Deploy AI for HR function

ciel blog - AI in HR

Artificial intelligence (AI) is pretty much here. Though enterprise adoption is still low, it is just a matter of time that they will feel the market pressure. Unless the leaders wake up to this reality and ask their direct reports to adapt to these changes, they will be forced to compete with players who have greater strength, speed, agility and cool quotient. Their customers would no longer be returning back to them! Sounds scary, but we have many examples – Kodak, Nokia, Polaroid, Blackberry, Motorola, Postal Services and so on. HR function in an organization is no exception to this phenomenon.

Which parts in HR can be revved up by AI?

Right from getting the right talent on board to retaining and developing them are not easy when we operate in a dynamic environment. Time to hire continues to be an issue for many CHROs and CEOs; this becomes a significant challenge when critical positions or strategic roles in the company are open for long. Many organizations do not have a clear measure for this metric; neither do they review this consistently. Besides, quality of hire is another important critical consideration that the Board is concerned about. There are many such dimensions for the HR department to deliver results.

Each organization has its unique context and hence, its own priorities. Most often, organizations do not deploy adequate energies in a structured process of strategic planning. It calls for intellectual bandwidth and belief of the top leadership team to drive this process forward. Once this process is carried out, the organization has its priorities listed, some of which the CHRO owns up and addresses himself or herself. The leadership team in HR has to deploy its best possible resources, efforts and attention to address those priorities.

Develop Innovation culture in HR Team

AI offers several opportunities for the CHRO either to improve process efficiency or transform a process. It can communicate employer brand proposition to the target audience easily, help attracting the right talent, engage with passive candidates, assess quality of match for the talent who has shown interest and set up discussions with potential hires. Further AI tools can crawl the web and social media to do reference checks and develop passive candidates. For employee engagement, AI tools can play an important role to recognize efforts and results, build and spread positive vibes within the company, grow voices who advocate the employer brand and pick up spots of bother at an early stage.

The team has to believe that new technologies can make a difference to their effectiveness. Then only they can fathom the possibilities and explore ways of leveraging them. This stems from a culture of innovation rather than sticking to traditional methods of carrying out the tasks. The organization might lose the edge in attracting right talent or the cost per hire could go up; retaining the top performers could be a challenge; employee costs might not remain in the optimum range; the employer brand might lose its sheen. We need to continuously innovate!

What are the possibilities?

Chatbots can enhance efficiency in answering questions of potential job applicants to improve efficiency of recruiters and strengthen employer brand by the speed of response and uniform experience delivered to the target pool. Bots and other such AI tools can bring speed and accuracy in screening and assessment of applicants in large hiring exercises. Tech tools are available to facilitate communication within the organization, hold company-wide townhalls, showcase performers, and generate 360 degree praise for the stars in the company. Companies are solving challenging issues by facilitating collaboration among employees. Tools are there to check organizational climate, track performance and carry out mundane yet important tasks such as marking attendance, assigning tasks, submitting reports, setting meetings, reminders, expense claims and so on. Plenty of possibilities indeed!

The leaders have to identify the strategic priorities, build the culture of innovation and spur the team to keep making progress in leveraging AI in the priority areas.



What to do with Toxic Superstars at work?

ciel blog - toxic superstar

Bill Gates said, “The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people. If we weren’t still hiring great people and pushing ahead at full speed, it would be easy to fall behind and become some mediocre company.”

“When you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things. A-plus players like to work together, and they don’t like it if you tolerate B-grade work”, said Steve Jobs.

Who are the Toxic Superstars?

Organizations do their best to attract Superstars and retain them. They deliver top-class productivity, set benchmarks in the organization and inspire others. Their number is small but they deliver high impact. They become the blue-eyed boys or girls for a manager, earn highest bonus and set on a fast-track career path.

The problem arises when one such A-grader is toxic corroding the fabric of the organization. Such a person is normally focused on one’s own interests, own goals to meet, earning bonuses and accolades for self rather than for the team. These individuals walk the extra mile to learn and adapt to the situation, but are sharply focused on their own requirements. They de-prioritise goals of the team and purpose of the organization over indirect outcome of one’s actions. They firmly believe, “I am right and the others are wrong”.

How do their Managers deal with them?

Managers find it very difficult to reprimand them for this behaviour. They are willing to overlook the attitude issue in the name of rough edges. This is all because of the track record and the results that a superstar delivers.

