe a manager of a team or an employee who is individual contributor. Why is the democratization of data so important? I mean, I think I know why, but I would love to hear from you.
Sarah Brock: [00:16:30.39] So, so look, I think the democratization of data is so important because it just puts at the fingertips. But we want to move agilely. We want to be able to respond quick and fast and really to be, you know, empowering leaders to be able to make those decisions, as opposed to everything has to come from the center, right? You have to wait and take the time to be able to ask that question and get the answer. If we’re able to empower leaders locally to be able to drive that, that’ll have huge advantages for our organization, and and quite frankly, I would imagine other organizations.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:03.26] It’s just if, I feel like if you are a control freak or a micromanager, this would make you feel incredibly uncomfortable, to give everyone access to all this information, to be able to use their, their way. So I think a lot of HR people can relate to, towhat I’m, to what I’m saying, or they’ve had a manager on their team who is kind of, I don’t know, data hoarding, I guess, or people hoarding those sort of things. So you really have to step into trust to to let people explore and use that information, the data for their own purposes, to, to support their teams.
Sarah Brock: [00:17:42.77] Yeah. So I would say it is a journey and evolution around going in that space. It’s about trust. It’s about capability building. And then frankly, it’s, it’s about your ethical guidelines if you will, in terms of of really building that out, which is a huge area of passion for hours for us as well, which I’m happy to share a little more about, too.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:03.86] Awesome, awesome. Well, I want to switch gears just for a second and talk a little bit about ethical concerns because there are, you know, news stories swirling. But I wanted to talk about ethical concerns in relation to data privacy as we’re collecting and analyzing and then distributing or making this information available to, to members of the organization. So how are you and the team handling that?
Sarah Brock: [00:18:28.97] Yeah, absolutely. This might be my favorite question that you’ve asked because it is so important. So our ethics charter within decision science is the foundation of what we do. And really, I believe, powers the work we’re able to do. So when we formed this team a little bit over a year ago, one of our very first objectives was to develop an ethics charter. We share this at every HR decision science presentation it’s reviewed with each project we undertake. It’s our backbone and something, quite frankly, our broader data science councils across the organization have taken a strong interest in our charter, if you will, focuses on five key principles. The first of those is benefit and well-being. So we talk, you know, we say that we exist for the mutual benefit of our employees as well as the organization. And there’s this, you know, this sentiment around do no harm and give back to employees wherever possible. The second of these is justice and fairness, right? So we have a high regard for equity and inclusion, being able to test our outcomes and course correct as needed. The third of these principles is respect and privacy. So being able to respect privacy in the autonomy of individuals and their data and work within the guidelines of regulatory regulations within each of the countries and societies with which we work. Openness and responsibility. Being able to clearly state our methods and our processes is another key principle. And then finally integrity and ideals. So maintaining, maintaining not only integrity but high standards in all of our work. To, to your very good point, ethics is going to be an increasingly important component of the future of HR, of HR decision science, with generative AI becoming, you know, more prevalent across the board. Everyone is talking about its impact on HR practices. We’re going to have our ethics charter to, to guide us through this. It’s a living, breathing charter that will evolve as our work and opportunities do.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:43.10] Thank you for sharing all this and love that you’re presenting this as part of any conversation that, that you’re having, because it just sets the stage and is such a great reminder. And also, I think anybody who’s listening or watching, they’re like, this is fantastic. I hadn’t thought about maybe an ethics charter and how one would, would lay that out. But it’s incredibly important, I think, to really communicate how the information that is being gathered, how it’s being gathered and how it is being used so that people can really understand. Can you give us an example of an initiative that you’ve been working on that has been driven by data, and maybe talk to us about how the process works?
Sarah Brock: [00:21:28.40] Absolutely. We have many strong examples to choose from, so it’s maybe hard to narrow down to just one. So there’s employee listening. You know we talked about that during the Great Resignation we launched predictive attrition models that helped us identify which employees are most at risk for leaving. We have created organizational network analysis projects to support team performance and feedback. Another great example would be our talent assessment programs that support hiring succession moves, development decisions. But a really timely example that I’d love to, to dive into for a moment, showcases the team’s work around our skills, strategy and how it will fuel, among other things, what we’re calling a career playground. So what do I mean by this? The, the playground, the career playground serve will serve up and is starting to serve up personalized skill development, career passing, mentors, job opportunities for all employees all in one place. It helps employees discover the spots or the areas where they can shine and contribute, and gives them access to development content for skills that they need for next opportunities, or even to level up in their existing job. The playground offers what we call a one-stop shop for people, leaders and hiring managers who are looking for talent in conjunction with recruiters. The playground will discern right high-fit internal candidates so people leaders can close their talent gaps. The platform also provides data on talent and skills gaps for organizational strategic planning and investment. And finally, I would say this playground and you can tell I’m pretty excited about it. It aggregates employees and people leaders into one place, which for the first time ever gives our J&J learn platform, which is our learning ecosystem, a true market for delivering more data-driven, relevant, personalized, and future-ready skills at scale.
