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!



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!


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!



Driving Employee Wellness

ciel blog - employee wellness

Health is wealth, goes the old adage. This is true not only for an individual but also for an organization. When the employees are healthy, they do not need leaves due to sickness, the energy and enthusiasm at workplace stays high, engagement levels go up, employees feel good to come to work, customers love the company’s products and services. Needless to say, it’s a happy story for everyone, an ideal situation. India Inc. is not there yet, but how near are we?

Given the pollution levels and poor infrastructure in our cities, employees are exposed to high levels of physical stress and mental agony. We see increasing number of employees seeking day-off due to health issues such as headache, body pain, back pain, bouts of asthma attacks, migraine, stomach upset and so on. Such illnesses not only create disruption and loss for the employee but also for the business. We have to build a culture of wellness which can prevent some of these illnesses.

As technology has increased connected-ness in our world, instantaneity is running a riot. We want everything to happen quickly. This is sharply visible in a young country like India. In this backdrop, all organizations in India face a tougher challenge than many of their global peers to engage with their employees meaningfully. The subject of wellness could be the answer!

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

In the last couple of decades, increasing number of organizations invested on employee wellness. Most common programs are setting up a fitness centre or offering membership to a gym or a health club, holding fitness classes, consultation with dietician, yoga classes. Some organizations encouraged their employees for car-pooling and bike-pooling. Menu of snacks and meals in the cafeteria has been revamped to include less fats. Annual medical check-ups and health camps have been organized in company premises. Anyone can imagine, it is a long list and takes huge amount of efforts and a significant sum of money to implement. These programs have helped companies stand out in a crowd, but the jury is out if employee wellness has improved.

Technology is a big boon

This approach of company-wide program has lost its lustre. We are looking at customizable wellness programmes based on individual’s needs. As technology has been improving, there are scores of Apps which connect to wearables and track the person’s activities. These not only provide the individual a detailed snapshot of his or her health but also recommend possible actions. Such levels of personalization keeps the individual in its focus and hence, less likely to be ignored or taken lightly.

Secondly, some of these apps gamify the process and involve the user in the wellness programmes. Users get to compete as individuals and groups, get rewarded and showcase their achievements and recognition on the social media. This indirectly plays on the psyche of the users to spur into action. We see more people participate in marathons, join games and sports activities, become members of fitness clubs and so on. Gamification of wellness activities is playing a positive role.

Are Apps the Silver Bullet?

Leading a lifestyle that brings calmness and positivity is a personal choice. It takes significant amount of personal character to adopt healthy practices. Employer can create an environment, apps can help, wearables and similar such technology can enable. However, the action of walking, running, staying away from unhealthy food and lifestyle has to be carried out by the individual. This cannot be outsourced to anyone!

Last but not the least, organizations with character and visionary leadership can only build an environment that boosts employee wellness. No amount of apps, fitness clubs and healthy snacks are going to help if the leaders in the organization do not walk the talk. They need to set the tone around wellness. They need to openly talk about it, recognize achievers and appreciate behaviours of managers who run their teams without distress. Fundamentals remain constant!

Great organizations care for employee wellness. They demonstrate their belief through the character of their leaders and leverage all possible avenues to enhance wellness.


Care about Candidate Experience?

ciel blog - candidate experience

Organizations focus on customer experience and the moment of truth. They invest substantially to deliver superior experience to a customer – prospective as well as existing. It is the employees of the organization who make the difference right from the stage of design to delivery of the product or the service. Attracting the right-fit employees is the first challenge and then, keeping them motivated for a long time is the next challenge. That brings us to the topic of Employer Brand. The stronger this brand is, the easier and economical it is, to attract and retain talent. Like reputation and credibility, employer brand takes time to build. Top leaders of the organization wrestle with all long-term issues and hence, this is one such topic that ought to find time in the Board room. Today, it is yet to find a place on the table because not enough has been done to measure the lost opportunity and the hidden treasure.

Are we attracting the best?

Place an advertisement for an open job and check the response. In most parts of India across sectors, we find many applications. But, are they the best that we can get? More often than not, the best talent doesn’t come forward to apply for a job unless you or the hiring manager is a talent magnet.

Organizations have hiring plans and they have to fill the vacant roles within a certain period of time. The recruiters within the company and the agency partners muster all energies to get people on board. The question remains if we are getting the best. Is the hiring engine well-tuned to pick the best?

One of the recent works of research, CIELWorks 2018 shows that employer brand is the 2nd most important challenge before the recruiters while attracting talent. Given the growth of an economy, talent is the competitive advantage that can potentially differentiate the performance of an organization from another. So, the best efforts must be done to attract the best!

Do your top employees receive many headhunting calls? Do you find a very few people in your industry to be better than your employees? Do your customers offer great reviews about your employees? If it’s YES all the way, you are doing well!

Devil lies in the details

Like we are concerned about the moments of truth with our customers, we need to be thinking of the moments of truth with the candidates. Their journey starts right from the time someone speaks or emails them about an opportunity. The candidate does some background work before he or she decides to pursue the opportunity. If it is a top talent, one is likely to deep-dive to understand more about the opportunity. The information about our organization, our top leaders, our plans, our ex-employees, vendors, clients and current employees are all available on the internet. The conversations that we are having with the others and vice versa leave behind trails which are moments of truth for a potential hire. Do we know if they are reflective of who we are? If not, do we do anything about it?

Does the hiring manager take the interest to brief the recruiters who are going to look for candidates? If the recruiters are going to the talent market with a generic job description, we cannot attract the best. Neither can we provide a realistic idea of who we are, what the job is and how the career is likely to shape. Job description document is something created by the HR team sometime in the past to comply with some requirements. That doesn’t describe fully what the line manager is looking for. Most organizations make the mistake of sending out a sample job description to many recruiting agencies. As a result, recruiters play the game of ‘fastest finger first‘ to churn out a few candidates. Naturally, candidates get half-baked or incomplete information about the opportunity. The best-fit might decline it and the organization makes a compromise hire!

Similarly, the way a candidate is received, interacted with, communicated and engaged are all moments of truth. They determine what he or she is going to speak about us in his or her circle. Given the power of social media, the experience gets amplified fast.

These minor details determine the quality of candidates we attract not only today but also in the future. Do we really care about these details of how a vacancy in our organization gets communicated and a candidate is engaged with?

Drive it right from the very top

Perception about an organization’s culture, norms and future prospects sum up its employer brand. It takes time to build. Hence, one needs a long-term approach to define what this employer brand is and what actions must be taken to realize its full potential.

While talking about employer branding, often experts talk about technology and standardised methods such as Application Tracking System, Website, Social Media presence, asynchronous video interviews, rewards for internal referral, Apps to engage with candidates and training recruiters. While these are useful and need to be done, the main hurdle to overcome is to treat this subject as a long-term strategic agenda and paying attention to it as much a strategic topic deserves.