Goals and budgets for the quarter and the year are important. Because these superstars contribute significantly to those numbers, the manager does not want to upset the performer with a reprimanding conversation. Moreover, many managers are not sure how the conversation would take shape and do not want to upset the applecart. They do not want to risk damaging their working relationship with the performer and losing the person from the team.

What should be done?

Tough task for the leadership team to call a spade a spade! This calls for open communication across the rank and file. The norm in the organization should be clear to all. The values of the organization have to be lived by the leaders and the employees should be able to see them. In this kind of a situation, it is highly unlikely that a toxic superstars will be bold enough to act in a self-centred way on a consistent basis harming the ethos of the team.

Secondly, some organizations encourage their troops to be super-competitive and are quite fine with the skirmishes that a top performer brings to the table. In those situations, the toxicity may not be about the attitude of one-upmanship, rather it could be about lack of integrity and honesty. The leadership needs to recognize these behaviours and take a stance on this. Most importantly, their stance needs to be visible in the organization.

Last but not the least, leadership ability of managers across the organization plays a very important role. Most often, the front-line managers and their supervisors hold the key to the way behaviours of superstars are observed and promoted. While the top leaders set the tone, the behaviours of the managers on the ground on a day-to-day basis determines how a superstar is dealt with. They need to be able to build high levels of trust and open communication with their sub-ordinates. They must be able to leverage their relationship with the superstar to discuss violations from code of conduct and toxicity in their behaviour. This is the most important aspect and most difficult to operationalise.

Rome was not built in a day. As an organization matures, they do better!



Leveraging Analytics in HR

ciel blog - analytics in HRApple Computers introduced Macintosh in 1984 as a premium product against a serious and respectable IBM personal computer. Steve Jobs predicted that Apple would sell 50,000 of them in its first 100 days. But, Apple sold 72,000. The marketing manager said later that they would have sold 200,000 of them if they could have built them! So, they started producing 110,000 a month, but the sales dropped. The data around early adoption was not an indication of mainstream demand in the market. This was a huge setback. Forecasts did not work!

Decades have gone by. We have a hugely improved ecosystem to track and measure business on a real time basis. Huge amount of data are being generated and recorded; information and insights are being gathered each day. Are organizations using these to predict business results?

Given the fact that human resources make a huge competitive advantage for an organization, HR team must leverage technology to predict the likely situations in future and execute its plans accordingly.

Predict : he or she the Right Fit

Organizations have huge amount of data about their employees : their personal details, education, family background and so on. They also have data about employees’ performance and behaviours. Hence, they can correlate all these three dimensions to determine the typical profile of an employee who is likely to be successful with them. We can learn who is likely to fit well with the organizational culture and the demands of the job. That’s the power of predictive analytics!

Not many organizations in India have been able to leverage analytics. They can deploy a tool that sifts through employee database and performance data; studies the patterns and generates insights. Management team can go through them and apply their combined wisdom to validate the insights. This can give rise to a model to map employee performance with his or her profile. A recruiter can sharpen his or her search better while attracting candidates. The model can prescribe preferred educational qualification, university, city of origin, age profile, family background, personality traits and so on.

Optimize Hiring Cost

Wrong hires or sub-optimal hires cost an organization dearly due to the missed opportunities of generating superior results when we recruit the right people. Such costs could potentially be eliminated if we deploy tools to define the ideal employee profile. Thus the cost per hire can be optimized.

Secondly, big data technologies such as natural language processing help us read the applicant profile and match it with the requirements of the job. Most cases in India generate a huge number of applicants in response to a job advertisement. These technologies help a recruiter stack-rank the applications and hence save valuable efforts. Traditional methods of sifting through a pile of applications on a first-come first-serve manner gives us a very low return on our investment of human efforts.

Focus Engagement Efforts

Looking at the trend of performance results of the past, we get an idea of the likely contribution of an employee. All of us want to be a part of a success story and nobody wants to be on the losing side. When the results go downhill, the concerned employee and his or her manager get together to reverse the trend. When this happens for many people in a team, HR team needs to intervene. Early warning signs are critical to engage with employees and their managers at the right time. The idea is to spot the smoke and douse the fire rather than taking action when the bridge is on fire.

Similarly, it is important to spot the corners of happiness and the green pastures at the right time. The HR team must reward and recognize people and teams when the going is good. They have to build a conducive environment for success to repeat. Again analytics of performance data holds the key. For large organizations, this is super critical.

