My Lunch With HR Change-Makers


I got interested in the hiring process because I didn’t like what I saw: Too many arbitrary decisions, a chaotic process that pleased no one, not the candidates, not the hiring managers, not the HR pros. I’m an engineer, so naturally I reached for a data-driven solution, and I like to believe — self-interest promotion notwithstanding — that the Unitive platform is helping employers make hiring efficient, performance-focused, and free of unconscious bias. Let me give you both the good and the bad news. When the topic is hiring both are in abundant supply.

The fact is that today’s innovative companies are reimagining talent recruitment, and the whole field of HR. A few weeks ago, I invited some key players to lunch: Lisa Lee, director of diversity at Pandora, the online music source with close to 80 million subscribers; Jo Dennis, who heads HR at Omada Health, which pioneers digital healthcare solutions and spent more than 20+ years in HR at HP; and a people scientist from a consumer services company valued in the tens of billions of dollars.

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What’s a people scientist, you ask? That’s more good news. Instead of trying to guess what makes a team effective or why top employees quit, forward-thinking companies are using the new science of people analytics, leveraging data to understand and influence workplace dynamics. With $4 trillion a year spent on payroll around the world, this evolution is well overdue: studies show that gut feelings often lead to poor decisions, yet when you clear away the window-dressing, that’s what too many employers still rely on.

All of us at lunch agreed that both managers and employees win when objective data shapes the workplace, and that hiring in particular needs a data-driven make-over. It’s no coincidence that the companies whose breakthrough technologies enhance our most elemental human needs and desires – access to our music, or maintaining good health – are also at the forefront of reinventing the hiring process. After all, work is an elemental need too, and if you’ve ever hired someone or been hired yourself, you’ll surely agree there’s room for improvement.

As the tech boom winds down, one of my lunch guests observed, the hiring frenzy that’s gripped the Bay Area is bound to cool. Is that bad news? Not necessarily. Consider the word “frenzy.” It doesn’t bring to mind a deliberative, data-driven process likely to yield an optimal outcome. In fact, Omada Health’s Jo Dennis made an important point: as the economy slows, smart companies will transition from chasing the fast hire to finding the right hire.

Pandora’s Lee was quick to point out that it’s important for organizations to realize that even when they talk about making the “right hire,” this tends to be more aspiration than reality. Many hiring managers end up hiring people who are similar to themselves instead of digging deep into the skills and potential the candidate can bring. But as organizations realize that skills, competencies and values are what define the right hire, they will move ahead of their competition.

That’s good news for me, because at its core, my platform is a digital path to the actual right hire. But because platforms like ours that replace subjective criteria and unconscious assumptions with a focus on candidate skills, enhancing the match between applicant and open position. And in a cooling economy, companies can’t afford the risks of suboptimal hires: high turnover, poor performance, and disaffected team members.

That’s good news for underrepresented candidates, too. My impromptu HR think tank was struck by the irony: even as the hiring market tightens, the companies that respond by improving how they select new employees will open more doors to women and people of color. Because it’s not lack of talent that bars the way, it’s broken hiring processes. And the good news is, we have the tools to fix them.

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