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Ep 390: Strategic AI

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As I mentioned in the previous episode, with recruiting evolving so quickly, I will be dedicating a lot of time on the podcast to providing deep dives into how AI and Automation are being deployed to solve real life recruiting challenges.

Conversational AI is a big topic at the moment, with a shift taking place from simple chatbots to sophisticated tools that can radically improve the candidate experience, speed up hiring and allow TA leaders to redeploy their human team members to higher-value tasks.

So what are the thoughts processes, decision journies and implications of putting AI at the heart of your TA strategy? My guest this week is Shannon Hughes Swayney, SVP of Human Resource US at Prosegur. Prosegur uses conversational AI strategically throughout their employee lifecycle and has done an enormous amount of work to ensure that it reflects their employer brand values in an authentic and helpful way.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Talent Acquisition challenges

• Putting AI at the heart of strategy

• Building a talent lifecycle solution and supporting candidate success

• The decision journey

• Basing a chatbot on a real person and embedding brand values

• Scripting and tone of voice

• Engagement, retention and compliance

• The balance between AI and humans

• ROI and results

• Advice to TA leaders

• The future of Talent Acquisition

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript

Matt Alder (0s):
Support for this podcast is provided by Paradox, the Conversational AI company, helping global talent acquisition teams at Unilever, McDonald’s and CVS Health get recruiting work done faster. Let’s face it, talent acquisition is full of boring administrative tasks that drag the hiring process down and create frustrating experiences for everyone. Paradox’s AI assistant Olivia is shaking up that paradigm, automating things like applicant screening, interview scheduling, and candidate Q&A so recruiters can spend more time with people, not software.

Matt Alder (40s):
Curious how Olivia can work for your team? Then visit paradox.ai to learn more.

Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 390 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. As I mentioned in the previous episode with recruiting evolving so quickly at the moment, I’m gonna be dedicating a lot of time on the podcast to providing deep dives into how AI and automation are being deployed to solve real-life recruiting challenges. Conversational AI is a big topic at the moment with a shift taking place from simple chatbots to sophisticated tools that can radically improve the candidate experience, speed up hiring and allow TA leaders to redeploy their human team members to higher-value tasks.

Matt Alder (1m 46s):
So what are the thought processes, decision journies, and implications of putting AI at the heart of your talent acquisition strategy? My guest this week is Shannon Hughes Swayney, SVP of Human Resource US at Prosegur. Prosegur uses conversational AI strategically throughout their employee lifecycle and has done an enormous amount of work to ensure that it reflects their employer brand values in an authentic and helpful way. Hi, Shannon, and welcome to the podcast.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (2m 17s):
Hi, how are you?

Matt Alder (2m 18s):
I’m very well, thank you. An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Shannon Hughes Swayney (2m 25s):
Very good. So my name is Shannon Hughes Swayne. I’m the Senior Vice President for Prosegur, specifically Prosegur in the US. My company is a very large company that is based in Madrid. We operate in 26 countries and have about 160,000 employees worldwide. My part of that is about 6,000. We entered the US market in 2019 and have been building the US Prosegur brand ever since. So my job in essence is to manage all of the people functions for the US business.

Matt Alder (3m 2s):
I suppose, to give everyone a little bit of context around the conversation we’re just about to have, could you tell us a little bit more about what Prosegur does and also the type of people that you’re recruiting and this talent acquisition challenges that you have?