Organizations have tools and systems to track employee interactions as they carry out their day to day tasks. These tools can learn what employees are looking for and at the same time, they can compare these needs with what the managers are feeling, thinking and doing. There will always be gaps between needs of employees and the experience delivered to them. HR team needs to keep a tab on the gaps continuously and initiate actions when the gaps widen.

Traditionally, business leaders relied on annual employee surveys, their gut feel of the ground reality and opinions of their direct reports. These methods sometimes do not yield the right results. Modern tools help managers recognize good performances and offer instant feedbacks. Peers are able to express their gratitude towards others, help others as subject matter experts and express their views and opinions on an issue. Analysing results of these conversations tell us who the top performers are and how they are feeling. Also, these results show what their managers are thinking about these performers. These tools can help us identify the gaps and prompt us into actions.

Opportunities of using analytics in HR are plenty. Leaders have to believe in their power and deploy the right tools in their day to day business practices.


Leadership at the Foundation of Company’s Success

ciel blog - leadership at foundation of company success

Only 60 out of 500 companies in Fortune 500 list of 1955 were in the same list in 2017. Successful companies in an era could not demonstrate the agility to stay the course. They were the best in the world; had the access to the best resources – financial, knowledge, expertise, technology and so on. Yet 88% of the global best fell from the charts. This proves us one thing – leadership is at the foundation of the company’s success.

The choices made by the top leaders from time to time and the behaviours that they show determine the course and the future. Organizations face challenges on daily basis, especially in the dynamic, uncertain and volatile world of business we live in. There are multiple forces that operate on the business. Some of these are visible while some of these are hard to anticipate and comprehend. The leader has to deal with all these and keep his or her flock together on the right path.

Stay Calm in the hours of Crisis

Countries have faced assassination of their popular leader, war threats to wars, unprecedented natural calamities, mishaps and accidents leading to loss of lives and unsafe living conditions. Companies have faced crisis of extinction, loss of reputation, lawsuits pushing them to irrevocable losses for years and so on. There are several other crises which are smaller compared to the ones deliberated in public view. They occur more frequently and challenge the head of the business with stressful situations. These may be small in magnitude when viewed from a distance but are equally testing of the leader’s ability. He or she has to protect the credibility of the business, keep the flock together, identify the weak spots, fill the cracks, act on the guilty, strengthen the systems and processes to avoid the pitfall and provide the much-desired confidence to the stakeholders about the future. All of these need to happen quickly and seamlessly.

Needless to say that the leader has to bring the team together, work with them overtime to not only find the solutions but also to communicate all over. The leader comes under high levels of duress to deal with emotions within the organization as well as outside. Staying calm helps in spotting the cracks, anticipating situations and developing the plan. Organizations cannot endure the ordeal unless the leader is adept in the hours of crises.

Build. Protect. Reinforce

Companies hold exit interviews. More often than not, the most important reason for people leaving the organization was better opportunities. The stated reason for leaving could be better salary, better opportunity, higher studies, relocation or personal reason, but the real reason is something else.

Somewhere in the core of the heart, a few things go out of sync with what the employee experiences at work. The noise grows louder and over a period of time, it snaps a few chords in the heart. The opportunities which were not very appealing earlier start to look shiner and brighter. And one fine day, the innings comes to an end. It is the leader who has to be in tune with the ground reality, gauge the noise levels and take actions to cancel the noise at the right time.

Business Leaders have to partner with their HR Team to get all people managers to build harmony in the team, push them to greater heights and nurse the injuries at the right time. They have to build strength in the team to be able to endure tough terrains and at the same time, keep their heads steady while cruising at high altitudes.


It is not enough for the top leader and the HR Team to advise and preach to the managers across the organization. They need to see the prescribed behaviours demonstrated by their bosses and feel inspired. Like a gardener builds a conducive environment for the plants in the garden to grow well, the leader has to nurture the managerial talent in the organization to flower forth.

The layers of managers in the organization drive their teams forward towards the goals of the day, week and quarter. However, what separates one organization from the other is the manner in which the teams are driven, the principles used for rewards and recognition, the way conflicts are dealt with, the way opportunities are seized and the focus on all stakeholders of a business. World’s best organizations stay course if their leaders do the right things!

It is the leader who builds a great team, challenges them, protects them and reinforces regularly. Easier said than done! It takes a lot of character and hard work to sow the seeds of success in an organization.


Augmented Reality (AR) in Human Resources (HR) Function

ciel blog - augmented reality in hr

In the last couple of years, developments in VR (virtual reality) and AR have gone beyond sports and entertainment. Niantic released Pokemon Go in mid-2016 and it became a global phenomenon. Samsung Gear and Google Glasses came out in 2013. Though they have been there for a few years, Pokemon Go demonstrated the real power of AR to the world. Since then, the world of business has started piloting this technology.

