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Interview with LinkedIn’s HR Tech influencer Josh Bersin, in Gurgaon, India


Avinash: How would you compare the sort of HR tech coming out of the India market compared to Silicon Valley and other global tech hubs?   Are you seeing mirror copies or anything radically different or new that excites you about what India HR tech start-ups are producing?


Josh: It’s an interesting question. Well, I don’t know every company here, but the companies that are building tools are creating comprehensive experiential systems from the start. There is a lot of focus on well-being, health, employee experience, and analytics. The tech community in India is highly educated, creative, innovative, technology-driven. The Indian companies are both old fashioned, traditional as well as futuristic. If the US HR Tech market entrepreneurs review these products and tools, they would be surprised to see how advanced and cutting-edge products are being built in India. The problem, of course, is that the US HR Tech market is significantly mature and is extensively competitive in a different way.

The substantial difference is that the average Indian corporation is relatively smaller, of course, there are some big ones as well, but the majority of them are SMEs, hence a lot of vendors here have 100-200 customers. To reach the number in the US, it will take a decade, because of the stiff competition. The US market has its own challenges, but I do think the technology vendors in US, are relatively less creative.


Avinash: When you look at Asia as a whole, in which countries and in what areas, do you see the biggest opportunities for HR Tech to make a difference.


Josh: The more advanced economies, tend to buy more sophisticated systems.  For e.g. Singapore or Australia, are mature economies, hence the requirement is for more sophisticated HR systems. Whist with India and China, which are developing economies, the essential need is for basic technologies or basic HR functions.  But I see more commonalities than differences. I’ve traveled all over the world, I’ve been to Europe, Eastern Europe, different parts of Asia, and I have observed that most of the requirements are the same everywhere l- such as core HR systems, service systems of records that are easy to use to handle payroll and time management. Organizations want systems to manage recruiting and applicant tracking and sourcing; systems that manage the learning content. I just finished a meeting with an Indian pharmaceutical company which is going through the whole transformation of learning strategy.


The HR leaders want to have a whole variety of small applications to deal with well-being, collaboration, social rewards and recognition, performance management, goal setting. This is pretty much the same thing everywhere I go.     


Avinash: We are witnessing a tectonic shift in HR, right from the process, people skills, systems, and structures. We have effective and smart sourcing platforms, we have AI enabled assessment tools, we have video interview assessment tools, and we have chatbots. Knowing all these advancements, what would be the future of human intervention in the recruitment function?


Josh: Recruiting is approximately a $253 bn market. In the US roughly 35-40% of people change jobs every year. It’s a huge industry. It attracts vast amounts of money towards innovative technologies, in sourcing, assessing, interviewing, screening, scheduling, hiring, on-boarding. Most companies today have multiple technologies for recruiting. It is quite fragmented. And as much as we would want recruiting processes to be data-driven, AI facilitated, it’s not there. In fact, the cutting edge technologies and products that have been built by highly advanced organizations like IBM, are not being used intensively and extensively. And the reason is that correct sourcing and assessing candidates requires vast amounts of data. You must understand the jobs you’re hiring for, which most companies lack because every job is undergoing change. Then you’ve to have good data on the market. It’s actually a very complicated problem. Even companies like Microsoft have a plethora of engineering behind the scenes to recruit and source. And it is doing a huge amount of interviewing and yet it still finds it challenging. To add to the fact that for all the scarce talent areas, the market is very competitive. We are in the eleventh year of an economic upcycle. So there’s a huge amount of competition. Eventually, if somehow, we can fast forward in the future, more and more candidates will be interacting with chatbots to identify the right roles, right jobs, to screen. You can buy technology now, you can upload the resume into a platform, the candidate experience system will match you to appropriate roles and then you’ve can have chatbot conversations with the system about whether you match the job, or if you are not eligible.


The fundamental technological disruptions in the recruiting industry will cause the job of the recruiter to become either a job of looking at data and managing the data coming in, or talking to people on the phone when they’re already down the funnel, and convincing them to join you, or really doing a much deeper level of assessment. The good thing about it, is that a lot of routine jobs in recruiting are becoming much less important. But I’d say that’s not true for everybody. I was on a plane a couple of weeks ago, sitting next to a recruiter, from a very sophisticated software company and she was literally cutting and pasting invitations through her LinkedIn mailbox to everyone she could find. And I was thinking why she would do this. There are thousands of tools to do this. It was a really advanced company and she was still doing that. So as much as these tools are out there, I think it’s an early market for companies to actually buy all this and get up and running.


