Would your workplace benefit from a “minority report” approach?
Stopping problems before they even become problematic—that is the dream.
The new Fox series Minority Report (inspired by the Tom Cruise movie of the same name) presents a universe in which crime-fighters use their knowledge of the future to stop crimes before they are even committed.
While crime dramas routinely bend the truth to be more entertaining, in this case, such a prevention-through-knowledge approach to mitigating disaster actually exists—to an extent. But rather than having visions of future events, the discipline of predictive analytics examines existing data (about the past and present) to make an educated guess about the future.
And just like the future cops of the silver screen, this predictive analytics approach has been employed by certain police departments in order to better fight crime through prevention. In the crime-fighting world, gathering and analyzing data on all manner of offenses, demographics, and arrest reports, and then comparing that with geographic data, has enabled the police to determine where future crime is most likely to occur.
This knowledge can then be put to use to ensure those crimes don’t happen, either by stationing more patrol units, prioritizing more community engagement, or finding ways to get the needed resources into crime-prone areas.
What is more, managers can adopt a similar mechanism for anticipating workplace conflict. Rather than fighting fires, discovering personnel issues after they have manifested, and having to mitigate team disputes, managers can employ predictive analytics—albeit on a smaller, less high-tech scale—to prevent potential issues from taking shape.
While the crime-mapping example may sound like science fiction, it is really just a sophisticated way to accomplish a simpler task: getting to know the neighborhood. Police can concentrate their efforts in order to ensure vulnerable areas get the attention, resources, programs, and support they need, to ensure violent confrontations never occur.
In an office setting, neighborhoods may be departments, teams, or even individuals who simply require the right blend of support, accommodation, or guidance to become higher performing. From a management perspective, “crime-mapping” would be achieved by getting to know team members both personally and professionally: track their performance, but also understand their stressors; take note of who works well together, and try to understand why other groups lack harmony and collaboration.
All of this amounts to a very human approach to data analytics. Managers who actively monitor these seemingly disparate features will actually be able to better predict—and prevent—workplace conflict.
Official write-ups, coaching interventions—these can all sound like threats, and often exacerbate rather than relieving a tense situation. They are also far too frequently used as disciplinary measures, rather than proactive treatments to predict, identify, and resolve future issues. Documentation ought to be transparent, inclusive, and celebratory: writing up bad behavior exclusively misses and opportunity to record the many times a worker excels. Calling meetings only to address shortcomings and correct under-performance neglects the potential for regular, face-to-face engagement to acknowledge success—as well as reveal problems in the making.
Managers who get more hands on with their teams can set a cultural norm that engages everyone, and enables managers to get more “data” on employee performance and personality. Greater exposure increases a manager’s ability to recognize moral fluctuations, personality quirks, skills gaps, and other such subtle indications that a corrective change now can prevent from exploding into turmoil.
It isn’t quite Minority Report, but the approach holds a lot of promise for the real world.