Last week ChapmanCG and Unilever hosted a productive roundtable session on digital HR and improving the employee experience, a hot topic at the moment. Digital technologies are displacing the status quo across all industries and it’s impossible to ignore the statistics describing the brave new world…

  • 50% of companies operating in 2006 no longer exist.
  • 75% of companies that will be around in 2020 don’t exist today
  • 65% of primary school children will be doing jobs in the future that don’t exist today. They will have ‘portfolio’ careers and the gig economy will reign supreme.

The speed of change is evident for all to see and disruptive technologies such as AI are changing HR strategies in both start-ups and large multinational organisations alike.

Removing Unconscious Bias

Unilever have now gone comprehensively digital with its global graduate attraction strategy utilising AI, and the results are powerful. Advanced algorithms rather than human recruiters are used to assess behaviours compatible with what is an ideal fit in the Unilever workplace. This is removing any bias towards candidates from certain backgrounds and institutions. Initially applicants participate in a gamified assessment designed by Pymetrics before being tasked with recording answers to questions via smartphones and tablets, a platform provided by Hirevue. Then, depending on the function, this artificial intelligence will analyse competencies such as risk taking, creativity and problem solving. Successful candidates are filtered through to a virtual ‘Discovery Centre’. Recruiters are used to check any anomalies or borderline applicants.

At the Discovery Centre, candidates will live a day in the life at Unilever, including the chance to socialise with peers online, answer emails and deal with real business problems. Tools like Amberjack allow Unilever to define its DNA and then target this in applicants’ behaviour during the discovery platform. At this point the remaining 20% of the initial 300,000 applicants will then progress to a more humanised assessment. 1 in 3 who advance beyond the discovery centre are hired. This is a significant improvement on previous results and whilst cost wasn’t the main driver, using these technologies has provided a significant seven figure saving.

This process has also augmented the candidate experience, allowing quick feedback. ‘Smilies’ are utilised on a scale of 1-5 to measure how the applicants feel at various points in the process. Unsuccessful candidates will be referred and endorsed to other companies to create employability which aligns nicely with Unilever CSR values of sustainability whilst also enhancing the employer brand. The process has also been streamlined from 4 months to 2-3 weeks.

The program is global and consistent across the world. In fact, in the emerging markets, there are less issues than expected with mobile access so it provides even greater reach and diversity. Currently the program covers 53 markets and 7 languages. By hiring for future potential and not filtering on past experience and academics of applicants, the results have ultimately generated a more diverse and higher calibre graduate pool.

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Recruiters Obsolete?

Whilst there are elements of this AI strategy that can be replicated for other hires beyond graduate level, this doesn’t necessarily translate into an exodus of recruiters! What it highlights is that technology can free up more time for recruiters. If the operational function can be reduced, recruiters can step up and provide a high touch, value added service. The image of robots replacing the human interviewer is ominous, but there will always be a need for a sophisticated assessment of “fit" to the organisation or the specific team, particularly at senior level. The day when AI is strong enough to work through the nuances of a full interview remains far away. Nonetheless, AI & robotics have a firm place in reducing inherent bias in the process.

Closing the gap between consumer experience and employee experience

The EVP and tying that to company vision is fast becoming critical to the success of an organisation. Many start-ups have the EVP as a core principle and use digital to enhance this, other organisations should learn from this approach.

Not only does a strong EVP create brand advocates and ambassadors in all employees, it also touches people who interact with that organisation as part of a candidate experience at intern, graduate or more experienced levels. Social media and word of mouth are becoming crucial and can profoundly magnify negative experiences. Likewise, positive experiences will be relayed, shared and ‘retweeted’. We are already seeing how sites like glassdoor can have a major impact on perceptions of employer brand, just as review sites have provided feedback for years which can make or break a consumer brand.

GSK is an organisation pushing to provide consumer grade personalised experiences for its employees through innovative technologies and engaging content. Digital automation is a key part of this because AI and robotics can do things faster and create more efficiencies. For example, GSK is utilising these technologies to field questions received by its careers website and for sourcing & selection purposes for high volume roles. Internally it’s important to consider the employee base and segment accordingly.

Vodafone’s employee experience strategy has fully embraced digital. It now has a suite of apps covering everything from leave, holidays, expenses and hotel bookings- there’s even an app to track the locations of colleagues. Line manager video selfies are used for onboarding. The Vodafone news app contains YouTube clips and relevant articles, including company updates. All employees have digital business cards. E-conferences are managed via the Vodafone events app, enabling employees to upload slides, dietary requirements and hotel requests. Biometrics is next on the agenda with technology allowing access with a simple wave of the hand at secured turnstiles or doors. Essentially everything, where possible, has gone digital.

Digital hackathons are used to create new ideas. New products are voted for via an app based system and then piloted. There is a strong focus on ‘Generation Z’ teaching coding and other digital skills to their interns while also using graduates as digital ninjas to educate older generations.

Whilst the ubiquitous shift to digital may not appeal to some of the more traditional employees, there is a firm top down message that ‘blockers’ of progress must adapt or be removed!

New operating models

In this quickly evolving landscape, HR operating models are also moving with the times. As organisations become more efficient, fewer senior HRBPs will be needed and those that are must demonstrate strong analytical capability. They will be expected to understand the ‘why’ and the context of the data. An ability to embrace the analysis and provide meaningful insight behind the stats, which then translates into tangible actions will be fundamental. We are already seeing companies investing in the technology and reducing their operational HR workforce to support this model. That doesn’t mean all HR transactions have to be ‘low touch’, however a more selective approach is required. Unilever recently insourced operations and have created new positions called ‘people experience leads’. These roles are responsible for humanising the experience after becoming too dehumanised when outsourced. Repeatable and scalable tasks such as offer letter generation can ultimately be automated but processes that are emotive and personally impact employees individually such maternity leave discussions or relocations must be handled differently

Whilst many organisations will be cutting their HR generalist and HR business partner pools, the quest for senior high-calibre strategic business partners who are truly freed up to monitor organisational health via key talent and performance interventions will intensify. In future, analytics won’t be separate to business partnering, HRBPs will be expected to explore, drive and ultimately own both.