Plenarium Chief Science Officer Dr. Tom Janz attended the 2016 Future of Talent annual conference, US Edition, organized by Kevin Wheeler, CEO of Global Learning Resources. Held on the beautiful grounds of the Marconi Conference Center on Tomales Bay, California. This year’s gathering of 18 talent professionals featured many familiar faces from FOTs past, and several new ones. The following paragraphs hold Dr. Tom’s views, which do not necessarily reflect the official view of Plenarium or any other person or corporation.
Kevin Trend | In Kevin’s travels around the globe, which have been extensive over the past year, the innovations in talent management practices in large corporations have happened outside of the US. HR teams in the US, reflecting the corporations they serve, run too fast and lean driven by the gods of EBITDA, market cap, and free cash flow. This leaves little time or tolerance for reflecting on ‘what if’ or ‘if then’. Things have to be really broken in a way that clearly cuts into quarterly numbers or “why fix it?”
Tom’s Take | Tom has not packed on Kevin’s international air miles, but took in events consistent with his trend. One example- a large global bank chartered in the UK looks to transition its ‘vetting’ process (a.k.a. candidate screening) from the local HR function to the corporate ‘fraud and risk’ function reporting to the CFO. You see, the procurement leads noticed the many millions of dollars spent annually on complex assessment testing services provided by a comparably global test publisher. These services delivered comprehensive assessment reports on candidates– so comprehensive that most hiring managers couldn’t understand them. They knew that HR required them, so they dutifully insisted that candidates take the inventory. Then they would file the reports in the appropriate circular file and hire the candidates they liked based on their qualifications and interview performance. The reports, with their broad array of personality, motivation, interpersonal skill, and mental ability dimensions left them confused. The fraud and risk people wanted a clear number on fiduciary trust- the component that spoke to the reason for ‘vetting’ in the first place.
Kevin Trend | Automation will replace routine processes for white collar (clean hands) jobs even faster than it did for blue collar (dirty hands) jobs. Machines that perform repetitive physical tasks have already replaced millions of jobs that will never come back. Now, thinking machines replace repetitive mental tasks and are already taking on creative design tasks as well. Thinking machines with access to big data analytics may well create and deploy online services and solutions faster than people can. And Kevin sees this change as accelerating as we get deeper into it. All of this calls for HR to play a more constructive role in helping todays leaders and talent get better prepared for this coming wave of change than we were for the last big trend- Globalization.
Tom’s Take | Knowing how hard it is to deliver tangible science-constrained optimal value from analytics, I am not as concerned about the accelerating rate of automation as some are. When I drill down on people using the phrase ‘artificial intelligence’, I often find a lot more that is artificial than intelligent. But the wall of change is coming at some point. And with HR running so thin to fill openings, count heads, take temperatures, and file the paperwork, it’s going to be a challenge. The pleasant thought that almost everyone currently delivering routinized work can be ‘re-purposed’ to step up to the technically-creative-work plate may be wishful thinking. Then what? More angry, marginalized, citizens and refugees? More Brexits? People used to earning sustainable incomes with a comfortable retirement aren’t going to be happy with lower-paying service jobs that require ‘a cheerful, positive disposition that routinely exceeds customer expectations’. Drawing on the talent analytics that now shows up in so many Google searches and HR job titles, HR can model and project the future talent impacts of changing role requirements. HR can advise on the size of the future workforce, who can make the jump to light speed, and where those who may need to ‘right-size’ their career can land. It’s not nearly as much fun as finding and shaping high potentials, but it will be gravely needed. To make that happen, we will need HR professionals who understand enough about analytics to intelligently commission the work and explain the results to executives, who need a compelling narrative before they will give up their leadership prerogative to evidence-based decision processes.
Kevin Trend | HR professionals progress from a being a pair of hands & ears, through processing paperwork, past operating HRM systems (ATS, HRIS, payroll, LMS, 360° feedback, engagement surveys) to finding and communicating pivotal predictive analytics. Only then can operations executives properly prioritize human capital decisions among the other capital allocations they make and significantly raise decision hit rates. HR Professionals who get stuck at the low end of the HR value chain will be outsourced. Those who make it to the high end will earn their seat in the boardroom not by telling executives what to do (never a great career move), but by providing executives with options and consequences around the types of analytics to present, and then letting the numbers/graphics do the talking.
Predictive Analytics go beyond merely tallying up cost per hire, time to fill, revenue per employee, or retention by job class. Those are Descriptive Analytics. Predictive Analytics are more forward facing- pointing towards, for example, where the firm will face recruiting shortages in mission-critical roles. Predictive Analytics pinpoint who to hire to achieve specific strategic and tactical objectives or who will leave and the consequences for operational effectiveness.
Tom’s Take | Tom Becker, who also addressed us at FOT 2016, brought up a recent large international survey by Deloitte of CEOs. It found that of the top ten things that keep CEOs up at night, the usual talent management suspects of engagement, retention, and hiring made it in. So did talent analytics. But while the other three were down the list on urgency, CEOs also rated their organizations as reasonably ready to handle the challenge. Talent Analytics was rated as most urgent on the list, but CEOs rated their organization’s readiness to tackle it as non-existent. Why?
Being able to deliver on Talent Analytics takes more than a title. It takes expertise, integrity, and courage. HR professionals don’t get a ton of training on quantitative analytics, and probably didn’t get into the profession to exercise their stats chops. While being valuable doesn’t require being able to prove the selection utility equation or invert large matrices, it helps to know the differences between expected values, means, averages, and the first moment of distributions (psst! there aren’t any). Not everything can be discovered in 90 seconds with a Google search. Good Moocs on the topic may be one answer. We need more HR professionals with a solid grounding in both analytics and psychological measurement.
It also takes integrity, given the forces all around us that push for the fast, easy solution to difficult, complex problems. Every investment in analytics should be as simple and cost effective as possible, but not simpler. It takes integrity to draw the line when pushed to do it faster or with less data than the analysis needs to have a decent chance of finding a positive result, given that one exists.
Finally, it takes courage. Jack Kennedy said, “Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought” (or evidence). Leaders like what they like, and they are used to getting it. HR professionals offering the comfort of truth to replace the comfort of opinion need to involve operational executives in making the decision to seek an objective answer with a direct connection to improved business outcomes.