As we march into the future of work, one that is people-focused and technology dominated, the role of HR is set to undergo a major transformation. In this special interview with Mr Ashish Sam, Senior Partner – People and Operations, we discuss how new technologies, especially people analytics, will change the face of human resources in times to come. In this exclusive, he sheds light on how data and analytics will play a key role in unearthing meaningful data patterns to help fine-tune recruitment processes and overcome challenges.
Ashish Sam is a Senior Partner – People & Operations at TheMathCompany, the world’s fastest-growing AI & ML firm, headquartered in Chicago and Bengaluru. In his 15+ years of experience, Ashish has walked all walks in the HR function – Talent Acquisition, Operations, Resource Management, Employee Engagement, Performance Management, etc. Ashish has worked with leading corporations such as Tavant Technologies, Mu Sigma, and Bridgei2i in the past and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table. He has played a pivotal role in building, nurturing and engaging talent across these organisations. He believes in being hands- on, as it keeps him closer to reality. He is a thought- leader, and more importantly a transformational leader who strives to build future-ready workplaces that always put their people first. Ashish is a fitness freak and loves to practice mixed martial arts to burn off the extra calories from his sweet-tooth indulgences.
Q. With your rich work experience of almost 15 years in Human Resources, how has your journey been so far? Any favourite life experience which took you one step closer to achieving your life goals?
A. My journey in the Human Resources industry has been deeply fulfilling, professionally and emotionally. I’ve always believed that life is an experience that one should live to the fullest. It doesn’t matter where you are or what role you play; focus on creating an impact. Impact, not to impress others, but yourself. It is for you to decide what you want to achieve. I also believe that opportunities are meant to be grabbed, not because there are others fighting for it, but so you can learn something new while you make the difference that matters to you. Doing your job is one thing but seeing how you can create a meaningful impact or leave people with unforgettable experiences through your job is priceless. This has been my mantra during my 15 years of work experience in Human Resources.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great people who have encouraged me to try out new things and trusted me to do the right thing. An experience that stands out in my mind is an occasion where the organisation that I was then working with, wanted to celebrate the work anniversary of its long-standing employees; something that hadn’t been done until then. With just 10 days left for the anniversary celebrations, we could have simply checked the celebratory arrangements off our list with a nice shiny memento and a glossy cake, but I didn’t want to settle – these were our most cherished employees who were in it for the long haul after all. And then it struck me – what better way to make the day special than have them celebrate it with the people most important to them – their families; and make it a surprise event.
The next 10 days were a haze – multi-tasking, getting in touch with the employees’ families, keeping the arrangements under the wraps, and getting everything together for the big day. When the day arrived, and the celebrations kicked off, we called the employees up on the stage to receive their service anniversary awards. They were a whole bunch of emotions – surprised, thrilled, joyous – when their loved ones surprised them on stage; that moment was priceless, and I’m sure it is an experience that will be etched in their memories forever. Watching the whole episode unfold has undoubtedly been one of my favourite experiences in my work life.
Q. The tech sector’s current homogeneous state is only able to effectively target young men only. Do you think to prioritize the inclusion of women from day one should become a priority? Why?
A. The tech industry is seen as having a gender-bias towards men, for reasons such as the prevalence of gender-pay gap in the industry, under-representation of women in leadership positions, and the fact that women are perceived to struggle more in handling high- pressure scenarios and hence, are less preferred for leadership role recruitments than men. The lack of gender diversity is, however, not entirely the tech industry’s fault. It’s also the result of culturally backward mindsets, lack of access to education, gender-specific roles, and responsibilities, among others. But we must start somewhere and make an impact where we can. And there are tech companies who are doing that.
Organisations that are going to thrive in the rapidly evolving world of tomorrow will need to have a very different HR team – one that operates as employee experience designers, career coaches, and culture builders. For this change to take place, HR teams will need to truly integrate data and the right technology into their day-to-day operations.