Shannon Hughes Swayney (3m 18s):
Sure. So our company as a whole is a security company, and we’re a little bit different than our partners around the world. Madrid is very heavy in cash, transit cash and transit alarms, those types of things. The US doesn’t do that. we’re more of an integrated security company. So we do risk-based security 360 work for our clients, and really kind of go with the idea of, you know, we protect people, brands, and markets. And our success is when we protect our customer’s organizations by supporting their safety, their culture of safety, protecting their brands, and our ability to protect their markets such as supply chain and those sorts of things.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (3m 60s):
And we do that through things such as remote video monitoring. We have a retail side of our business that does the tags, when you leave a store and you have a tag on your clothing. So those retail tags, we do. We also do guard posting so data center security. We patrol perimeters. We have a really small business, public small portion of our business that really is dynamic guarding, which is truly patrol guarding. So most of our employees that we hire at the hourly level are security professionals, both armed and unarmed, as it relates to our salary teams.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (4m 46s):
We usually have, you know, your myriad of normal hires. But then we also do a lot in the IoT space. We also do a lot of engineering. We also do a lot of sort of those high-tech monitoring types of positions. So it’s a little bit of– Our recruiting challenges are great for a number of reasons. The first is we don’t have a presence in the United States. And really when we think about AI, that was really the reason we started leaning toward more of a creative way of attracting talent. So because we’ve only been in the United States since 2019, when you see an allied security personnel, you automatically know who they are.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (5m 31s):
We don’t have that brand awareness in the United States. And that really was the push for us to look at AI technology. So, you know, the speed to market was tough. We’re growing, and we’re growing at a rapid rate. We’ve doubled in size and in our hourly population since last year. And we needed a tool that would help us be more efficient, but also help us get that brand awareness out to the United States. So when they see yellow, they think Prosegur.

Matt Alder (5m 59s):
You very much per AI at the absolute heart of your strategy, I suppose, before we talk about what that looks like in practice and how you went about it, tell us about that strategy, that first step that you took to define everything else that’s come after.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (6m 13s):
So I was familiar in a prior job. I was familiar with AI technology and I’ve seen it on websites and those sorts of things. And I always thought looking at the technology that there was so much more that technology could do. So when I had an opportunity to meet up with a Paradox team, which is who we use for our AI technology, the very first conversation we had was I get what you do, but I think you can do more. And I’ve always sort of pushed them to think about AI in– It’s not just a talent recruiting, talent acquisition tool. It really is a life cycle solution. And I think it was a little bit of an interesting evolution with us and them because we came to the table with the notion of, we want this tool to be the first “person”, if you will, person in quotes to greet an employee or to greet a potential employee and then stay with them through the life cycle of their employment with us up to and including retirement, so folks that leave.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (7m 17s):
We want this tool and we always wanted this tool to be that face if you will of Prosegur in the US. And so that was the conversations initially, and that was really sort of our strategy. Of course, you know, a life cycle solution also has to be fast. We’ve got to get to market quicker. We were drowning in resumes and minutia and not able to engage candidates quickly. And AI really gives us that ability. We also needed to make sure that our hiring process was right and right every time, and AI gives us that ability to control the parameters of how we hire and do it the same way every time.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (8m 1s):
And so that repeatable business model was really important to us. And the other thing that is really exciting about this technology and something we thought about, but not really doubled down on until we started using it was the idea that AI and our pro actually help support candidates’ success. So it’s really not a tool where we throw it out there and just let people interact with it as they do. We actually have specific milestones in the hiring process where we help candidates find jobs and we help them find jobs with us. So it’s really gratifying at the end of the day when we know that we’re helping our candidates successfully interview and successfully prepare for interviews.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (8m 45s):
And that we know on the backend that we’re doing it right, and our candidates are getting something out of it.

Matt Alder (8m 53s):
You very much put AI at the heart of the strategy. You’ve got to a vision of where you want to get to with that. What came next? What kind of decisions did you have to make to sort of really sort of push yourself along this journey?

Shannon Hughes Swayney (9m 6s):
Yes, I think it starts with the right partner. And again, you know, I think Paradox has been amazing and understanding that the vision that we have is all-encompassing and it’s a life cycle solution. So having the right partner is definitely important. And then I think, you know, our journey was really interesting because we started with the notion that we wanted our Pro, our AI technology, who we call Pro, we wanted him to represent what was good about our company and what was good about our vision and mission and what we were doing in the marketplace. And so we started very much on that journey with the end in mind.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (9m 47s):
You know, I think Covey was absolutely right in this instance, you have to think when you’re doing AI and when you’re setting up AI, you have to really think about where you want to end up because ideally, you want this tool, whatever you designed to be a long-term solution. So, you know, the solution, the journey we took was very purposeful. We started out with what do we wanna be when we grow up? We’re not an established business in the US and that was kind of fun to be able to take all the great things that we do, our mission, our vision, just the core of us as a team, not only in the US but also worldwide and say, “What is it we do?

