Interview With Sreeni Kutam- The Herald Of Technology

Suzanne Lucas, in her award-winning blog page, “evilhrlady.org”, is of the view that Artificial Intelligence (AI), majorly used by organisations for talent acquisition, is underutilised. She writes that AI can be used as an employee engagement tool to communicate better with the employees, gather their preferences, and hence, keep them happy and engaged.  AI can also be effectively used to schedule meetings within the workplace or even make people working on the same project sit alongside to ensure greater co-ordination. She has also elaborated that AI can be harnessed to enable employees, particularly women, to report issues related to harassment, and job descriptions to get the right candidates in quicker time. 

 

In an exclusive interview with Human Capital, Sreeni Kutam, Chief Human Resource Officer, ADP, spoke about the promising future of AI across a vast HR portfolio such as the core values of leadership, diversity, analytics, and a long term HR strategy to deal with continuous disruption.
                                    
In the wake of your diverse experience spanning two decades, what according to you is HR’s toughest problem?
 
I got into HR systems and HR communications soon after my MBA. I have been around HR Functions and HR professionals, helping them in their success. I started as a global HR strategy person at ADP, managing HR for business recruiting. The toughest problem for HR is that they deal with human beings. Human beings are such complex mechanisms, and motivating them in an ideal way to enable every single person in an organisation to contribute at their highest possible level, is a critical task for HR professionals. This helps the company to get the best possible outcome, financially and in terms of their overall impact on the community.
 
I think HR plays a key role in multiple trends. While organisations can come up with great products and services to sell in the market place, the competition does not take that long to catch up, because knowledge in technology is not a monopoly anymore. So, the only way you can start differentiating these days and in the future is to be a Top culture with Top Talent. HR plays a vital role in providing that differentiation capability - success levels of people, understanding them, providing motivation, creating cultural champions in such a way that everybody performs at their highest levels. It may sound like a noble deed; however, it has certain materialistic and technical implications as well. 


 “Because knowledge in technology is not a monopoly anymore. So, the only way you can start differentiating these days and in the future is to be a Top culture with Top Talent.”
 

AI has been making promising growth in several areas of HR, such as operations. Has ADP moved towards implementing AI in some of its areas, and offering it to its clients?


We are looking at it. We have certain algorithms that have been implemented in the contact position space. The contact businesses standpoint is, who is the best person in the globe that has the skill set that can solve your problem? And, that is where AI comes in. In a way, AI understands the best talent that could fit into the culture of any given organisation. While it is good to have the best data science person, best product manager etc., AI helps in evaluating the candidates’ fit into the organisation's culture, which is extremely important.


How does AI help you in the Analysis?


What HR is doing is very traditional. They do the interviews and they check the soft skills, and finally, check the background. For instance, if I interview two people who are equally capable, the one who fits better into the culture will be my pick, since they become the unique pieces around the culture. I think AI is a starting point. Cultivating data points around the culture is so intangible and challenging. However, we do have certain pieces about who fits into our culture, and can be tracked in the HR systems. 


Imagine if an organisation can segment all jobs and identify those that are critical, and the leader has to make the right choice. AI provides the best way to identify the best people who could be successful in my culture and could scan data across geographic locations to give the best results. So, it is actually looking internally to identify the best fit based on the best performers in the company, and thereafter, match the profile of the new applicant to this successful culture fit, to know the gaps. AI as a technology can map roles with accurate assessments and competencies, to help organisations make successful decisions.


At ADP, we look at the turnover to predict when someone could leave the organisation. There are statistical models that can be built by us on the basis of various variables that can potentially say, “A has a 42% chance to leave this organisation in the next 6 months.” While we can build such models, AI would be helpful in enhancing our accuracy, and hence to building a better model. ADP is making use of descriptive analytics and predictive analytics for its existing employees, and is also successful in giving it to the customers. The best part of working in HR at ADP is that it is an HCM Company. So, we get to experiment with a lot of things inside, before we take it to the market.
 

There are two important responsibilities for HR. One, ensuring compliance and the other reducing risk. How is AI being helpful in achieving these two things?
 

You can have AI in many areas, however, natural stupidity sometimes wins over AI! Hence, we must be careful in designing solutions that natural stupidity, bureaucracy, and obstacles that are part of a company’s hallucinations come as obstacles for AI to win.
 