One of the other things which really is a problem in recruiting is that there’s a huge amount of integration required. If you find the world’s best chatbot and you find the world’s best sourcing and career assessment tool, and you find the world’s best pre-hire assessment tool you would have to integrate all of them together. There’s a sort of system engineering project going on in recruiting departments, to get all these wonderful technologies to work together. And you know some companies do that and some companies don’t. At some point, we may reach a point where market consolidation will be the need of the hour, and we probably need a recession for that to happen.


Avinash: Agile has become the epicentre of all the technological advancement, analytics, and machine learning. Every new tool is aimed at making processes agile. In fact the term agile has earned a seat for itself in the boardroom as well. How well/how far has the HR function in general and Recruitment in particular, been able to imbibe agility in its core processes. 


Josh – We just finished a big meeting with about 20 big companies. The fundamental problem that is standing in the way of HR being agile, is the “service delivery orientation of HR” of the past. Most of the bigger companies setup their HR function to be a low-cost HR service function, like IT. They set up a centre of excellence,  a call centre, front end self-service applications, with the goal of reducing the transactional cost of HR.


Now, the problem is completely opposite. Now. the problem is improving the employee experience, improving the candidate experience, creating better career opportunities for people, training better skills, giving the people better learning. These are different kinds of problem. There’s a fundamental rethinking on how HR should operate to be more innovative, more creative, more agile, more multifunctional, to deliver on that experiential needs. Agile is a big topic in the HR world. We are building comprehensive programs on it in our academy. We have a whole course on agile HR, agile L&D, the new role of the business partner, and the agile organization.  


So once the organization moves past the idea of reducing cost and making HR more efficient, then they realise that’s not the end. That’s the beginning. Now that we have become more efficient, we have to become more creative and agile to solve the problems.


For example, well-being. Well Being is a $45bn industry, growing at double-digit rate per year, that used to be buried in the compensation & benefits departments in the back of HR. Now it’s one of the most important topics in the entire Employer Value Proposition in employee productivity. It’s sort of an executive office topic. Is there a well-being program in the company, how does it relate to the employee engagement program, how does it relate to compensation, how does it relate to performance management? That’s a multifaceted conversation that companies have to have. Is our whole management system, consistent or inconsistent with our well-being program? All of that going on that requires agile. It requires people to come together and work on projects.


So more and more companies are moving to a solution orientation, where they taking the traditional CoEs and redesigning them around the actual employee experience. That’s where agile is coming in.


And another thing interesting that you can’t run HR today without it being tightly integrated with IT.  So my employee experience as a manager might relate to my employee experience of getting my emails, changing my password, getting my computers, getting into the building.


Avinash: Looking 5 years ahead, what do you think is going to be the biggest disrupter in recruitment in 2025?


Josh: Well, It is quite interesting and obvious that the biggest technology disruptor is the one that’s the most invisible, and that is the “power of AI.” These systems are going to get more intelligent. 5 years from now; nobody wants to have systems that just sit there. They want systems, that they can talk to, they want systems that will give them nudges, hints, feedback, suggestions, and recommendations based on data. We will need systems that increasingly get more intelligent and give more information over time. It’s just like what happens to your consumer devices. We expect our smartphones, our news, our commerce, and our health applications at home to be more and more intelligent and predictive. And we would expect the same from HR functions 5 years from now. I think AI will be one of the most powerful capabilities of these systems, and that will be the future.


Particularly in Recruitment, the systems will be more intelligent in identifying and sourcing the right candidates and doing a better job of assessing and screening people; deciding whether they are good for a role or not, and matching people to different roles. All these tasks that we do manually with limited information, will significantly improve 5 years from now. By the way, 5 years is a long time in the era of technology. When we would look back at the systems, 5 years from now, we would find them kind of backward.


Avinash Pakhre is a talent acquisition manager in Oyo Rooms, the world’s fastest-growing hotel group. Avinash is one of HR Digital Today’s freelance HR tech writers.