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Ep 545: Using AI Strategically

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Earlier in the summer, I collaborated with the SmartRecruiters team to interview four fantastic practitioners who spoke on The Hiring Without Boundaries stage at RecFest in London. We recorded the conversations backstage at the event, and this is the third of three podcast episodes where I will be sharing them.

Talk about generative AI is everywhere, but most of the conversation is either inflating the hype or dealing with highly tactical short-term techniques and use cases. So, how can TA Leaders think about AI strategically to embrace current opportunities and plan effectively for the future?

My next RecFest guest is Ben Handyside, Director of Talent Acquisition EMEA at Colliers International. Colliers have recognized that ChatGPT was already being used by many people within their organization and are harnessing the advantages to boat innovation and make TA a key strategic driver of value.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Challenging barriers and boundaries to access new talent

• The forces driving change in TA

• TA as a strategic enabler

• Acknowledging AI utilization, understanding the risk and establishing guidelines

• The risk of doing versus the risk of not doing

• Use cases and experimentation.

• Creating more time for human interactions

• Managing adoption

• Planning for the AI-driven future

• Understanding the problem you are trying to solve.

• Speed as a strategic lever

• Advice to TA Leaders

• What will the role of the recruiter be like in ten years?

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Transcript:

Matt: Support for this podcast is provided by SmartRecruiters. SmartRecruiters enables hiring without boundaries by freeing talent acquisition teams from legacy applicant tracking software. SmartRecruiters next generation platform serves as a hiring operating system for over 4000 customers like Bosch, LinkedIn, Skechers, and Visa. Companies with business-critical hiring needs turn to SmartRecruiters for best of breed functionality, world class support, and a robust ecosystem of third-party applications and service providers. To find out more, go to Smartrecruiters.com. That’s smartrecruiters.com.

[The Recruiting Future Podcast theme]

Matt: Hi, there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 545 of The Recruiting Future Podcast. Earlier in the summer, I collaborated with the SmartRecruiters team to interview four fantastic practitioners who spoke on the Hiring Without Boundaries Stage at RecFest in London. We recorded the conversations backstage at the event and this is the third of three podcast episodes where I’ll be sharing them. Talk about generative AI is everywhere, but most of the conversation is either inflating the hype or dealing with highly tactical short-term techniques and use cases. So, how can TA leaders think about AI strategically to embrace current opportunities, but also to plan effectively for the future. My next RecFest guest is Ben Handyside, Director of Talent Acquisition EMEA at Colliers International. Colliers have recognized that ChatGPT was already being used by many people within their organization and are harnessing the advantages to boost innovation and make TA a key strategic driver of value.

Matt: Hi, Ben, welcome to the podcast.

Ben: Hey, Matt, thanks for having me.

Matt: So, we’re sitting here backstage at RecFest, it looks like it’s about to rain-

[laughter]

-so I’m hoping we’re good. And you’ve just done a really interesting fireside chat and I want to talk to you about it. Before we do that, could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Ben: Yeah. I’m Ben Handyside. I’m Director of Talent Acquisition EMEA at Colliers, which is the fastest growing global real estate and professional services organization. I’ve been there just over three and a half years now.

Matt: Yeah. You joined during the pandemic?

Ben: I joined, I think, the 9th of March, a week before the first lockdown. I go given a list of everyone I should meet and told I would be traveling loads. As it turned out, I traveled pretty much either in the bedroom or to a downstairs room with a black box and clicked the Teams link.

Matt: Yeah. No, truly crazy times. Talk us a little bit about the hiring challenges that you have as an organization.

Ben: So, I think the first part of that is real estate as an industry itself is still very traditional and is having to go through a very big transformation, and some companies in it have achieved it a lot quicker than others. If you think of it in the ecosystem, I think real estate is perhaps just above the legal sector. So, going into the organization I knew that there was going to be lots of opportunity for change as well. So, a lot of that is in terms of the challenges around, you have to hire certain types of people i.e., through technical skill sets and there’s only a finite pool. Then the other side of it is, I think, challenging the organization to look beyond their own barriers and boundaries, to actually go into different pools of talent and tell them it’s okay to hire these people and that you can allow them to thrive.