We hear about Boeing using AR for intricate assemblies in an aeroplane and Agco using this to inspect components and sub-assemblies in the manufacturing of farm equipment. Several other industry sectors have started using it for delivering superior experience to their customers – prospective as well as existing ones. They are able to convert sales enquiries better, provide do-it-yourself help to their customers, enable their sales and service technicians to follow check-lists and bring them upto speed quickly. We see AR tools being used in hazardous work environments to access them easily and detect issues if any. Workers in the warehouses are able to reach the bins and niches to store and retrieve components quicker than ever before.

How can HR leverage AR?

HR Team helps the business leaders attract, develop and retain talent in the firm. In each of these steps, they are required to provide a realistic view of the firm – its culture, purpose, people, products, and environment; at the same time, give a sneak peek into the future. Would it not be interesting if a potential employee can take a quick tour of the company – its work areas and real people interacting with one another, solving problems, developing new ideas and so on without physically travelling to those locations?

AR can help us assess suitability of a job applicant when we show real life situations at our workplace and ask him or her to respond to those. Rather than describing hypothetical situations or theoretical issues to a candidate, it is better to understand how the person reacts to them and accordingly assess if we will be able to engage the person meaningfully, offer a career path and leverage his or her talent in our company.

Training and development is another important responsibility of the HR team. AR offers a huge opportunity for us to simulate work situations and hence, explore ways of dealing with them. Nothing can be more effective than this to train and develop employees.

What stops us from using AR?

There are multiple challenges on the way. To begin with, it is not on the agenda of the leadership team and hence, not deliberated. The Business Owner or Leader has to take the first step of proposing the change and taking it forward. This is easier said than done because there are more pressing issues crying for attention normally.

Secondly, it is not easy to go off the beaten path. It calls for courage and strong leadership to explore new avenues when the current practice is not a disaster. Companies and leaders who look for greater efficiency and want to climb a few notches higher on the journey towards excellence, can only muster the courage to experiment with something new.

Real challenges on the way are cost of these tools, battery life of the device, internet connectivity and security of the data gathered in the process. Another big obstacle is the mind-set of the employees that some jobs could be lost due to the use of such tools. Some of them also complain of health issues and ergonomics. Over a period of time, we will see improvements in all these aspects. We need not wait for the perfect world. Cost-benefit ratio and usability are the two key determinants for early adoption.

Where do we start?

First things first, the leadership team has to believe that AR is the way forward and their organization must take advantage of this technology. Then comes the next crucial step of building consensus among the managers in the next layer of the organization and evaluating options for a pilot. Once the pilot is installed, the leaders have to prepare the organization for adopting the new way of attracting talent, presenting the opportunity, assessing applicants, engaging employees and training them.

Smart organizations think long term and ahead of their peers. They will lead the way!


Equal Pay for Equal Work



Constitution of India as well as ILO (International Labour Organization) are clear about human dignity and fairness in rewarding workers. In spite of all these provisions, various studies have shown that there is a gender pay gap. Women workers tend to earn less than their men counterparts in many industry sectors. The phenomenon is pronounced clearly in industries such as textile, construction, entertainment and agriculture. Women’s day celebration has become a lot more wide-spread, yet the basic principle of fair reward and human dignity continue to be global issues.

Our belief system has to be revamped first

It is easy to say that equal pay has to be implemented. However, it is not possible to apply the principle on the ground because the business owners and senior managers do not believe that women and men can produce equal output. Many a times, they do not have a clear measurement system, rather they go by their mental measures. Further, they believe that a woman is weaker than a man and has many limitations that disables her to produce an output same as a man. These deeply-seated beliefs come on the way of implementation of equal pay for equal work.

If we have to eliminate the gender pay gap, we have to change this belief and make them accept the fact that a woman can produce the same output as a man in the same role.

Demand-Supply issue

Women by their physical being, need breaks from work for maternity and baby-care. Many a times, they share a large share of the responsibilities at home such as elder care, keeping the home tidy, cooking and so on. Thus, they face challenges to balance their time and focus between work and family. Workplaces which can find viable alternatives in staffing themselves will have less demand for employing women. Given the sluggish demand for women workers, it is likely that the principle of equal pay gets compromised. Just economics!