Sarah Brock: [00:23:32.67] So I’m really excited about the work that’s happening here. And decision science has really been at the foundation of all of this. So for skills-based talent management to work, a few things have to be true, right? It’s important first that we have a common language of skills to understand the skills needed to succeed across all of our jobs. And so we’ve worked to come up with our enterprise-wide skills on ontology linked to jobs. And it’s agile. It’ll be updated as jobs transform and more hot skills, if you will, are identified. Next, right? You need to understand the skills of your people or of our people at J&J, and you need to have those accurately measured and kept up to date. So again, our team is involved in the assessment of skills of the, of the workforce. We have assumed skills to infer skills to even more objective measurement as part of that strategy. And then finally, right? We can develop our people based on skills and provide our leaders with access to talent, with the skills that they need. Development’s going to look different for each employee, depending on where they’re starting and where they’re going. We’ve invested a lot in our skills strategy to define the skills our organization needs, map them to jobs, and then measure the skills our leaders have. So think, Jessica, this is just one example of our skills strategy come to life, which we’re pretty excited about.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:00.33] There’s so many possibilities with this. And I think it’s like, you know, if you’re dealing with reorganizations or changes in the business, new location openings, you know, teams being created, you can pull from your existing talent and, and move them into new roles instead of kind of filling that leaky bucket where people are like, there’s nothing left here for me. I’ve worked here seven years and I’m not being challenged anymore. You’re encouraging them to seek out their development, but then you’re also providing them information, and then it’s being stored so that when you’re you are developing these new teams and, and different initiatives, you can pull easily from that. That’s amazing.
Sarah Brock: [00:25:51.78] Yeah, absolutely. We have this talent principle called you author, we enable, right? So employees take ownership and responsibility for kind of charting that career path. And we’ve always had a career playground, but we’ve not always made it easy to get into it or get onto it. And that’s what this, this system is doing. It’s going to allow us to really enable folks to figure out how to path their own, their own career, and to build the skills, right? That could allow them, you know, multiple careers within J&J.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:22.44] Amazing. I wanted to see if you could talk about how consultants, consultancy skills factor into a data science role in human resources.
Sarah Brock: [00:27:50.53] Sure, happy to do that. Maybe first, let me paint just a quick visual to illustrate the importance of this. So let’s say you can imagine, right? Two people staring at a number on the floor from two different angles. One sees a 16 and the other sees a 91. Who is right? Are they both right? This picture is always striking to me for several reasons. The practice of HR is evolving like we’ve been talking about, related to data-driven decision decisions, data science. And not just relying, as you were saying earlier, on one’s gut instinct to make important decisions about our most valuable asset, our people. It’s not enough just to bring data or numbers. We need to bring insights. We need to bring context. And the quality of data matters, too. You know that old adage, garbage in, garbage out. So just like the example or the visual of the two people I just mentioned, the same data can sometimes be interpreted in different ways. So HR decision science and the capabilities we bring kind of needs to go beyond the data. So when think about kind of these consultancy skills, table stakes really are the technical expertise that we might bring from a data science or decision-making perspective. What differentiates its business acumen. It’s being a trusted advisor and understanding context, helping to get to the right question, being a translator so that you can help make meaning from data outputs. There’s a lot that our team is doing in addition to the number crunching, if you will.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:24.87] I appreciate you, you, you sharing that because it’s not just enough to say here, here’s all the information. It’s and, and one person’s interpretation of 91 or 16. It isn’t wrong. It’s just what makes us unique individuals from our experience and our perspective that that we bring to the table. So I think it’s important to think about when we do have an opinion or an interpretation of a situation or data, and we’re making a plan of action, really thinking those things through. And your job as data scientists and consultants is to help support them in their journey, not to tell them what the right answer is in these situations.
Sarah Brock: [00:30:11.24] Exactly.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:12.62] Well, Sarah, I have really enjoyed our conversation and our and our time together. Um, where can people go to connect with you or to connect with Johnson and Johnson if they want to learn more about the work that you’re doing in HR decision data science?
Sarah Brock: [00:30:28.49] Yeah, they can absolutely find me and Johnson and Johnson on LinkedIn and I’d be happy to connect.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:34.91] Awesome. Well, thank you again for your time. I really appreciate it.
Closing: [00:30:38.75] I absolutely love this conversation with Sarah. It is really important for HR leaders to understand how data can be a driver of not just decisions that impact the bottom line, but how it can be a driver for change in our broader organization. I love Sarah’s insights into ethical use of data, as well as transparency across the organization and how Johnson and Johnson is approaching everybody having access to this information. I so appreciate Sarah and her expertise sharing with us today on today’s podcast, and I appreciate you, too. Before we close out, I would love to hear from you. Any suggestions, ideas, or recommendations that you have for future guests future topics. Just text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask me questions. Leave those comments. Let me know what you’re thinking. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Thank you again for joining the Workology podcast. It is sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who is tired of the status quo. Let’s change the workplace together. Until next time. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. You can visit Workology.com to learn more about our podcast and listen to all our more than 400 episodes. We’ll see you next time.
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