Shannon Hughes Swayney (10m 29s):
And what is it we wanna be known for doing?” And really, we ended up with the idea of genuine protection with these words kept floating around as we were going through our journey. And we really sort of had to double down on those and say, “That was the vision we have, and that’s where we wanna be.” And, you know, it was a journey. It was a year to get us to where we were or to where we are now, but the tool that we have we’re so proud of. And I think it does what we want it to do. And, you know, this is just the beginning. We have probably another year to two years of development coming ahead of us to get to that lifecycle solution I mentioned earlier.

Matt Alder (11m 12s):
So, Pro is the name of the tool. And you kind of very kindly sent me a link, so I could play around with it before we spoke. So what you’ve done is really, really interesting. Tell us about Pro.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (11m 21s):
Sure. So Pro is actually a real person. So one of the things I hate about AI technology, and this is just a personal thing, I think it’s more meaningful and it’s more relevant when it means something, it means something to the employees, or it means something to a prospective candidate. And in our case, Pro is an employee and actually, he’s an employee that works on my team. So he is an employee that represents as we think about what we want to Pro to be that genuine, authentic, helpful, the kind of person in a room where you just are drawn to talk to them, and you want to know who they are. So his name is Jason. He works on my team and he’s been– He started out as a security guard and worked his way up through the business and is now a talent acquisition partner on my team.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (12m 11s):
And when we started thinking about Pro, we kind of kept coming back to that notion of, again, someone genuine and authentic, and Jason is that guy. And so it means something to our people, the folks that know him. And he’s worked with just about everybody in the US business. They know who he is. So every time we see Pro we have that moment of, yeah, that’s right. We started playing around with the notion of Jason being our Pro. And we did a lot of different takes of what Pro should look like. We had dress rehearsals. We had photo shoots and it kind of kept coming back to the same sort of genuine, approachable, smiling, friendly, but very serious.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (13m 1s):
In other words, although Pro is all of those things, he’s also a protector, and that was what we really wanted to make sure folks got from interacting with Pro. And I think we’ve been very successful in that, but it’s been a lot of work to get there.

Matt Alder (13m 17s):
And I think what’s also interesting is you’ve actually gone further than that in terms of not just taking the personality and the traits that you’ve given to this AI assistant. You’ve also done work to make it encompass your employer brand values, haven’t you?

Shannon Hughes Swayney (13m 32s):
Yeah. And what we did is when we decided that we were gonna go down this journey, one of the things I said is, you know, we gotta have people working on this team that understand the vision and that are, you know, aligned with where we’re going. So marketing was a big part of what we did. We had our marketing team work very closely with us. We actually hired a writer, a professional writer, and gave him all of the “This is what we want, and this is what we want the voice to be. And this is what we want the tone to be.” And he actually wrote all the scripts to make sure that it was very purposeful and that we were, you know, genuine and we were approachable, and we were keeping with our core values of being warm-hearted and sound and vigorous, straightforward, and bright.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (14m 17s):
Those are the things that as an organization close to our values. And we wanted to make sure those came across in our Pro tool and the way he sounds. And we also threw in some fun things like when you interact with him, and I don’t know if you saw this, but he does use some of the security ask type language like Roger that and 10-4, and we want it to be authentic, right? You’re talking to a security personnel when you interact with Pro, but it really was around making sure that it was an authentic conversation and helpful. We didn’t want our AI to be canned.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (14m 58s):
We were really looking for that personal interaction, even though it is AI technology. So there was a lot of work that went into that to make sure that it did what we wanted it to do and in the way we wanted it to do it.

