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Notes From the People Cloud | Harmonization: Finding the Golden Needle in the M&A Haystack


The Notes From the People Cloud column is dedicated to elevating the conversation about people and work. Read on for expert perspectives on how changes in the world of work can be supported through smarter technology.

Congratulations, your merger deal closed! Two of the largest companies in the industry, with locations in North America, Asia, and Europe, are now one company. The due diligence process was daunting, but it is behind you now, and the merger will bring together several products that will sweep the competition. You have a team of consultants ready to integrate all the data in the ERP and HRIS systems that were selected. Resources are not an issue, so you can just snap your fingers and bring in as many consultants as needed for the integration to happen. It’s all under control.

Or is it? 

Even if the data and transactions are brought into the same place, each data source within the combined organizations is speaking a completely different language. The following are just some of the data sets that need to be aligned:  

  • Job titles
  • Departments
  • Skills and capabilities
  • Competency models
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Organizational structure 
  • Job openings 
  • Learning and development 
  • Performance
  • And the list goes on…

Every M&A and every business transformation calls for new capabilities, which in turn require new workflows, roles, career paths, and teams that require completely new HR Practices. None of this is possible without harmonized data. What’s “harmonized data” mean?Just like when two singing voices complement one another, harmonizing, when two data sources merge and use the same definitions. This doesn’t just refer to data integration and cleansing, it means creating a common language across the combined data sets that enables companies to continuously see the overall capabilities of their new organization. Then, no matter what changes occur, the trends for people data inside and outside the organization continue to speak a  synchronized language.

You already have the people data, now make it sing

I had the opportunity to work with a Fortune 500 pharma company during my days at Emsi Burning Glass. They wanted to build a unique and niche capability that crossed two industries, which required a clear depiction of the skill shape of that hybrid function. We mined millions of postings and profiles that were adjacent to the skillset daisy chain we started with, and kept following the thread into a myriad of companies to find the perfect skill shape match they were trying to build. And lo and behold, we found it!

It was a company they had acquired two years prior. 

Basically, this organization was looking for people to create new value, and they had no idea they had already acquired the people with the skills they needed. The acquisition transaction had only been modeled financially, and no effort was made to harmonize the data to understand the people capabilities that were also involved. 

It’s typical to think an effort to clean and integrate data across various disparate systems would complete the integration process. But harmonization, backed by deep people expertise, is a crucial element of the success of any M&A or business transformation for that matter.


When it comes to mergers and acquisitions, time is of the essence. There are real risks in a wait- and- see approach, especially when it comes to the people side of a merger. According to PRITCHETT, “During a merger, you need to become a bit of a gunslinger. There is real danger in waiting for problems to ‘draw first’ … and you don’t have the luxury of taking time to aim perfectly.”

Hidden capabilities within disharmonized systems

People are more than a job title or even a product. People carry in them capabilities, the potential to do work beyond what was done in the past, and what their title suggests. People are the most amazing renewable capacity and a critical component of value creation to an organization. But when disharmonized data conceals people’s capabilities it causes those organizations to be stuck in the past, less efficient, and decreases competitiveness. 


Organizations have to constantly pivot from one product to another in an agile way; think of the impact of COVID-19 on the pharma or other chemical industries. If all you have are some job titles and function codes without a clear mapping of people, work done, and potential work they could do, every single pivot is ablind leap of faith. But it doesn’t have to be. Recent years have taught us that these pivots need to take place in an agile way, and that requires automating the process of harmonization across systems. Unlocking capabilities can turn talents into renewable energy, constantly evolving to meet future needs. Capabilities beget work, work begets business outcomes. And none of that would be possible without full harmonization of data‚— not just within an organization—but industry-wide, too. 

Harmonization, with a capital H…

This is exactly why Visier is embarking on an ambitious data harmonization project. Our goal is to allow our users the ability to answer talent questions in the most nuanced way possible, specifically in regards to whether they should “build, buy, or borrow” talent. That is, should they hire talent externally (buy), up/re-skill internally (build), or should this be contracted out (borrow)? Today, we assume a manager knows which HR function they should tap for hiring externally, or which talent management resources to access for career pathing or talent mobility, or when to turn to L&D to address skill gaps. But, whenever there is a skill gap in the team, the manager goes straight to the talent acquisition lead, and that talent acquisition lead acts more like an order taker than a partner. All things L&D and career pathing is mostly self-initiated by the employee and managers have no idea what skillsets their team members have. 

Most existing products that address any of these needs assume a conflict between the needs of the enterprise, the manager, and the employee. However, the real problem is lack of common language, which makes it impossible to operationalize business strategy into team deliverables, and capability gaps. Visier’s vision is to connect the dots between strategy, deliverables, and actions, bridging the gap between business outcomes and people data. And the first and most fundamental step to this is harmonization, so that data across multiple systems communicate effectively. 

Visier’s standardizations 

At Visier, we have already introduced a number of harmonized fields, including standard occupations, standard geographies, and standard performance, amongst others, and are in the process of introducing and exploring a number of new standardized data elements such as:

  • Career level standardization – which will allow organizations to get a more nuanced view of progression beyond what titles and org structures allow. 
  • Detailed industries – so that our users can select the market they want to benchmark themselves against. 

We are also considering harmonizing skills across the various systems, including HRIS, LMS, LMX, and Internal Marketplace. With skill harmonization, our users will finally be able to get a full picture of the supply and demand for each skill level in an organization, team, and individual view. There is a whole slew of other standardized data elements that we are considering today that will make it even more seamless to connect strategy, outcomes, and people in any business. With 12M+ records of people data, straight from HRIS (rather than self-reported or scraped data), Visier is the only organization that can deliver on this connectivity platform. 

Standardization of meaning across various data elements within an organization and outside makes possible one of the greatest values that Visier offers, namely Visier’s Benchmarks. I call that “knowledge in a capsule.” Our ability to streamline all dimensions of people—roles, titles, career levels, domain expertise, skills, capabilities, performance, turnover—allows our users to truly understand skill gaps and market opportunities at a highly detailed and precise level to take action. 

Welcome to Visier’s People Cloud, the first platform to connect business outcomes with people data. Not only will this provide a clear, full look at an organization’s data, it allows businesses to analyze questions, and take the best action forward. Learn more about Visier’s People Cloud. 


About the author: Yustina Saleh Ph.D.

Yustina has been on a quest for connecting people and value for over 20 years. Her life goal is to help people and organizations unlock their unique niches and then find and be found by their perfect matches. Yustina formerly led skill-based analytics at Emsi, The Analytics Center of Excellence at Rutgers, real-time labor analytics at Burning Glass, and labor market and demographic research for the State of New Jersey. As Visier's VP, Research and Value, she's building a platform that connects people and work data with business outcomes to maximize people impact. When she is not optimizing talent capabilities, she enjoys spinning, running, and ballroom dancing.

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