Matt: Yeah, I can imagine that must be quite a challenge.

Ben: You know what? I think that’s one of the enjoyable aspects of it because it’s kind of like any industry needs new idea generation and they need new talent. If people have been on that journey previously, then we’re only going to benefit. But we have to be brave and we have to be bold about that and we also have to be confident that we can allow them to thrive and that the infrastructure is in place to enable them to do that.

Matt: So, it’s a very, for want of a better word, dynamic time [laughs] when it comes to talent acquisition at the moment. That’s already been reflected in lots of the content that we’re seeing today. From your perspective, what are the biggest forces that are driving change in TA at the moment?

Ben: I think there’s quite a lot going on in terms of it’s not just the global context and the economic and the constant disruption. I think that’s with us now and I think it’s more about how do you actually live with it and from a TA perspective, how do you use it as an opportunity more so than a challenge or a barrier. I think it’s taking the opportunities. I think there was a quote that was banded around in one of the first lockdowns that, “Creativity is the mother of necessity.” I think that rings still true very much today in terms of TA. I think you’re dealing with multilayers of challenges for TA, not only just from a candidate perspective, but an organizational perspective, a society that expects instant results. TA has the answers to all your company’s L’s, it’s whichever level you look at.

I actually think TA is more of a strategic enabler now than it ever has been. I think it should be at the table, in boardrooms and with senior leaders and it actually is the mechanism by which you unlock the potential of an organization. I firmly believe that. I think that’s the opportunity that TA leaders need to drive their TA functions into and that’s where I see where things need to evolve.

Matt: No, absolutely, I couldn’t agree with you more, definitely. You were just on stage talking about ChatGPT. We’re talking about forces driving change and it was a pack session because you just mentioned the word ChatGPT and people come flocking to hear. Now, you talked about how you’re using it in the organization, so give us a bit of backstory. So, ChatGPT came along. What was the opportunity for your organization? How did it pan out?

Ben: So, I think the first thing we recognized was there was this unsaid utilization of ChatGPT. Suddenly, people started producing really high-quality work in really quick turnaround times and people didn’t want to tell their managers or their leaders that they’d actually done this. Maybe I’ll delay the send so it looks like I’ve really thought about it. So, the first part was actually creating recognition that we knew it was being used. The second part was, where is the risk and what does that risk look like? Then the third part to that was, let’s call it out. Let’s get a policy in place and a framework in place and some guardrails that says, “We’re using this, we’re going to play with it. But you’re going to use it based on these eight points, for example,” which basically gives you the security piece and some form of regulation.

I’m not saying we’ve landed on the silver bullet to regulate AI, by any means, we haven’t. But we’ve at least acknowledged the utilization. We’ve done something about trying to make it safer, to enable our organization to find ways to accelerate what they do and create more time for the things that really mean something in terms of what they’re being asked to deliver.

Matt: What did you perceive as the main risks or the main issues that you wanted to have that guidance around?

Ben: I think everyone worries about just what can you actually do? As in, do you have that maverick in the corner that’s suddenly doing all this stuff and no one knows. Could it be super disruptive to the business? I think that’s the human element and the piece around the fear of it. So, I think there was that bit, but I think what we realized really quickly was actually how bad could it get? So, we didn’t feel as worried about that. The fact that we knew everyone was actually using it. It removed some of that fear. I think we were fortunate. We have a DNA within the organization that’s highly enterprising, highly creative, and puts a very big value on that from a leadership level. So, I think we were slightly in a place where the risk of doing it versus not, it was better to do and try and play and then see where we were.

Matt: Are there set use cases that you use it for or are you still experimenting?

