HR Goes Digital

HR Goes Digital

Ravi Kumar Pillai

Ravi Kumar Pillai

Why is it that some bright, academically accomplished candidates who crack highly competitive examinations and join Civil Services fail to live up to the challenges of high-pressure career life? Many of them fold up their youthful ideological overhang rather too fast and let expediency takeover. Some others find it uncomfortable to deftly manoeuvre the murky political infringements from the ruling class and end up being sidelined. Yet others opt to play to the gallery and assume the role of the insider activists. All too soon, many of them settle down to be cogs in the wheel, opting to be benign pen pushers for the rest of their professional life.

How come some of the consistent academic achievers with IIT-IIM tags fare pretty mundanely in the corporate career path? It is not uncommon to find yesterday’s bright ones stuck up in the quicksand of work life pressures and lose out in the competitive rat race. The percentage of those unhappy or frustrated with their careers is alarmingly high.

Something seems to be amiss in the way people transition from academic to work life whether in corporate sector or public services. Now with voluminous research into workplace morale, values and behaviors to back us, we realize that the missing link in the story is probably the way we select people for jobs, especially the critical and strategic ones.

In a typical year, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) conducts a tough three-stage selection process to induct a select band of young men and women for the civil services. In 2018, around 4,50,000 candidates appeared at the first stage, the Prelims, roughly 13,000 made it to the written main examination, and 2,500 to the final interview stage. Finally, less than 1000 made it. So, the funnel works ruthlessly. Yet when we track those who get through the process a few years down the line, we have many a fallen hero.

The process is a lot more refined when it comes to picking the potential talent from top notch academic institutions, most of whom join the Indian corporate sector or MNCs. Going by the attrition rate and career progression success, we can spot many misfits and disengaged professionals in the private sector as well. Probably because there is a gulf of difference between the world of simulations and case studies and the rough and tough workplace dynamics.

In both cases, the key differentiators between success stories and “also ran” in the career life are emotional intelligence, value orientation and leadership abilities.

The plausible reason for the selection dilemma is that we still largely follow archaic selection processes with abundant scope for subjective biases and errors of judgement. The contemporary talent pool with intense career aspirations, high individualism and wide social networking calls for newer methods to spot the right match for organizational roles. Jobs themselves are being redefined in more holistic and integrative manner involving not just professional and technical skills but also social, behavioral and emotional dimensions.

Organizations are no longer hiring just for core work skills but are looking for the ‘total persona’ of employees with cultural fit and higher probability of continuity, commitment and adaptability.

Digital technology advancements, social sciences research and the insights into emotional and behavioral “differentiators” are impacting the parameters and processes of selection and recruitment. Of course, the corporate sector is the early adopter of this transformation in the recruitment process; but sooner than later, even civil services and public sector selection would adopt methods, tools and techniques to effectively assess the attributes, values and behaviors of the New Generation talent.

Cost of hiring and attrition are weighing heavily on organizations. Human Resources Management in general and talent sourcing, assessment and development in particular are moving from a transactional plane to more strategic level; The new HR is business focused, data-driven and analytical.

Let us look at some of the emerging trends in digitalized talent management.

The practice of candidates applying against job postings may give way in future to employer-initiated profile scanning. When a candidate uploads a resume, it is done with a “marketing mindset”, most often resulting in an inflated profile. Employers can get a more realistic candidate profile if they initiate well-defined searches in the web and mining the social media is an effective method. While LinkedIn is the acknowledged primary source for professional profile scouting, other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can also be tapped. Referrals are a cost-effective and fast-to-fulfil option for talent hunting. By having a collaborative search of academic institution databases, the reliability of the outcome can be enhanced significantly.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are set to transform talent sourcing practices. Predictive analytics would help determine the probability of success, engagement and retention of talent.

While use of social media for sourcing is bound to catch up, tapping social media for candidate verification is bound to become more prevalent. In a recent global survey, nearly a third of the responding organizations admitted to having used Facebook to evaluate prospective employees, while 15% have used Twitter. Irrespective of the ethical issues involved in using personal data for background check and mapping of behavioral profiles, social media analytics can throw light on the value orientation and interaction habits of candidates. Behavioral insights based on online assessment tools would be increasingly applied to assess the candidates’ cultural fit.