Matt Alder (15m 11s):
Earlier, you touched on some of the things that the Pro does in terms of helping candidates. Can you sort of talk us through a few of the sort of applications of this, maybe from a candidate perspective, just to give people a flavor of what the tool is doing for you right now?

Shannon Hughes Swayney (15m 27s):
Right. So it does actually a lot of things for us right now and has a lot of things in the future for us. So what it’s currently doing is really that first point of contact with potential candidates and we’ve been able to measure the speed to market with this tool. We’re at about three minutes and 28 seconds, roughly. It takes about three minutes for us to engage a potential candidate when they come to our website. So Pro is the first point of contact often with potential candidates, but Pro is also, and I spoke about it earlier, but pro also helps with our interview scheduling and preparing our candidates for interviews with managers.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (16m 13s):
He also is very involved with after-interview surveying, how did your interview go? Is there anything else you need? How can we help you? Future state, what we have Pro doing on the candidate side, he will be following up with candidates who don’t complete applications. In other words, that touchpoint to say, “Hey, matter, I noticed you haven’t finished your application. What can I do to help you finish that?” So actually going out to the market and looking at the people who are starting, but not finishing and getting them through to the finish line. AI is also in our Pro does all of our interview scheduling. So it actually interviews or, excuse me, schedules with candidates automatically using our manager’s calendars and allowing interviews to be set up quickly.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (17m 3s):
So on average and we’ve seen the metrics we’ve, you know, in 2020, we had for the year 119 interviews. For 2021, at the time when the data was taken, we were at 429 interviews. So Pro has quadrupled our ability to get in front of candidates quickly. And so that’s the candidate piece, and we have some other enhancements we’re working on. We added Spanish as part of– He’s now able to communicate in Spanish. We have a large population of Spanish-speaking employees. We are looking at potentially other languages as we go on. This is just the tip of the iceberg with us and paradox in the relationship.

Matt Alder (17m 46s):
You’ve talked about some of the plans on the candidate side there, what’s next in terms of making this all work for all of your employees or for the full life cycle of employment.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (17m 58s):
So when we went into this, we had a roadmap and, you know, I know I sent that to you, but essentially phase two is really all about engagement, retention, and compliance. And so we see Pro as the tool to be able to interact with our employees in a helpful, but engaging way. So we look at Pro and are looking at Pro for onboarding support, helping with paperwork, helping with I-9s, you know, all this stuff that you have to do to hire people, but also Pro is gonna be the tool that does 30-, 60-, 90-day check-ins for us. And we have a birthday anniversary sort of thought process, acknowledging birthdays, celebrating service anniversaries, going to an employee when they hit their service anniversary and saying, “Congratulations, on 10 years.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (18m 51s):
Here’s a list of things that you can choose from as a gift, please pick one.” And once they make a decision, then all of that is sent to the manager and Pro says, “Hey, manager, your employee had 10 years. Here’s their certificate and their gift. Please present this to them.” So we really see Pro as the helper for the managers as well, long-term. And when we think about compliance, we’re looking at training, safety training, safety moments that Pro’s gonna push out for us. And, you know, as we think about compliance, making sure paperwork is done correctly at the front end.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (19m 31s):
I mean, there’s a lot of things, the vision for Pro is just beginning for us. And it’s very exciting. It’s an exciting time to be thinking about everything that this technology can do.

Matt Alder (19m 44s):
There’s some really fascinating things there. And some things that I think a lot of other employers can learn from which does bring me nicely to my next question there. There’ll be lots of TA leaders listening to the conversation who are considering building a strategy that includes Conversational AI, what advice do you have to someone who’s at the start of this journey right now?

