October 19, 2017 | Written by: Michael Wong
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Preface: According to the World Economic Forum, “Developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology…are all building on and amplifying one another. This will lay the foundation for a revolution more comprehensive and all-encompassing than anything we have ever seen”.  But while some firms continue to dabble with proof of concepts, others have taken bold steps to deploy technologies that differentiate and distance themselves from competitors.
Q. Dr. Polli, given multiple reports on how robotic process automation is expected to significantly reconfigure many companies’ daily operating models, what do you recommend C-Suite officers consider for their digital workforce strategies?
A. Executives need to build a digital workforce strategy and explain how it will support their existing business vision and strategic goals. For example, I recall a recent Fortune article that explained AT&T’s digital transformation. Apparently, internal research discovered that 100K of their 240K workers in 2013 were in roles that the company probably wouldn’t need in a decade’s time. To me, what spoke volumes is how their C-Suite developed a Workforce 2020 Initiative that is intended to retrain 100k workers for radically new jobs…versus just taking a downsizing option. By having a strategy and clearly communicating its value proposition for not only their customers but also their employees, it’s not surprising to see how AT&T, for the first time, made Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.
Q. Well, AT&T has a deep history of being a tech-savvy firm; how about other companies which might not have such a corporate culture and mindset?
A. Change management is by far the hardest roadblock to successfully execute a digital workforce strategy since there are so many existing assumptions around automation and other technical facets. For example, one assumption is that a machine can’t do what a person does given the perception that a human must be involved in every step of a certain business process. But consider the hiring process where research has shown how automation (algorithms) does a better job of screening candidates versus a recruiter’s fleeting average of six-seconds for a resume scan. Pymetrics is working with companies to challenge their mindsets for what they can and should be doing for their futures.
For example, our company has introduced gamification into the interview process and proof points of our clients’ success have included:
- 3x improvement in interview to offer yield: baseline of 8.5% improved to 25%
- 60% increase in first year success rate for a global consulting firm (75% to 91%retained)
Q. For companies that are striving to build a workforce of the future, what are the top three recommendations for transformational change?
A. First, focus on business outcomes. At Unilever, their usage of Pymetrics solutions helped enhance their talent pool’s engagement experience since the average time for a candidate to be hired went from four months to four weeks, saving a cumulative 50,000 hours of their time. Moreover, for Unilever’s own recruiters, their time spent reviewing applications decreased by 75%.
Second, if you’re striving to be an industry leader, you need to have the courage to go all in at times. For example, at Unilever, instead of a small beta phase, they took a bold move by deploying their solution with all intern applications as their proof of concept, and then rolled it out to all entry level positions.
Finally, be willing to openly dialogue around the current state and plans for the future. The big elephant in the room is around how robots will eliminate jobs. But for one of our clients, while they were able to reduce their campus recruiting staff by 40 percent, the company invested in these employees by enabling them to assume new roles in other areas of the company like Employer Branding and Diversity. This client is not in the tech industry and serves as a proof point that strong C-Suite leadership can help build a workforce of the future.
Dr. Frida E. Polli co-founded and serves as Chief Executive Officer of Pymetrics, Inc. Dr. Polli researched predictive brain markers as a postdoctoral fellow in Brain + Cognitive Sciences at MIT. In 2010, Dr. Polli won a Young Investigator Award from the Brain + Behavior Research Foundation and the MIT 100K Life Science Track. Her neuroscience dissertation was done at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, and her PhD at Suffolk University. Dr. Polli also holds an MBA from Harvard, where she was a Robert L. Kaplan Life Science Fellow, and a BA from Dartmouth College.
 Klaus Schwab and Richard Samans, World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs, January 2016, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf
 Aaron Pressman, Fortune, March 2017, http://fortune.com/att-hr-retrain-employees-jobs-best-companies/
 Richard Feloni, Business Insider, June 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/unilever-artificial-intelligence-hiring-process-2017-6