More and more employers, especially in the Technology sector are jettisoning the annual ritual of campus placement rounds and instead opting to use digital platforms to implement digital recruitment. The expanded reach, multidimensional assessment tools and the opportunity for applying analytics, benchmarks and cost saving are triggering the shift.

Deployment of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in reviewing bulk job applications for recruitment campaigns is bound gather steam. In Government Sector like Union and State Public Service Commissions, Railway Recruitment Boards, and hiring for PSU Banking jobs, huge volume of applicants needs to be processed. Corruption, clerical errors and enormous delays are plaguing public service recruitments in India. Software Robotics can ensure orderly, fair and swift shortlisting, assessment and selection procedures. Similarly, in bulk recruitment scenarios in the corporate sector such as BPO/Call Centre, IT Coders/developers, medical and paramedical staff, retail sales agents etc. RPA can be deployed to ensure error-free and smooth application processing.

Behavioral alignment of workforce with the strategy and culture of companies is being increasingly recognized as critical success factor for business. Competency-based selection process would become the norm rather than the exception. Digital technology, especially AI-based analytics can provide 360 degrees perspective of the candidates’ social, emotional and value orientation.

Video based interviewing techniques are bound to get a boost on the back of greater connectivity and larger bandwidth availability with the launch of 5G mobile networks, powerful fiber links and enhanced cloud storage capacity. Artificial Intelligence would power predictive analytics to provide insights into possible workplace behaviors and career effectiveness such as customer service focus, emotional stability, integrity and ethical orientation.

A possible scenario of AI-driven recruitment analytics would involve the interview being recorded and run over a neural network that will analyze it by unbiased behavioral criteria:

  • AI would check muscular contractions like a frown on the face while describing his previous job or boss; if so, that can be indicative of negativity and aggression.
  • The tone and body language at the interview can tell a lot about whether the candidate is passionate or indifferent about his career interest and the specific role on offer?
  • Fake and made-up responses pass through easily in a face-to-face interview, but AI-based analysis and interpretation can predict latent and natural behavioral attributes more clearly.

Digitalized Talent Management would cover not just the recruitment process but also the further steps in the talent value chain including onboarding, training, coaching, performance evaluation as well as rewards and recognition.

A fascinating example of using Artificial Intelligence to monitor attrition is provided by IBM Watson. It can predict the probability of an employee leaving the company, with a fair degree of reliability. Watson also serves as a digital assistant that can alert managers to recognize employees who accomplish creditable performance.

The annual performance management exercise which is detested both by employees and managers alike for the ritualistic nature and the biases and subjectivity involved is already on the way out. AI can help establish a real time, transparent and fair process of continuous monitoring, evaluation and feedback on performance. Such a shift would take the organization closer to a learning culture where employees are empowered and enabled to develop and grow.

Digital technology can deliver useful intelligence about corporate culture and provide valuable insights into the mind of the workforce. This helps to increase employee engagement and enhance the employer brand value for aspiring talent.

Finally, any discussion on digital Human Resources practices cannot conclude without highlighting the tremendous scope for workplace learning. Microlearning, video-based and Virtual Reality enabled training and personalized development modules with self-paced progression would be the way forward instead of classroom learning.

With the emergence of cloud-based HR services, HR Outsourcing (HRO) has grown to be a billion-dollar industry. However, the tectonic shift in Human Resources Management (HRM) has just begun with a broad array of digital applications, tools and techniques set to emerge over the entire range of the HR value chain.

A great transformation indeed for a function long regarded as transactional and routine. Today, HR is striding on to the Board Room in its new role as a strategic business partner to drive the New Age talent management.

*Ravi Kumar Pillai is CEO and Principal Consultant, Cherrypick India Consulting and Business Solutions Private Limited, Trivandrum and can be contacted at cherrypickindia@