IT companies that are making gender equality a priority, are observing better returns – and understandably so – as their decision-making is driven by a more diverse perspective, while their workplace values, accountability, and leadership scores rank far higher than their counterparts. Workplaces that have embraced woman-friendly practices and gender-equality in their very veins are well on their way to a successful tomorrow.
To make a workplace inclusive, the transformation needs to happen bottom-up and inside-out, starting from day zero – when organisations hire. Here’s how:
- No hiring bias: Organisations must have no gender filters while hiring at campuses.
- The right ecosystem: With a steady inflow of woman hires, you also want to build an ecosystem that is receptive and supportive of their needs. Conduct regular surveys to check the pulse of the women in the organisation, understand their needs better and chart out what facilitates a better work-life balance.
- Women-friendly practices and policies: Introduce initiatives that make women feel safe and empowered at work. Not to stereotype, but if your woman employees are juggling a major chunk of household responsibilities along with work, make sure you offer them the flexibility to choose their work timings and place, so they can strike a balance between home and work – and are not put in a position where they have to choose between the two.
- We, at TheMathCompany, practice all these and thus boast of an easy 30 percent representation by women.
Q. Also, how can gender diversity become key to the success of the tech industries? How can organisations leverage the full potential benefits of a diverse workforce by integrating diversity and inclusion into their hiring strategies?
A. A Morgan Stanley report shows that tech companies enjoy better payoffs when they have a gender diverse workforce, along with better productivity, risk management, innovation, and employee retention numbers. And this means a good mix of candidates is as important as finding candidates who are a good match for your organisation. As ironic as it sounds, to bring in gender equality in recruitment strategies, we need to tilt the hiring scale in favour of women, simply because there’s a huge gap between male and female employee numbers in tech companies – men dominate the IT workforce by a whopping 76%.
Some ways in which organisations can integrate diversity and inclusion in hiring are:
- Conducting women-only hiring drives
- Providing special incentives to refer to women candidates
- Offering leadership development programs and workshops to women
- Supporting working moms with flexibility in when and where they work
Most organisations have a basic awareness of the need for gender diversity, but only when it becomes a priority matched with leadership accountability, can the IT industry move away from seeing women as a minority of their workforce.
Q. Advanced business analytics is giving businesses the ability to see and predict everything. How can firms use data science to boost sales and make customer engagement more effective?
A. Data Science is essential to extract and monetize information collected. This enables us to prioritize leads based on their characteristics and customize the targeting, managing, engagement approaches. These initiatives drive success for our customers as we are able to deliver customized experiences rather than adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Q. Furthermore, how is TheMathCompany defining and executing comprehensive and robust analytics strategies to expand its footprint globally, build next-generation platforms, and enhance customer experience?
A. Since our inception in 2016, we have outgrown four offices, and have a 300-strong member team globally, which is a testament to our rapid expansion. We have ongoing engagements with 30+ Fortune 500 or equivalent clients across 6+ industry verticals spanning across 10+ countries.
We plan on going about achieving our growth plans by:
- Expanding our clientele: To expand our footprint and become a truly global brand, we are looking to work with established global 2000 companies across the US, UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Middle East.
- Building internal Centers of Excellence (CoEs): We are building internal CoEs catering to different domains and verticals that will provide our clients with a vantage point of the market, thought leadership on value generation and transformation, provide us with specific expertise to solve next-gen problems for our clients and enable us to offer them next-generation analytical capabilities across the business value chain.
- Growing our team: We continue to hire consultants, data scientists, data engineers and visualization experts from across the globe to expand our teams and enable viable and valuable data and analytics transformations for our clients. As we are in the business of building capabilities, our core is our people and we ensure we invest time, effort and money in their holistic development.
- Enhancing customer experience: We ensure we invest in people and technology to enhance customer experience at locations across the globe.
