HR Summit & Expo Asia 2018 insider: Nestlé’s Jordan Pettman

Say hello to Jordan Pettman: Nestlé’s Global Head of People Data, Analytics, and Planning; and master of HR metric jargons as complex as the organisation.

These days, in the world of workforce and business management, it’s all about predictive analytics. The road to achieving a seamless measurement system, however, is certainly not an easy one.

Not even if you have one of the leading people analytics practitioners guiding you along every step of the way.

Just ask Nestlé, the world’s largest health, wellness and nutrition company, where the implementation of a global people analytics framework has been over two years in the making, largely aided by the arrival of analytics leader Jordan Pettman.

In 2016, the Australian-born Pettman was brought on as the Swiss conglomerate’s Global Head of People Data, Analytics, and Planning. The organisation had long managed reporting teams with some analytics success on a local level, particularly in the US and the UK and Ireland, but decided to standardise the operations as its own global entity at the start of that year.

“We had started working on strategic workforce planning globally at the end of 2015, but we hadn’t really done much in the analytics space. So I was brought on to start this global practice within Nestlé,” Pettman shares.

Pettman is one of the most sought-after talent analytics experts today, speaking regularly at forums and conferences all over the world. A specialist in workforce analytics and strategic workforce planning, he got his start in the industry when he joined the well-known Australian analytics consultancy firm Infohrm in Australia in 2008, before two more lengthy stints leading the people analytics and planning practices at SuccessFactors and IBM Global Business Services – the consulting arm of IBM.

Implementing an analytics framework

Up close with…Jordan Pettman 

Global Head of People Data, Analytics and Planning, Nestlé

Based in: Geneva, Switzerland

Academic background: Undergraduate Psychology and then a Business Masters in Strategic HR Management

Professional mantra:  Try everything twice – you might have got it wrong the first time.

What does that mean?  Life is full of opportunities to try new things, learn new things, develop new ideas, experience more every day.   I don’t know about you, but I don’t get it right the first time I try most things.   It would be a shame to miss a fantastic opportunity because you gave up after a first attempt.

What would you be doing if you were not in HR and people analytics? Probably something in Organisational Psychology.   Or mixing cocktails – cocktails are fun.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Don’t give your energy to things that you can’t influence and that won’t matter five years from now.

Social media of choice? Instagram.  As with all social media, Instagram has a ugly side – but it’s relatively easy to follow others that are inspiring, that share beautiful viewpoints of their worlds, and that aren’t loaded with negativity and drama.

What are your passions in life? Good coffee. Good champagne. Time with my partner and our friends. Travel. TV and pizza on the couch on Sundays. Supporting my team in their pursuit of meaningful careers and lives.

One person you’ve always admired, and why? My Mum. She is smart, hardworking and resilient and her approach to life is infectiously and consistently optimistic. I’ve never heard my Mum say that something can’t be achieved, only what could be achieved and how to achieve it.

What’s your favourite quote? “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.

Your presentation is complete. You’re fully rested – and you’ve got 24 hours left in Singapore. What’s on the agenda? Singapore Slings at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar.

In this current role, Pettman is responsible for the governance of master data standards across all of Nestlé’s business units globally. This means Pettman and his team have to ensure that certain data elements, or specific people data attributes, are kept consistent for every employee no matter which geography or part of the business they are located within.

“So any time one of our regions or businesses decides that they want to manage structural change, at the data level, my team needs to be able to govern the process of adding and changing any of the structural elements of data,” he explains.

“We have to make sure that if only one part of the world is making changes to their data set, that they would still all match together, that we all understand each individual element, and that everyone is able to align.”

For an organisation as large and complex as Nestlé, with over 2,000 products across more than 150 countries, this is easier said than done, particularly as business challenges vary from market to market.

This is why Pettman has approached his role from the perspective of an internal consultant. Consultants typically provide advice and share their expertise in a repeatable way. As an internal consultant, Pettman does this, as well as deliver products, or models, that can be replicated in other parts of the business.

“Any of the dashboards or predictive analysis projects, whether it’s linking engagement data to termination data or business performance data: those become official products that we can apply elsewhere,” says Pettman.

As complicated as the set-up is, what has been really noteworthy, says Pettman, is how the workforce analytics team has been able to help the various business units understand and use people data effectively, as well as make relevant decisions for their individual objectives.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all measurement. There are certainly standard measures that people look at, but some of our businesses are really production-focused and some are sales-focussed,” says Pettman.

“So for us, it’s really about identifying the right data elements to measure; in order to to be an enabler for all the rest of what we do, to support the business as they make future-focused people decisions.”

This type of agility is still rare in analytics, but has been made possible by a well-laid out foundation.

