Jess ElmquistMay 2, 2023
Topics: AI

Still questioning the ROI of AI? Look How Blockbuster v. Netflix Turned Out.

With all we know about the benefits that artificial intelligence (AI) brings to hiring, developing, and retaining amazing talent, why are some companies still on the fence?

The answer for all of us is clear: Fear. Fear of the unknown, the legal concerns of where to begin and end using AI in talent, and the worry that using AI in a powerful way will change how we work. These are natural concerns as HR practitioners as they continue wrestling with the power of AI — knowing that if they don’t take the plunge, other employers are beating them to the punch.

I posed that and several other questions to my friend, author and researcher Ben Eubanks. He stopped by my podcast for the kind of rich conversation about AI that his keen analysis is known for as Chief Research Officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory. Here’s what he had to say about AI holdouts.

“I liken them to Blockbuster,” he said of the former video store chain that once dominated the movie rental market before Netflix innovated them right out of business.

“Blockbuster said, ‘We're going to hold off,’ and by the time they decided it was time to go all in, it was too late.”

His point: Innovation waits for no one. There’s a limit to how much change people can adopt. You can’t waste time while other employers are moving ahead — and hiring and developing their people faster — and then suddenly expect your recruiters and talent managers to move twice as fast to catch up. That’s not how it works.

Expectations have changed. Today, people want personalized job recommendations tailored to their skills as much as they want movie choices based on past viewing habits. No one has time to scroll through 1,000 movie titles, so why would anyone sift through 1,000 resumes? 

Those are just some of the refreshing insights Eubanks brings to the table. It’s no wonder, then, why people flock to his research and books to make sense of where the talent market is going and why.

Watch my discussion with Ben Eubanks here, or listen on Apple and Spotify.  

Our Brains on Autopilot

With Generative AI dominating the news cycle, we naturally feel like it is moving too fast and there needs to be a slow down or we won’t catch up. The natural tendency is to just let it take over.  We need to resist this inclination too. I asked Eubanks about the psychological makeup of those reluctant to embrace innovation.

As ironic as it sounds, “Our brains want to run on autopilot. They are geared to conserve energy, so letting AI take over is a natural human byproduct,” he answered. Yet not paying attention to something that actually helps us perform better is a risk, he added. We need accountability, and talent leaders need to stay in charge of AI and the inputs for the system to make a long term positive, transparent, and equitable impact.

“Neither you nor I should expect [HR practitioners] to be software engineers or data scientists, so finding a great partner is important,” Eubanks continued.

I mentioned Phenom’s belief of keeping humans in the loop and he fiercely agreed. We dug into that subject a little more when he shared his recent research that asked employers about using algorithms. Here’s what he learned:

AI and Humans are a Partnership

Eubanks explained that it’s not an either/or battle between humans and robots; it’s a partnership. He recounted an interesting story in his book, “Artificial Intelligence for HR: Use AI to Support and Develop a Successful Workforce,” about a weeks-long competition between recruiters and AI to see if a recruiter was better than an algorithm at sourcing.

“The humans won,” Eubanks laughed. But there’s more to the story than that.

It took the winning recruiter up to 40 hours of repetitive tasks to do something an algorithm did in mere seconds. The point of the exercise was to show that AI freed recruiters from time-consuming manual work to engage in more enriching creativity, curiosity, and compassion.

“That was a fun thing that I found in the book that I’ve used over and over again,” he said. “Let's bring [recruiters and AI] together, because that's where we're going to get the best results.”

That was precisely the motivation behind my SXSW presentation, I shared with him. I titled my talk, “AI Doesn’t Make Hiring Decisions, People Do,” which brought a nod and a smile.

During the talk, I did an informal survey at the beginning to see who in the audience was an HR practitioner, and a few hands went up. When I asked the crowd if they were motivated to be there out of concern about AI, almost every hand went up. I mean, it wasn’t even close.

So there’s still some educating we need to do — and we need folks like Eubanks to reinforce why we need to spread the word, calm nerves, and speak the truth. He’s keenly aware of what’s going on in the HR space like few are.

Mental Health, Skills, and Other Trends

Naturally as time wound down, our conversation shifted to the big picture trends he’s seeing out in the labor market. We’re five months into 2023; let’s hear from him on where things stand.

Mental health
is worth keeping an eye on. In fact, it was one of the patterns I predicted months ago in my Fast Company article. The workplace has emerged as ground zero because Gen Z is demanding it. It used to be that you checked your emotions at the door when the workday began, but things have changed, and employers need to get on board.

I’m going to look at that more closely when I host a webinar in a few weeks for Mental Health Awareness Month (you can join me by registering here). 

Skills are another trend to watch. While learning and development have always been a priority, the difference is that today, more companies in the last two years are asking how they can develop talent in a way that’s affordable, personal, and tailored, Eubanks’s research discovered.

“The easiest job to fill is when we don't lose them in the first place,” he said.

Hear, hear to that!

Eubanks quotes Jim Rohn’s famous saying that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If that’s the case, and you’re hanging out with folks who think AI is scary, then it’s time to run with a new crowd. Don’t become like Blockbuster and get innovated out of business.

Put your future glasses on and see the trends that will positively change work and help talent professionals find more satisfaction in what they do. The HR practitioners who experience the power of AI daily will win, and they’ll see what efficiency, automation, and personalization look like.

Loved my time with Ben! That’s one way to get smarter together! Watch my discussion with Ben Eubanks here, or listen on Apple and Spotify.  

If you’d like to discuss the topic of AI, skills, mental health — anything at all — at your organization, let’s connect. 

About Smarter

“Smarter” is a podcast where I engage with top experts and senior leaders to uncover the big people trends, unlock the insights, and listen for new ideas related to purpose, people, and the processes that work the best. Let’s get smarter together.

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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