Ben: I think combination, actually. I think the experimentation of AI just in general and ChatGPT in particular will just go on because I think everyone recognizes it can be a massive accelerator, but it also may become a problem child depending on what you’ve [laughs] developed or used it for. So, we started with really basic simple things. We knew we could write probably better insightful, quality job specs with it. We knew we could write organizationally around how we developed and sold things. We were able to take thought leadership. I had a situation where one of our leaders was saying, “I’ve got this idea of a role that I want to go and hire. However, I just need someone to articulate what my thinking is and develop a brief off the back of it.” So really simple things, but from a marketing perspective as well, we’re able to really generate some great content.

The more you use it, the more it trains, the more it becomes used to your tone of voice and your way of how you position and see things. The addition of all of that added up meant we were starting to create things that would have taken two or three days, that were now taking half an hour. Another really simple example is off the back of looking at internal mobility and not having a policy for it, we could write one in half an hour. That actually stood up to the views of our HRDs, etc., to enable us to feel comfortable. But what would have taken three days of trying to put something together through lots of different areas came together really well. I think it’s iterative and I’m a big believer in, “Do the basics well, do them first, and that will allow you to go on to bigger and better things.”

Matt: Is it just time that’s the advantage, or are there specific results that you’re seeing from using it?

Ben: If I look at it through the lens of talent acquisition, one of the big things you get asked a lot of the time is, “Well, will it take away my job or will it take away the ability for me to do the things that I thought I should be doing?” I think it’s really clear, or I certainly believe very much in the fact that it actually creates time for more human interaction, more personal relationships. If you can use that administrative burden and accelerate that, then you suddenly find and buy yourself time, which my experience of TA time doesn’t exist, and you’re asked to spin 17,000 plates in one go. It starts to enable you to focus on the things that actually are seen as value, that make a strategic difference to the organization and that create impact. The combination of that, I think, enables your TA function to go into very different place.

Matt: Presumably, I’d imagine in most organizations, there are early adopters of people who are running with this [ Ben laughs] and just doing their entire job. Then there are people who are just literally terrified to open it or just won’t open it. How do you manage that? Is it an optional thing that people could experiment? You trying to encourage people to do it. How do you manage that breadth of mindset?

Ben: So, I think what it was actually the starting point was talking about it. It was these pockets of, “How did you do that?” “I used ChatGPT” or “I did it through this or that.” The more people talked about it and you realize even at a senior level of the organization, people were using it and actually just being transparent about the fact that this is okay to use it because let’s take it from a positive angle, we’re going to get some great stuff, and deliver some great results. So, I think it was that part around communication. I think the big part was putting subject matter experts in place that had the ownership and had the sponsorship to say, “That’s okay,” So weren’t suddenly going to let everyone create all this content and branding and be completely–

Matt: Redesign your logo and all that kind of stuff.

Ben: No, none of that. But from an SME perspective, from a technology perspective, a coding, etc., it was put within the framework that it really can’t go outside of that. So, we felt comfortable. I think ultimately it comes down to the point that we might as well put it in the open than everyone hide it on their phone, behind their screen, or at home. Let’s get it out there.

Matt: We’re right at the beginning of this generative AI journey and I think you alluded to this on stage. I’m sure we’ll look back at these ChatGPT prompt conversations in 6 to 12 months’ time and think, “What on earth are we talking about?” It just does this kind of thing. It’s tapped into our brains now and does it automatically. How are you planning for the future of AI? What do you think is possible? How does that impact TA from a strategic perspective?

Ben: I mean, if you look at AI, then anything becomes possible. However, I actually think you have to be pretty targeted about what you use and where you use it within the TA world or function. I think it also comes down to what are the challenges organizationally that TA is being asked to find the solutions to. So, for example, one of the challenges we see is that we peak loads of curiosity. So, we’ve got some brand equity. What we also see is a drop-off in commitment to actual applications at times. So, where is the bridge? The bridge becomes content. So, what do we do and how do we actually go about personalizing and customizing that content that drives and answers that TA issue for us? So, I think for me, it’s like, “Where do you place it at the minute?” There’s this massive sweet shop of loads of stuff that you can go and get that will always, everyone says, “It will change and revolutionize your TA world.”