Shannon Hughes Swayney (20m 7s):
Yes, so I think the biggest thing is look at AI, not as a bot, but look at it as an extension of your values and your long-term strategy. So go into discussions with hopefully Paradox, but whatever vendor you choose and really think about what you want this to be long-term. And when you’re designing and building it, build it with a long-term vision in mind, so that the tool takes that time on the front-end to make sure whatever you release is indicative of the culture and indicative of what you want candidates to glean from interacting with your AI.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (20m 52s):
Take the front-end time. We spent almost a year designing and getting Pro where we wanted him and making sure he was authentic. And that was really important. I would also say the other thing that’s really important is AI is a technology, but it isn’t a replacement for a person. And so what we try to do with our AI is really, really combine the best parts of AI and the best parts of that interaction with people. It’s not a replacement. It’s not gonna be the tool that’s going to replace everything that a recruiter would do. But what it does do, which is the powerful piece, is that it gives you the opportunity to pick and choose where we put recruiters and what that communication is and where in the process.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (21m 42s):
And so it frees up your recruiters to have time to develop relationships with candidates and be a part of the process. This is not a solution that takes the place of a talent acquisition team. And then the other thing I would say is constantly evolved. And what I mean by that is it’s not a tool that you’ll put in place and just leave it and think, “Oh, gosh, it’s done. I don’t have to do anymore.” We’re constantly looking at Pro and going in and looking at the metrics and adjusting Pro and what he’s doing based on the metrics. And also we’re looking at conversations with Pro that he’s having and making sure that those conversations are in keeping with our vision.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (22m 28s):
So it is not something you just put in place and wash your hands and say, “Okay, I’m done.” And if that’s what you choose to do, you can tell The AI where they’ve done that. It’s just sort of a stagnant drop-off a cliff kind of thing, as opposed to somebody or something you wanna interact with over and over again, something you wanna play with. And so the caution is think about it. It’s not just a one-and-done solution. It’s a long-term decision you’re making when you get involved.

Matt Alder (23m 1s):
Final question, which is really a long-term question. Obviously, it’s impossible to predict the future in terms of exactly what’s gonna happen, but it’s very clear, and I’m sure that you’re finding this in your experience, that the technology is getting much better, very, very quickly. What do you think the future for Talent Acquisition is gonna be with technology kind of improving this quickly?

Shannon Hughes Swayney (23m 24s):
So I think it’s an exciting question in the sense that I think we’re finally at a place with AI technology where Talent Acquisition gets to be what they really should be and that is a relationship manager. I think AI technology is gonna be great at things like passive candidate Management, widening our talent pools, speed to market, which is so important, especially in the hourly space right now. We all know that the first person that gets to that candidate is the one that lands them. So we’re all competing for that speed. And I think AI is great in that.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (24m 5s):
I mean, it’s increased our speed 20 fold and it’s automatic. So I do think that Talent Acquisition is going to be able to have more time to be looking at talent networks and to create relationships and communities and really participate. I’m going to say maybe old school Talent Acquisition, be able to be out in the community and doing job fairs and interacting with, with customers. AI gives us the opportunity to– He works behind the scenes so we can focus our time in other areas. And, you know, on my team, I have 15 Talent Acquisition folks, and it used to be before we implemented AI, that they were spending all their time interviewing candidates and setting up schedules and doing some of those minutia things.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (24m 59s):
Now, what we’re seeing is with Pro taking the bulk of that transactional kind of TA work, they’re able to be at job fairs and develop network, you know, community partners and look at underprivileged groups much more so than we’ve ever been able to do before because they have the time. And, yes, my talent acquisition team has grown, but AI is a real big piece of that because we haven’t had to grow as fast. We’ve been able to keep pace with growth with our technology and with the people we have. I do think that AI technology too gives us an opportunity to highlight what makes us special.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (25m 40s):
So the age-old question is, why should I work for you when I can go work for Allied or Securitas or one of my competitors? And it’s AI technology really gives us the ability to answer that why. This is why we’re special, ask me anything you want to know. Here’s why we’re great. Here’s why you should come to work for us. Here’s why we can take care of you. And AI allows us to answer those questions.

Matt Alder (26m 5s):
Shannon, thank you very much for talking to me.

Shannon Hughes Swayney (26m 9s):
You bet. It’s been a pleasure.

Matt Alder (26m 12s):
My thanks to Shannon. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at RecruitingFuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening.

Matt Alder (27m 7s):
I’ll be back next time. And I hope you’ll join me.

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