A large part of our population is still below the poverty line in spite of several well-meaning measures taken by the Government. There is a supply of blue collar workers from these families. Sometimes, there are women who are trying hard to get back to work after a hiatus. More often than not, these women are well-qualified and have relevant experience. Still, it is not easy for them to find meaningful work. In all these cases, they are willing to settle for a pay which might be lesser than the fair pay. Again, this is just economics of short-term gains.

Many small enterprises find it expensive in the short term to provide the statutory benefits to women such as paid leaves on maternity. So, they tend to mitigate the risk of such payments by paying lesser to women. Effective social security programmes can take away this responsibility from employers and hence, make it a level playing field for employment for any gender.

Measure Work

Many employers think that women produce lesser than their men counterparts. This is male chauvinistic thinking. There are many cases where women produce higher than men. Industry sectors such as manufacturing, assembly shops, electronic and electrical products, luxury goods, consumer products, education, science which employed only men just a few decades ago have increasing number of women working there. Old norms have to change if we can quantify work and measure them. Employers must find ways of doing this. They may be surprised to find many men working there might be less productive than the women. It could be a paradigm shift in their thinking.

Pay must be a reflection of the work output delivered now and the potential delivery in future. It cannot be a reflection of one’s gender, faith, whims and fancies.


Evolving Interview Strategies

ciel blog - interview strategies

Technology has been disrupting a number of things in our day to day lives including each day at work. Cloud technologies, mobility, social platforms, big data and artificial intelligence have transformed many activities in HR function of an organization, right from the way talent is attracted, and assessed to the way it is developed and retained. Behaviours and habits of employees have changed significantly over time. Hence, employer organizations are evolving their practices to adapt to these developments around us.

Let us focus on one cog in the wheel – interviews. This is one of the most commonly used tools to assess talent while recruiting for a role. Traditionally, organizations held face to face discussion with a potential hire to check if the person has the competency, attitude and interest to do the job, has adequate depth of experience and demonstrates alignment with organizational values. We know, this is a herculean task to assess all of these in an interview. Interviewers need to be experienced and competent to carry out such an assessment. Even if they are, research shows that reliability of interview as a tool of assessment is less than 35%. Yet organizations follow this as the common practice. Needless to say, with the advent of new technologies and changing norms in our society, we should introduce new methods.

Multi-Stage Assessment

Talent is a competitive advantage for any organization. It is extremely critical that an organization must choose the best and not settle for anything which is lesser. We have now access to a range of assessment tools that can reduce human bias, use analytics to increase reliability of the findings and are easy to administer.

In our current times, instantaneity is a virtue. Assessment methods which give a report immediately after the session are a great way to attract candidates to take up the challenge. IT industry and some Government programmes have started using hackathons, codefests or similar such sprint-like events which bring out the best in people working in a competitive game-like environment. However, all interviews do not have to be in a sprint-like environment. The strategy is to deploy a multi-stage process, each focusing on evaluation of a few aspects in adequate detail.

Instantaneous results and preferably a detailed feedback of the interview process are attractive to the aspirants. Considering the logistics of travel and busy schedule that each of us endure, we have to find technology to make such a multi-stage process a reality.

Leverage Technology

Video Interviews allow a candidate to take an interview at his or her convenience and Interviewers can evaluate the responses when they are free. There is no need to sync-up the schedule of both for this method of assessment which can be very efficient for screening applicants. This is very useful for recruiting junior level roles in an organization where the number of applicants for a job could be 20x of the number of open roles to fill.

Online mobile-based tests, case studies, hackathons, gamified assessment tests, analysis of simulated cases, virtual reality based interviews are new tools that are making recruitment easy to administer and test multiple parameters at the same time. Traditional methods of interviewing have to be preceded by some of these tech-based interventions. The organization will strengthen its employer brand and pick up candidates who are more likely to be successful.

Build a Roadmap and Execute

It is easy to say that technology tools and multi-stage assessment methods have to be deployed. However, it is very hard to put them into practice. Several organizations have not yet brought this onto their anvil, let alone planning and execution. It is a missed opportunity unless we bring this into action. When the leadership team is committed to the cause of boosting employer brand and making the selection process more reliable, planning can be kicked off.

The first step will be to list down the evaluation parameters, agree on a commonly agreed benchmark for evaluation and translate them into objective measures. The next step will be to design a battery of tests such that they are fit for the purpose and add value to the potential candidate as well as the employer organization. The choice of tests come next, keeping in mind the ease of administering them and the acceptance of the potential candidate. A lot of work, exciting and value-adding!