Jess ElmquistNovember 16, 2022
Topics: AI

AI and Amazing People: An Inseparable Duo

The CHRO of a big retailer once told me that artificial intelligence should never make talent decisions. I’m glad she said that, because there are misconceptions floating around about what AI can and can’t do. The CHRO’s comment was a teaching moment for me to set the record straight.

AI doesn’t make personnel decisions; it informs and supports those choices. But it is never the decider. People are. AI’s value is unlocked when it's empowered and surrounded by humans.

Still, the HR executive’s comments reflect a broader legal and political debate taking place around the country about the use of AI in the hiring process. State and local governments are taking steps to create legislative guardrails around AI. And just last month the White House announced a Bill of Rights — five principles to guide the responsible use of the technology.

I welcome these moves. They foster transparency, which is always a good thing. Audits are a core element of AI legislation, and it’s a sign that AI has matured.

How AI Supports You

Most of us became HR professionals to make a positive impact on people. But we’re not as impactful as we’d like because we’re too busy with scoreboards, administrative tasks, spreadsheets, and managing a myriad of competing technologies. AI is an efficient way to effectively scale and enable us to focus on people. Just like other breakthrough technologies of the past, AI is simply a tool that is revolutionizing our speed, accuracy, and impact in our field.

That was the case at my previous company, Life Time, the healthy way of life company. I had a superstar recruiter who flat out loved her job. Problem is she was spending the bulk of her time on work that took her away from people. AI comes along and now all of a sudden things are starting to happen. Chatbots, pre-hire assessment, job matching, auto-interview scheduling, and video interviews were transformational. She became more productive and her job satisfaction soared.

Can you say the same about your recruiters?

AI scores candidates and employees for job fit based on objective criteria such as skills. It personalizes the job search so people can more easily find the right role, and vice versa. This is as true for employees planning their careers as it is for external candidates.

Getting it right is important because talent impacts culture.

AI creates actionable data that continues to learn and grow every minute. That data is the connective tissue that links candidates, employees, and talent leaders to an organization’s mission.

When I think about culture, I often think about it in three areas: mission, values, and goals. These are the critical ingredients to create a distinctly amazing culture that draws people to an organization and keeps them there. So the first thing any company should do if it’s going to integrate AI is to take a serious look at its mission and purpose. Because without one, there’s no Northstar guiding you.

Reviewing and reshaping your mission is a critical part of creating a space where you can actually empower AI and your talent strategies for the future by building inclusive talent experiences.

Who is Doing AI Well?

My recruiter’s story is just one example of how AI can help people achieve big things, but can’t do it for them. That leads me to another truism — that despite all the promise of AI, if companies don't change how they empower their people and what they do with the technology, it will be for naught.

It’s like putting an exotic, $200,000 race car in the hands of an inexperienced driver. You have to train your people and set them up for success.

One company that’s doing it with resounding success is Southwest Airlines.

Greg Muccio leads Southwest's talent acquisition teams, employment branding, workforce development, and hiring strategy. Several years ago he brought a bright, high-potential intern onto his team to manage talent recruitment marketing. The team expanded to three people, then five, then to its current level of 12, and they are making things rattle and hum.

Now, that was a real expense to get that team up and running. What did Greg get out of it?

Southwest Airlines’ ROI

Southwest hired 10,000 people in the first six months of 2022. No other airline came close to that. The carrier returned to pre-pandemic staffing levels before their competitors. Just as impressive is who those 10,000 new employees were and where they came from.

They weren’t anonymous applicants from some job board. Thirty percent of those 10,000 hires were already-engaged members of Southwest’s talent community — people who opted into a relationship with Southwest and were being nurtured by their talent team through regular communication. Thirty percent is huge!

In fact, Southwest sees ROI every month knowing that they're telling a brand story that plays in the long term of holding on to customers. Every person who potentially works at Southwest is also a customer. So the airline is proof positive of a company that is changing their internal talent organizational structure to meet the demands of the new talent economy.

Greg shared something with me recently. He said “Jess, people are coming up to me saying ‘I want the outcomes that you have.’” He told them they need to do what he did — pair their Phenom platform with amazing people. But the reality is too few of them are willing to put in the time, and change management on the team that Southwest is.

So not to put too fine a point on it, but AI doesn’t work alone. You need people and processes in place so it can do its thing. It’s like the connection between HR and other parts of the company. HR is all about building your workforce, but you need sales, marketing, and other departments to achieve that. AI and people work the same way.

Read the full story: How Southwest Airlines Hit a Talent Milestone With an Intelligent Talent Experience

The Golden Rules

If you want to see similar success, then here are my golden rules for reinventing your TA team to get the most out of your AI-powered HR tech:

  • Be specific and scientific. Use data to win in the new talent economy. We have to start thinking around the corner, be more proactive, and have a business mindset when we're talking about winning in today’s talent landscape. That means taking a fresh look at your organizational structures — what are your teams focused on and what are you investing in?
  • Embrace change. The largest concern that people have is they don't want to change. They’ll buy the AI technology, but then blame it for not working. Recognize that an evolving talent market requires new ways of thinking and respond accordingly. Stasis isn’t an option. That goes for org structure and job descriptions on the TA teams.
  • There’s a cost to the status quo. Spend is just an easy excuse not to change. There are costs to an AI platform, yes. But the reality is you need to look at reskilling and upskilling your current team to see who can take on these new roles, who has the technical inclination, and how excited they would be to face a new challenge.
  • Move your talent agenda forward. Talent executives must assist CEOs in making HR a top priority. This wasn’t always the case, but as I have said previously, HR problems are becoming business problems. An educational upskilling of CEOs must take place, so think about forming partnerships with others in the C-suite. The CFO is a good example. There’s a powerful ally who can help the chief executive understand a new cost basis for teams that are impacting profits.

Then vs. Now

The advent of the new talent economy means HR can no longer work by the old rules. It used to be that HR just hired people but didn’t get a lot of time and attention from the rest of the organization. Everything felt transactional, and we felt like we were fighting battles on our own.

But that was then.

Look how far HR has transformed in just the last few years. Instead of being a talent filter, we're talent advocates. Hiring managers are now recruiting partners. Recruiters have evolved from headhunters to talent advisers. HR, which used to be a back office cost center, is now a talent experience designer.

Let’s take the next step in our transformation journey: reinvent your TA teams. I’ll be glad to show you how.

Jess Elmquist

Jess Elmquist is the Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Evangelist at Phenom. In a previous career as the Chief Learning Officer at Life Time, the healthy way of life company, Jess hired more than 200,000 people and spoke to hundreds of his executive peers about talent trends.

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