- Building customizable assets: To scale the solutions we provide to our clients and demystify the usability of these solutions, we are investing in building our customizable assets to develop expertise in newer areas to be able to truly transform enterprises and build capabilities for them. We are also developing custom holistic applications using reusable building blocks that infuse critical organisational nuances and are built in a way to enable seamless scaling.
We have grown tremendously over the last three years and we plan to continue in this journey and focus on helping more and more organisations become analytically self-sufficient. We aim to make TheMathCompany a truly global brand and become a byword for AI and Analytics Transformation across the industry.
Q. Today’s workplace is constantly changing, and organisations are already wrestling with unprecedented risks, disruption, and societal upheaval. What should organisations focus on in order to make an impact on the workforce of the future now?
A. Technology is causing major disruptions in how workplaces function – bringing both risk and opportunities with it. The same disruptions that have beset organisations from the outside, such as personalization, data privacy, digitization, self-service, sustainability, and the entry of emerging tech like AI, VR, Virtual Assistants, Drones, are also affecting them from the inside. The rise of automation and AI has deemed mundane tasks inefficient and redundant. This is causing many traditional roles to be reimagined. Plugging in ML & AI solutions, in combination with other emerging technologies, can improve efficiencies and free employees from routine low- cognitive tasks and allow them to focus on the more complex high-cognitive tasks.
With every emerging technology that comes in, there is going to be a fair share of restructuring that organisations need. It’s key that employers acknowledge employee insecurities and offer them the right opportunities to upskill and reskill, so they can stay relevant and continue to add value in their new roles. The rampant use of technology also means that there are mounds of data, bringing in both opportunities and cause for concern. This data, when teamed with the right tools, can help HR professionals navigate the evolution of the workplace and add the kind of value that has historically been difficult to attain. At the same time, collecting and consolidating data generated at the workplace should be done while heeding to employees’ concerns around privacy and building frameworks to keep data secure.
The rate at which new skills are required has increased ten-fold in the last decade which is why learning and upskilling becomes key to growth. Organisations are constantly competing to attract and retain the top talent in a highly competitive market. For fast-evolving roles, there is a scarcity of the right talent. Thus, compensation becomes one of the key criteria for candidates to decide where they want to join. However, the opportunity cannot be about compensation alone. It needs to be a package – role, learning opportunity, growth, exposure, peers, culture, etc. – it’s about what more you can offer than your next competitor.
Organisational dynamics are rapidly changing as 5 generations coalesce, and it becomes imperative to take the difference in age, gender, background, and working styles, into consideration. Teams are built by a variety of people coming together having a common objective in mind. This variety brings stability, cohesiveness, new ideas, etc. We, at TheMathCompany, visit campuses across India in search of talent. We do not hold any bias in the talent we hire, as long as they bring value to the table. With millennials becoming a mainstay in many workplaces today, it also becomes crucial to facilitate personalized experiences, be it designing a curated growth plan or crafting a role around the employee skills or even something as simple as flexibility in work location, timings or devices.
The new-age thinking that has taken root recently is ‘Employees First, Customers Second’, which is very different from what the business mantra was a decade ago, keeping ‘Customer First’. And it is the right, effective logical approach to take if you want your customers to be happy, as when you engage and enable employees in the right way, they will, in turn, take care of the ‘Customer First’ paradigm. At TheMathCompany, we thus build people, and our people build capabilities.
Q. Can you explain how predictive analytics has emerged as a powerful talent acquisition tool for employers who are looking to stay ahead of the competition?
A. Predictive analytics is pivotal in unearthing meaningful data patterns to help fine-tune recruitment processes and overcome challenges. Common challenges encountered in the recruitment processes today are:
- High dependency on humans
- High levels of subjectivity
- Fractured processes & outcomes across the organisation
We have observed while working with client organisations, that recruiters usually screen only 1/3rd to half of the received resumes for some of the more sought-after roles due to limited bandwidth and the pressure from the hiring managers to fill vacant positions.
