Doug Shagam: Improving Data-Driven Decision Making

Doug Shagam | Head of People Data & Insights | Global Services at Johnson & Johnson (J&J)
Doug Shagam | Head of People Data & Insights | Global Services at Johnson & Johnson (J&J)

Utilizing data to enable organizations to make more informed decisions, leading business transformations, and driving innovative analytics solutions-Doug Shagam significantly impacts the HR industry.

As the Head of People Data & Insights, Global Services at Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Doug is passionate about developing leaders and transforming the organization by keeping the “Gut is good, but data is better” philosophy at the center of his work.

We caught up with Doug to learn more about his professional journey and how he has served various capacities across business lines.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at J&J. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

After finishing business school, I was highly motivated to join a company where I could learn and grow. Fortunately, I was selected for GE’s Finance Management Program, their Financial Leadership Development Program, which became an incredible career start. While it turned out that finance wasn’t my thing, it led me to discover Lean Six Sigma, a process strategy that improves output quality by reducing defects.

This became a significant influence on my career. It can’t be taken for granted. No one wants to go to work to fix anyone’s mistakes. Nor do they want to keep working with poorly designed processes that can be improved.

After GE, I spent time in financial services implementing Lean Six Sigma programs, which led me to Booz Allen Hamilton, where I was formally introduced to Human Resources (HR). I was the Engagement Manager supporting a team and Lieutenant General Michael Rochelle, who, at the same time, was essentially the Chief HR Officer of the US Army. My team led projects focused on all aspects of the employee lifecycle, from improving e-recruiting efforts to reducing the time to get soldiers medically discharged.

My next move to Nielsen was like a homecoming since their leadership team was run by many of GE’s former executives and leaders. Over ten years, I held multiple roles, from launching their Process Improvement function and leading business transformations to eventually designing and heading a new capability area called Enterprise Analytics. This was first focused on Finance, and soon led to the start and my beginning as a founding member of People Analytics at Nielsen.

People tend to follow great leaders, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity when a more significant People Analytics role opened with a former manager at (J&J).

Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.

J&J is the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company. For more than 135 years, we have touched lives and aim to keep people well at every age and all stages of life. Every day, our 150,000 employees blend heart, science, and ingenuity to change the trajectory of health for humanity profoundly.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted the human resources niche through your expertise in the market.

The People Analytics community is like no other I’ve ever encountered. I define it as a group of professionals spanning across industries, experience, education, and skills, all in service to employees. What I’m most proud of is the work we’ve done – and continue to do more of – is listening to the needs of our stakeholders to deliver metrics and insights that matter to them. What’s not used gets taken out, and what’s needed gets added in.

We provide continuous data literacy training through various mechanisms, and I remind our stakeholders that I too had some trouble with Math in Middle School. Our data is available to HR and business leaders. Perhaps the most considerable impact or niche item associated with me is skills-based Strategic Workforce Planning work done using a natural language processing (NLP) algorithm that generates skills possession and proficiency levels. Using our own digital footprint, this started an organizational transformation in a key business area.

I’m also frequently asked about our rationale and strategy, including how we started and moved so quickly with People Data Insights and specifically providing HR data to business leaders, which is something I learned from the community and ran with.

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.

J&J has a clear set of values that guide our decision-making and are found within our Credo, a ~80-year young compass that, in four paragraphs, serves as a recipe for success in how we work. This was the first notable example of Corporate Social Responsibility.

While each paragraph is unique, I personally take exceptional pride in paragraph two, which focuses on our employees. It speaks to the responsibility to provide an inclusive work environment, health and well-being of our employees, opportunities for development and advancement, and ensuring we provide competent leaders. These are not just words but specific traits that leaders are measured against. Being considered a “Credo-based leader” is an honor at J&J.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

I love this question, especially as a Global Services Digital HR team member! I shared my background on process, KPIs, and tech as a key enabler. This is a tremendously powerful driving force in the way we enable transformational change at J&J; customers at the center, understanding what matters, improving and automating processes, leveraging technology to become a force multiplier. Why do it? I’ll bet you remember incredible experiences – and tell your friends about them, too!

