Post: Found on an HR Dashboard: The Case of the Juul Thieves

female detective at a crime scene, image is titled The Data Detective

Found on an HR Dashboard: The Case of the Juul Thieves

The first in our data detective series. This is based on a true story, visualized with data originally from Kaggle’s Human Resources data set.

Nina Singh is an executive admin in the HR department of her company. One of her many responsibilities is maintaining a spreadsheet of employees who have received awards each year.

This year Nina decides to upload the spreadsheet of all awards to her HR analytics platform. This way she can add a visualization of employees who have received awards by their department to her HR dashboard.

Nina’s company offers two different financial incentive awards. The first is the Presidential Gold Star, for employees who year over year are rated “Exceptional.” These are awarded every year at the end of Q2 and, not surprisingly, only a handful of employees qualify to receive it. You can see one year’s recipients, and their performance scores, on this report:


Click to enlarge

Another award, called the Peer Recognition award, is given out every quarter. Employees who receive this have been submitted for consideration by other employees based on assistance they’ve provided or leadership they demonstrated.

Nina’s self-service analytics platform allows her to upload her spreadsheet of award winners and combine it with existing ERP data. Here’s an example of a report containing one year’s recipients that includes HR data like Employee Position, Performance Score and Status. In this example, the data is filtered by the award type “Peer_Recognition”:


award winners on dashboard
Click to enlarge

In the accompanying bar chart, the yellow bar depicts the Gold Star award winners, and the blue bars, Peer Recognition winners. Looking at this chart, Nina immediately sees something that warrants further investigation. Do you see it?


bar chart of employee performance score by award type

Every Gold Star awardee ranks as a “5 – Exceptional.” Several Peer Recognition awardees also rate as a 5 – Exceptional (winning the Gold Star doesn’t preclude someone from a Peer Recognition award, and in fact it seems likely that their contributions would be recognized by their peers.)

Other recipients are ranked “4 – Exceeds” and some are even rated “3 – Fully Meets.” No surprises there.

But look at that top bar – there are several employees who received a Peer Recognition award this year yet are languishing in the “2 – Needs Improvement” bucket. How is this possible? Are their managers not aware of the contributions these employees offer their peers? It is possible that they spend too much time helping others and because of this actually damage their own performance score?

Luckily, using her HR dashboard, Nina can drill down into the data for a more granular view. First, she filters for that performance score of “2-Needs Improvement.” It turns out there are only two employees, Peter Monroe and Clinton Owad, with this score. But strangely, between them they’ve received six awards.

Realizing that something is not right, Nina adds another field, Award Source Employee Name, to the report. She can do this easily, as her reporting software lets her pull additional fields onto the report.


employee dashboard detail
Click to enlarge

Now we see the report when it contains the names of employees who nominated Clinton and Peter for their awards. And, in what is one of those small “Aha!” moments, Nina sees that Clinton has been nominating Peter for awards, and Peter has been nominating Clinton. And it looks like Edward Buck, one of Clinton’s colleagues, is also in on this corporate logrolling scheme. (Sure enough, his name showed up in 2017’s Q1 nominations.)

They don’t even all work in the same department, but these employees figured out a way to game the awards system while on their Juul breaks. Before Nina spent a few minutes with this HR dashboard, no one was actually looking at the data to see this was happening.

Resolution: lower level techs Clinton and Edward were let go pretty soon after this. IT Manager Peter lasted a little longer. The awards process was updated to disallow multiple awards for an employee. And human resources employees started to see the value of taking a closer look at their HR dashboards.

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