What Keeps Talent Pros Up at Night: HR Tech Learnings

I recently attended the 2018 HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas, NV. If you’re not familiar with this conference, for the past 20 years, it has been bringing together human resources professionals and HR tech vendors to learn about the best ways for HR to leverage technology to make their processes better. It’s a great opportunity for HR and IT to get their hands dirty and demo a large number of products under one roof.

In the past, the conference focused on the more transactional aspects of technology and HR, such as better managing time and attendance. What sort of HCM would be best for my organization? What’s an ATS and why do I need one? This year, there was a distinct focus on how to use technology to create a more human experience by leveraging artificial intelligence (A.I.) and other automation to free humans up to do the things that only humans can do: connect.

One of the more obvious areas where A.I. could make a big difference for HR is in talent acquisition. I saw several vendors focused on automated interview scheduling alone, not to mention sourcing, screening, and CRM tools designed to help you find the perfect candidate in a tight job market.

To learn more about the impact of technology on talent acquisition and hear about what some of the larger companies are doing, I attended a session called “Talent Acquisition Trends: Asking the Tough Questions,” featuring talent acquisition leaders from Amazon (Kelly Cartwright), NBC-Universal (Gail Blum) and Intel (Lynn…I didn’t catch her last name and she wasn’t in the program. Sorry, Lynn!). The panel was moderated by Madeline Laurano from Aptitude Research Partners. I enjoyed the session, but I think it was misnamed. I didn’t think most of the questions asked were “tough,” per se. They were, however, interesting.

All three organizations that were featured have strong employment brands, so attracting applicants to the company isn’t as much of an issue. In general, all three felt their challenges come from the variety of roles they recruit, the scarcity of certain skills in the applicant pool, and the sheer scale at which they must recruit. Amazon, for example, has 3,500 employees on their talent acquisition team, and it’s highly decentralized. So, if you’ve ever wondered why you have a different experience depending on the recruiter you work with, that might explain it.

I was somewhat surprised to hear that candidate experience, while important, is no longer front-and-center for these organizations. In their minds, it’s a given; but it’s also ever-changing. It’s important to define what candidate experience means before you even try to address it. All three organizations articulated the need to be able to measure the entire process—not just attracting, but applying, keeping candidates warm, building communities, etc. Amazon has an entire function dedicated to experimentation and testing different approaches, which was fascinating, and I would love to learn more about it. NBC-Universal not only worries about the candidate experience—they are focused on the recruiter experience, because they believe recruiters who can easily navigate technology to stay organized will be able to deliver a better experience to both hiring managers and candidates alike.

Many of the other topics that came up were similar to what most organizations deal with—how you best partner with vendors (be clear about expectations, understand their funding and if they’ll be around); universal platform or point solution (all agreed you need an ATS as your core system before bolting on point solutions); and managing the onslaught of vendors trying to sell you the next big thing (what problem are they trying to solve for… and it better not be a fake problem).

One topic that was top-of-mind for the entire panel was the concept of Total Talent. Clearly, internal mobility is important for companies today. With a tight labor market, you should be sourcing from within, developing your people, and building a bench to help keep your pipeline strong. The twist with Total Talent is to include not only your full-time permanent employees, but temporaries, consultants, part-timers and any other non-traditional staff who may be working for you. This is a pre-screened, ready-made talent pool that has often been overlooked. Finding a way to tap this market and remove artificial barriers, such as stringent application policies, could go a long way toward helping companies relieve some of their time-to-fill pressure.

Closing out the panel, Madeline asked each talent leader what they are most excited about in technology for their functions. Amazon was most excited about the growing systems approach from vendors—it’s making it easier for companies to connect the dots with their tech solutions, gain adoption and ensure the tech is moving the business forward. NBC-Universal shared it’s not necessarily about finding new vendors and new products—it’s about working with vendors to get the most out of existing solutions. Finally, Intel was most excited about what the future could be—increasing access to data and using A.I. to build better predictive workforce models to better anticipate needs.

This panel shared so many interesting insights. It would be impossible to summarize them all succinctly. I would highly recommend following these organizations to see how they continue to face the emerging challenges as technology changes the talent landscape. And vendors would do well to listen to their customers. Lynn from Intel said it best: “I feel like we’ve been talking about the same problems for years. Vendors, help me use technology to solve the basics—the problems don’t change, how we solve them do.”

Mary Faulkner is a talent strategist and business leader with over 15 years experience in helping organizations achieve their goals. After working on the operations side of start-ups and small companies, Mary landed in HR by way of learning and development, with extensive experience in leadership and organizational development, coaching, key talent planning, performance management, business partnering, HRIS, process and policy creation, and instructional design.

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