For example, when I joined J&J, monthly people analytics reports were manually pulled and validated, then uploaded into our first-generation analytics platform. A great start to visualizing data. We knew, though, that to drive people analytics throughout the business and really create substantial benefit to the organization a different level of maturity was needed.

This led to the establishment of an HR Data Hub with managed, governed data. The Hub initially combined various sets of human capital data to be visualized in a new HR Analytics platform and provided reusable data to our HR Data Scientists. The Hub served vital data assets to products like our new intranet site and Return-to-Work platform.

Beyond some of the predictive models we have in place, there are tremendous opportunities to leverage technology in areas like Talent Acquisition and Talent Management. So, if popular social media platforms and websites use our data to identify new interests or content, let’s leverage technology to improve performance management. Before a formal search begins, let’s explore how technology and data find the best external and internal candidates. Why can’t we improve the offer acceptance rate by understanding what drives offer rejections and acceptances? How can succession planning become even more evidence-based and, perhaps, encompass a larger population? All of these questions are rooted in data that leverage technology.

What change would you like to bring to the HR industry if given a chance?

While this is certainly not a universal truth, I have seen a reluctance to adopt digital acumen and data literacy into ways of working. I’m proud to be part of an organization where advancing these two skills are included in every HR employee’s goal and objective. A business leader manages their P&L just like an HR leader should be looking at their people metrics.

It shouldn’t only be done formally because of twice-a-year talent talks but regularly as part of managing a portfolio of people. Business leaders should be just as engaged in their people as they are with a P&L or budget. It’s not meant to create friction but ensure that all continue to attract, develop, and retain the best talent possible.

What, according to you, could be the next significant change in the HR sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?

There’s never been a better time for HR to double down on employee experience. I’m proud to be a part of J&J’s Global Services HR function, where this is embedded in all of our goals and objectives and, in many cases, actions have been taken or are underway. These experiences are vast and far-reaching.

This includes a virtual chat when an employee needs support in an HR platform, measuring first-time-right to the evolution of flexible work, personalized learning and development, experience and exposure to new skills and talent growth, fact-based journey maps of moments that matter with employees, and measuring progress on changes we’ve made through processes and technology.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for J&J?

It’s a tremendous privilege to work for J&J. A big part of why I’m here is the ability to work with incredibly talented colleagues who are connected to J&J’s mission. My father and his father both suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. The neuroscience division of Janssen is hard at work on this. What most excites me about the future is J&J’s focus on Pharm and Med Tech.

The patient is at the center, with data and analytics at the core of driving what’s coming. We’ve already seen some of this play out, but the best is yet to come! At J&J, I hope to provide leaders with the best possible data and analytical insights, so they know, not just think, that their decision is good because it’s evidence-based.

The proof will be in the outcomes of all of our stakeholders, including employees, patients, and customers.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the HR sector?

I’ll share three universal tidbits and two that are HR specific.

  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • Tell it like it is. Give bad news as quickly as you would good news.
  • Learn as much from bad leaders about what not to do as you do from good leaders about what to do – especially when it comes to managing people.
  • Before settling down on a specialization in HR or becoming a generalist, take different roles. Spend time in Total Rewards, do a tour of duty as an HR Business Partner, spend time in Recruiting, and consider a role in Talent Management. You’ll learn a lot and be far more informed than many about what’s required to excel as an HR leader and most importantly be an advocate for employees.
  • Whatever motivated you to enter HR, know that not being afraid of using data is a prerequisite for success. From looking at data to formulate a hypothesis to understanding the financial results of your business and the company, numbers and analytics are the language of business.

Remember the scientific method – where you form a hypothesis and test it? Perhaps you recall looking at a scatterplot and identifying a positive correlation. And some will remember the formula for the slope of a line. If you are worried now, don’t be because I have a confession. I failed sixth-grade math (Algebra I). I lead a People Analytics team and teach master’s students as an adjunct faculty member of Columbia University, New York University, and Lehigh University how to do so. For the record, I did pass the class over the summer and never failed a class again.