Predictive analytics can bring great value to the field of talent acquisition – it helps organisations effectively assess a larger pool of talent while at the same time cutting time and effort spent in routine tasks by days and even months. This transforms the role that the HR team plays in talent acquisition from tactical to strategic, helping them concentrate on acquiring skills and accomplishing tasks that steer the company forward. Some focus areas to leverage predictive analytics in talent acquisition are:
- Predict turnover to understand which positions are likely to go vacant, so you can get a headstart on the process of sourcing good talent
- Utilize technology to help screen more resumes in a shorter time, to not only ensure that better talent can be spotted from a larger crowd but also free up recruiter time to talk to shortlisted candidates and make their assessments of the softer aspects of the candidate’s skillset
- Assess a much larger pool of candidates than traditional senior leadership panels at the final leg of the interview process could assess, through culture-fit evaluations (ex: a series of psychometric games) and AI evaluations. This also helps standardize the process in organisations spread across continents, all in the pursuit of predicting if a candidate will be the right fit for the organisation’s culture
- Catch observations that would elude even seasoned interviewers through a combination of recorded interviews and AI vision
- Recommend the right role or right compensation package for a candidate
To inculcate the said practices, the HR team of TheMathCompany has also undergone an Analytics Workshop, organized by Co.ach, our training and strategy team, wherein we learned how to make use of predictive analytics and AI internally. This helped our team get more efficient, leave the tactical tasks behind and move to having a more strategic approach to our roles.
Q. With the coming age of digitalization how important has it become for HR professionals to understand and apply data analytics greater than ever? According to you, how well can data be used to inform, transform and empower HR decisions?
A. We’re already in the midst of digitalization – the world is changing – the phone has become a permanent fixture in people’s lives and is fast becoming a personal assistant and concierge rolled into one, the global share of e-commerce is already closing in on the 15% mark, we are ordering our food, calling our cabs, booking our tickets and completing official paperwork all from the comfort of our seats and in the latter two cases, without having to engage an ‘agent’. The workplace is also evolving – never before have computers, phones, and internet been so crucial to work getting done in our offices and networked devices so pervasive in our factories and warehouses, gig economies have become more mainstream thanks to technologies that allow remote working.
Because of these changes, the way HR works will also have to change. The HR of today has an outsized focus on keeping the lights on – administrative and compliance tasks – and are often siloed from the core business of their organisations. However, organisations that are going to thrive in the rapidly evolving world of tomorrow will need to have a very different HR team – one that operates as employee experience designers, career coaches, and culture builders. For this change to take place, HR teams will need to truly integrate data and the right technology into their day-to-day operations. They need to connect strategic business KPIs like revenue and profits to existing or even yet-to-designed People KPIs; and use tech-fueled by data to automate menial and routine tasks, like responding to queries on company policies, which can be just as easily taken care of by a chat application on an employee’s phone, which will in turn free up time for the HR professional to apply themselves to pursuits that only a human can do.
Tomorrow’s HR will have a curated collection of powerful insights at their disposal – all the way from who is leaving and why, to recommendations on the skills & traits that an employee will need to progress to the next stage in their career, to what are the possible ways a team can be restructured to foster innovation.
Q. In your opinion, the disruption that AI is likely to bring to work is in favour of HR or not? How can AI revolutionize in solving today’s talent crisis?
A. While problems like stiff competition for securing good talent, shortage of desired skills in the market, talent retention have always haunted the HR teams across organisations, irrespective of geographies, industries or markets, newer problems like emergence of all the new roles and skills, leading to shortage of new talent, while simultaneously, employees not able to put the skills they possess, to use, have also emerged.
We can use AI not only to upskill people and prepare them for the new-age roles but also for plugging the skill gap between the employee and the job requirement. AI will thus, transform and enable the ecosystem overall, helping HR professionals navigate the evolution of the workplace and add the kind of value that has historically been difficult to attain, leaving the mundane tasks to AI and taking up more strategic tasks instead.