Automation and artificial intelligence are already starting to transform recruiting and talent development — and Amber Grewal, the vice president of global talent acquisition at IBM, is at the forefront of that revolution.
Grewal has two decades of experience in the art and science of talent attraction and management, serving in several leadership roles at General Electric, Microsoft, Symantec and KPMG, where she led the transformation of talent acquisition in the digital era.
At IBM, Grewal oversees the strategic vision for talent acquisition. She also leads numerous activities supporting diversity, inclusion and gender equality. She’ll be talking about all that and more in her presentation this spring at UNLEASH America in Las Vegas.
What are you going to be talking about during your UNLEASH presentation?
I will be discussing AI and the future of recruiting, as well as how the era of machine learning is changing the talent acquisition function. AI has become a buzzword recently, however, AI has been in the market for a very long time, since 1960. It was associated with automation during that time. What makes AI different now in the current market, as well as the future, is the major role it plays in the era of machine learning. Some key questions TA professionals must ask themselves are how do you introduce AI into systems that predict, systems that think, and systems that listen, as well as how do you use machine learning to drive outcomes and predictions? This is where I think many functions of HR will change, specifically talent acquisition. I want to walk people through how to use AI to enable a talent acquisition function to provide better experiences, be more productive, have more speed and really create a new era.
What is ‘cognitive talent management’?
Cognitive talent management is a way to look at the end-to-end HR transformation – all the way from attracting to growing – and figuring out how to build an AI-enabled talent-management function. When we say it’s “cognitively connected,” we mean you’re using AI in every interaction, including attracting, engaging, retaining, developing and growing talent. In the past, HR has been very siloed. You have recruiting has its own set of processes and strategies, learning and development has separate ways of accomplishing their goals, workforce planning and retention teams follow their own plan and so on. In this common scenario, you don’t have any systems connecting all of this together. So how do you build a talent-management system that has a digital thread across all functions? You do it with AI. You connect it by personalizing every single experience and every moment of impact for candidates and employees, and as they’re developing their careers.
What’s an example of personalization in recruiting that you’ve implemented at IBM?
There are multiple examples, but let’s start with attraction and how IBM has personalized the candidate experience. Think about recruiting in the past: Candidates would go to a career site and look through thousands and thousands of jobs, and many times it’s the same job. They do a keyword search, they look by location, or any other filter available to them. There’s no personalization to any of this. But now, what we’ve done is integrated Watson into the career experience for candidates. Watson is engaging with applicants, having a conversation with them, learning from that conversation to understand what that applicant is truly looking for, and then making recommendations on a personalized job for them. Whether candidates have a conversation with Watson, or upload a resume, Watson will match a personalized job for them.
I have tested this out, so I’ll give you an example. If you look at my career or my background, you’ll see there’s a lot of transformation, reinvention, work in AI, and change management. The common theme in all of this has been talent acquisition. If I do a typical search and just say jobs in HR or jobs in talent acquisition, I get various results like payroll or a recruiter — things for which I would not be a good fit. But when I followed the same steps with Watson-enabled career site, for example, Watson not only gave me more senior jobs in talent acquisition that were open, but also broader jobs I wouldn’t have considered, such as a transformation change-management consultant or an agile innovation lead. It gave me the opportunity to consider jobs I would not have even considered by personalizing the job search to my experience.
What kind of results have you seen so far?
We’ve seen great results with this — 86 percent of candidates that use our career site engage with Watson, with 96 percent of those candidates looking at the recommended jobs by Watson. From this, 35 percent have applied to a job they never would have thought about applying to if not for Watson’s personalized recommendation. This is providing us a much more diverse talent pool than we’ve ever had before.
In terms of career engagement, for IBM, it has been all about creating an AI-enabled HR function to help employees have a more personalized experience. It’s about having proactive retention insights, cognitive talent alerts that keep track of the time an employee is ready to be considered for a promotion, and having readily available sentiment analysis to ensure employees are getting offered personalized learning and development opportunities. We have taken many measures to embody AI in our full talent life cycle.
Is this type of technology something you see being adopted broadly by companies of all sizes?
I think we’re going to need it everywhere. I think you need to start by looking at what’s happening in the industry and the market — and that’s not just for a big company or a small company. Think about what’s happening in the industry. There is so much demand for talent. In the U.S. alone, by 2020, a million more software jobs will be needed. By 2022, over 2 million cybersecurity jobs will be vacant. If you’re a big company, a midsize company or a small company, you still need talent.
In addition, there’s fierce competition for talent in today’s market; every company is a tech company and the disruptors are disrupting every type of company, big and small. I think companies will need to ensure a first-rate, personalized experience in the way people apply, how companies engage with people, how you onboard people, how candidates and employee receive feedback, and how you collaborate with one another. That experience will need to be real and will need to be personalized for every individual. Otherwise, companies don’t have a chance.
Then, at the same time, once you attract and build these relationships with these people, and once they’re on board, companies need to think about how to retain them so another company doesn’t entice them to join their company, or lose them to a startup. Engagement needs to be very personalized. When you think about where we’re headed, you need to solve for problems now, before they occur, and that needs to be a focus for any company because we are living through an outcome-solution era.