The foundation, in this case, is Nestlé’s global internal workforce dashboard that is seen as the baseline for all of the HR community to use and understand the information it holds about the people that execute its business goals.   It contains standard HR reporting categories like headcounts, turnover and recruitment, all defined by a standard set of values. This base allows the global analytics team to focus on the real value-creating practices, like predictive and prescriptive analytics projects with business leaders.

Forecasting trends

As a next step, Pettman’s team is now ramping up efforts on organisation-wide predictive analyses. While the team continues to oversee baseline evaluations, ultimately, they understand that the harvesting of data and use of analytics have to lead to a return-on-investment – the statistic that matters most to business leaders.

“We’re trying to ensure that our projects lead to findings that could be useful in any of our markets.   If you are a leadership team in any of our businesses, large or small, then you can still engage in the same methodologies and frameworks and drive the same sort of value across your business,” says Pettman.

Increasingly, leadership teams are placing more value on analytics tied directly to business outcomes – such as anticipating which organisations could have the highest turnover rates, as well as where the highest recruitment costs are expected to be located, among other figures.

Consequently, in the last year, the team has started to explore a methodology called Flight Risk Modelling. This predictive analysis is able to calculate how likely it is that an employee will leave or stay with the company at a particular point in time.

Pettman says his team has done this by incorporating a practice used traditionally in the medical science industry.

Survival Analysis is a branch of statistics that deduces the expected duration of time until one or more events happen, such as death in biological organisms or failure in mechanical systems. The technique attempts to answer questions such as: What is the proportion of a targeted population which will survive past a set time? Of those that survive, at what rate will they then leave the organisation? Can and should multiple causes termination or failure be taken into account?

Similarly, in human capital research, survival analysis allows the company and line managers to understand all of the events that happen in a person’s life, and how they impact their likelihood to stay with their employer.

“With survival analysis, you take in more than what is traditional HR data where you are predicting attrition,” says Pettman.

“And we end up with two sets of data. One of them looks at the pools of population that are more at risk, and another of individuals who are identified as being at risk. The important thing that happens next is how the Management team uses this information, to affect strategy, or to understand more about what is causing people in their businesses to be at risk of departure, and what steps they can take to ensure that people join and stay with Nestlé pursuing positive outcomes for themselves and the business.”

Getting HR on board

Pettman acknowledges that the usefulness of statistical models varies from one business unit to another. He recalls how the first survival analysis that was ever conducted within Nestlé “had no actionable output of statistical significance at all”.

Since those early trial days, however, the analytics department has been able to produce useful sets of predictive analyses, and HR has been able to take strategic actions based on those outcomes.

Pettman shares another tip for companies looking to leverage predictive analytics: Go big or go home. He advises against really small businesses going down that path because “it’s too much effort for too little pay off” – where headcount size is small, the ability to generate statistically significant results is severly impaired.

“It is a bit of a pain, working without a critical mass, because you risk inferring an accuracy that may not be present due to a small sample size. It’s important to make sure the model you choose suits the business that you’re working with and you tailor your project accordingly,” says Pettman, adding that in Nestlé, unit headcounts range widely, from as few as 600 people to as many as 45,000 workers. 

“When you’re talking about small businesses and applying statistical methods to research it, you’re unlikely to get anything statistically significant that you are able to take action from.”

Although people analytics continues to be touted as something new or emerging – a recent PwC report found that only 46% of organisations have a dedicated workforce analytics function – Pettman believes this is misleading, pointing to Infohrm, where he started his career in people analystics, having been established some 30 years ago to work in this area.

“What I do think is that HR is certainly the last of the corporate functions to utilise analytics. HR has finally caught up and realised that data is critically important to making better decisions,” he says.

Getting all of Nestlé HR on board the analytics train is another one of Pettman’s top priorities at present. He says a big part of his role lies in enabling the company’s global HR population to use analytics more systemically, and bring more data into their decision-making practices.

Whether it’s the HR function or marketing function, the focus today is no longer on the “why”, but the “how” behind using metrics.

“Progress is going to come down to individual businesses seeking to understand answers to questions – how that value is realised, and how those services are distributed,” says Pettman.   

Jordan Pettman at HR Summit and Expo Asia 2018

Jordan Pettman joined Nestlé in June 2016 as its Global Head of People Data, Analytics and Planning. In this role, Pettman’s objectives have been to launch a global reporting platform through standardising core HR measures, building a self-service reporting culture within the HR population of the world’s largest food and beverage company, as well as introducing several analytical tools.

Join Pettman at HR Summit & Expo Asia 2018 to understand how to democratise access, and gain the capability to understand and use people analytics in order to support decision-making across a global organisation.


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