I think I mentioned in the talk that sometimes it’s also about the discipline and the patience of not necessarily just jumping straight into what looks like the next solution, but actually really contextualizing it into your organization and working out what’s really the exam question TA is being asked? What is the solution that enables the business to move forward? How do we go about doing that commercially makes sense, that we can actually utilize and we can adopt and people will embed? And I think that embedding bit, it needs to be something that people see the benefit of as well. So, I still have, I think, careful, but at the same time, it’s not going away. We have to embrace it. Yes, it’s going to be in the right way used positively, it’s going to create some great results.

Even when you look at the development in the last six months around AI, you’ve already got rivals to GPT. You’re pretty much going to end up with anything you can try, you can do within the AI. So, I do think it’s very much about organizational context more than it is just get on the bandwagon, and also creating the speed. I think TA has a big part to play in that, the speed of which you adopt or the speed of where you go and what you use. I actually think that’s quite a big strategic lever-

Matt: Yeah.

Ben: -at the top end of the organization. That’s why it’s so important TA has a seat at that exec table, because we know that you can answer some big questions with it.

Matt: That makes perfect sense. I suppose, really looking out into the future and as we know, it’s impossible to predict the future. But if we fast forward 10 years into the future, will recruiters still be recruiters, do you think?

Ben: Yeah.

Matt: How will their job have changed?

Ben: I think you can never get away from is the need for human interaction. Now, I think, when you look at different angles of recruitment. So, I think the big thing is, can you use AI without any human intervention to hire people? It’s kind of the bit people are thinking about. I can see how the development of AI would enable high volume stuff to be able to be improved and the experiences and all of that stuff. However, I think you can’t remove the human element. I think it should be embraced to remove the burden of admin or the burden of not being able to get to the true, proper, valuable stuff. I think you would start to see TA actually being able to focus on the things that actually mean the most. I mean, you also wonder, there is more disruption going to come at some point in our environments. It’s really difficult to predict that disruption.

So, for me, I don’t think you will always have the ability to have that human interaction. I think that’s for me, for TA, still really powerful. I don’t know, it depends on where you are on the risk curve. Do you take a job without meeting anyone at the organization, you work remotely, and you never see anyone? But I think a lot of the research, a lot of the data all suggests that we have to be super intentional about creating connectivity and that connectivity comes through being human. I would very much hope that recruitment doesn’t lose that aspect.

Matt: I very much hope AI doesn’t become that.

[laughter]

Ben: I don’t think it will.

Matt: Yeah. And I think that’s a very long-term prospect, potentially. So, as a final question, and I suppose by way of summary of what we’ve talked about, because we’re talking about TA strategy and also AI, what would your advice be to other TA leaders in terms of managing the time that we’re in? So, it’s a time of challenge and disruption, but obviously huge potential as well.

Ben: I think my first thought would be brave and bold and I think have confidence in what you’re doing. You’re there because you know your organization, you’re trusted and valued as a leader and actually there are more opportunities coming by embracing and enhancing rather than fearing, I think. I think it’s that fear piece. Whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate, if you’re a change junkie or not, change in organizations is going to continue. So, I think there’s a big piece in the fact that if you can navigate that and do it through your relationships and do it through building trust and empathy, there is a lot of benefit and positivity that’s going to come from that. You can see that’s the way organizations are going now, when you look at future skills, you look at what’s required, the interesting and the paradox of all of this is we need softer skills, not harder skills.

So, I think there’s a lot of positivity in that for TA leaders and for TA in general because usually they’re pretty good with people or you’d hope.

[laughter]

Matt: Absolutely. Ben, thank you so much for talking to me.

Ben: Absolute pleasure. Thanks, Matt.

Matt: My thanks to Ben.

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 our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast. And get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time, and I hope you’ll join me.

[The Recruiting Future Podcast theme]

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