AI Value, Talent Attraction and Remote Employee Engagement: Highlights from HR Tech Conference 2022

Posted on September 26, 2022


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The Searchlight team attended the HR Tech Conference & Expo from September 13-15 in Las Vegas. We had a rewarding time catching up in person with customers and partners, meeting other HR and People leaders, and learning about recent trends in the workplace.

Here are three big takeaways that aligned with our focus on using science and data to help organizations hire the right people for the right roles.

AI is delivering value in HR today, but questions of bias remain.

HR leaders have contemplated using AI (artificial intelligence) to automate repetitive tasks and improve the employee experience for over 20 years. Now, the question is no longer whether AI can provide value across the employee lifecycle — the answer is a resounding yes. Instead, the question is how to decrease the risk of AI introducing bias into HR processes.  

In terms of AI’s value, numerous presentations shared success stories. As one example, Alexa Morse (Director of HR Operations & Execution at McDonald’s) introduced “McHire” to automate 90% of the hiring process for McDonald’s frontline workers (e.g., application scheduling, offer acceptance, onboarding). McDonald’s found that AI-driven “McHire” shortened application and scheduling time from 3 days to 3 minutes and reduced time-to-hire by 60%. 

However, it is important to note that AI’s value is not a replacement for HR professionals. Industry analyst Josh Bersin commented that AI works extremely well in talent acquisition (sourcing, assessment, interview, onboarding). But he reiterated that talent acquisition is inherently human-centered; the role of the recruiter is essential to build relationships with top candidates and persuade them to join your organization. 

In terms of AI’s ethics, several presentations discussed how AI has the potential to both mitigate and introduce bias in HR functions. For instance, Kerry Wang (CEO at Searchlight), Dr. Maisha Gray-Diggs (Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition at Eventbrite), and Ann Watson (Senior Vice President, People & Culture at Verana Health) discussed how humans have decision-making biases, so AI has the potential to provide structure to employment decisions and thus mitigate bias. But on the other hand, the panel raised concerns about biased HR data resulting in biased AI algorithms. The takeaway is that the algorithms and datasets AI use varies; some are biased and some are unbiased. HR leaders need to hold their vendors and internal systems accountable to build ethical AI.

Welcome to the “The Great Re-Evaluation”: Talent attraction and retention is the toughest challenge facing HR this year.

HR professionals are familiar with “The Great Resignation,” a trend in which U.S. employees have resigned from their jobs en masse beginning in early 2021. A panel of chief human resources officers (Johanna Soderstrom of Tyson Foods, Kirsi Nuotto of VTT Technical Research Centre, and Dr. Archana Arcot of Unifi Aviation) commented that we are now in “The Great Re-Evaluation,” a broader movement in which people are questioning their work and employer. People are not only voluntarily leaving their job, but also considering their careers and what they aspire to achieve in life more broadly. This makes it harder and harder to retain top talent. 

Attracting and retaining talent has become so tricky that one chief human resources officer (CHRO) reported a 45% turnover rate last year. The importance of talent attraction and retention was echoed by Sapients’ annual HR survey of over 5,000 HR professionals (also released at HR Tech), finding that additional recruiting and talent technology is most in demand for HR teams. 

Notably, the CHRO panel and Sapient survey found that addressing talent attraction and retention is more important than other HR areas this year, including employee well-being and health, leadership development, and hybrid/remote workforce management.

There is a remote employee engagement crisis, requiring HR leaders to experiment with new solutions and practices.

The last two years have seen the widespread adoption of remote work, demonstrating that it is possible to have people worldwide work together remotely. HR leaders Deborah Hanus (CEO of Sparrow), Dave Carhart (VP of Advisory Services at Lattice), and Casey Bailey (Head of People at Deel) shared how the transition to “getting work done” remotely was successful for many, but many more have had issues promoting culture and belonging with a remote workforce. Enter: the remote employee engagement crisis.

How do we create social connections between those not working in the same location? The panelists had three specific suggestions:

  • Expand travel budgets to enable co-workers to meet each other in person.
  • Identify and reinforce opportunities to build social connections during onboarding.
  • Invest in formal and informal mentorship programs. 

Furthermore, the panelists were clear that more experimentation and innovation are needed to discover how to engage remote employees. There are a lot of new tools and solutions in the HR technology market (from Slack/Teams integrations to standalone team building platforms). Still, more testing is needed to distill the “cure” to the remote employee engagement crisis. 

Daniel Stein, PhD

People Data Scientist As a People Data Scientist at Searchlight, Dan combines subject matter expertise in organizational psychology with data science methods to uncover actionable people insights backed by science. Dan has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the University of California, Berkeley, and his research has been published in Harvard Business Review and Scientific American.

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