At ADP, we are in a money movement business, because we process payrolls for our clients, who give us the money, and we send it to the bank accounts of our clients’ employees. So, trillions of dollars go through the process and there is a huge compliance and risk management process in place. The potential for fraud by bad actors and hacking does exist. Hence, we are very careful and want to build on AI to play a key role in predicting the gaps on either the compliance or the risk side. 
Government regulations do change with socio-political changes. We are global players and we need to keep track of all those changes - having a database and keeping track on what these changes are, and giving a notification to our product and service teams. So far, the effort to keep track of these changes has been manual. However, AI will soon have a mechanism that can track and minimise the risk of either us or our clients not being compliant.

 

AI-powered robots in social recruiting are a common site now. While ADP is known for building a great employee experience, is there something you are doing to build a great candidate experience? 


We are working on it. Let us say that the journey has begun, and ADP does carry out such initiatives globally. For instance, in certain countries, we do same day offers so we pull the candidates, put them through the process, and if they are selected, the location sends an invitation on the same day. The hypothesis obviously is that the same day offer to the candidate makes for a great candidate experience. However, when we have interviewed  3 to 4 people for a role, and then select one among them, we have basically left out 3 people with a negative experience in the company owing to them not being selected. They could spread discontent about the company on social media networks. Hence, it is always better to create candidate communities and keep those communities active. My team in India alone is expecting the ratio of full-time workers in the organisational sector to go down, while part-time workers are going to be slightly high. If this is the case, we can combine communities to save time on screening for a new role. 
 

What would you like to say about liquid workforce? ADP has a lot of people and a growing need to hire experts, do you see the balance shifting?
 

I do not think it will go to 100%, and, the pendulum would swing this way or that. It will be mixed, and undoubtedly, moving towards part-time workers. However, there is a fundamental principle behind these two, which is the division of labour based on the competency and expertise of the person. So, greater the division of labour, more is the wealth created for the nation. So, if you apply that principle to the concept of workers, it makes a lot of sense. However, can the hiring of an expert for a particular task for a particular time frame be done to the nth degree, so that we maximise the productivity of each person, that is highly debatable! It can be done theoretically, but I do not know if we can get there. I can see that certain rules probably fit better now than later. I think the combination of digitisation of work with AI machines for learning, as well as the gig workers, are creating a great ecosystem for a mix of full time workers and part-time workers to co-exist. The work in itself is going to be automated, and for work which cannot be automated, the question whether the organisation is better off having a full-time worker or are an expert part-time worker, is what the organisation needs to figure out. Also, government regulations are going to play a role; in certain countries there are stronger rules over labour production, and we are expanding operations in various geographic footprints. I do see regulations playing a key role in the mixed work strategy. 


According to you, is leadership in the DNA or is it nurtured?


My personal experience is that a great leader has certain beliefs, and my framework for great leaders is that they have a clarity of purpose. For instance, when we think of great leaders, the names that come to our mind are Gandhi, Lincoln, Nelson Mandela et al. Firstly, they had a clarity of thought and purpose, and secondly, they had a strategy. The greatest of visions need a great execution strategy. Being a great intellectual, might not be enough to fetch us great results. Thirdly, bringing people along with their ideas, vision, and strategy. Finally, the most important part is communication, you are not going to bring people along with you if you cannot connect people with emotions. This translates things through a vision, and I call this the leadership framework.
In Quotes “Great leaders have a clarity of thought and purpose, and secondly, have a strategy. The greatest of visions need a great execution strategy. Being a great intellectual, might not be enough to fetch us great results.”

 

What is your definition of innovation, and how do you build a culture of innovation, ensuring that it trickles down to the level of the individual contributor?


I follow a basic change management framework. First, we need to ask, why do we have to innovate? Second, what is that we are going after?  Finally, why, where, how do we want to do this? The 4 Ws and 1 H have to connect to the core of the human being. Once this is well explained, people will naturally follow. They will feel and will assume ownership and do it. Self-realisation is the fastest way to attain Moksha rather than reading all the Vedic literature!
 

With gamification and  personalisation as key strategies, L&D has undergone a significant change. What is ADP doing to change the way employees learn and develop?


I personally do not like gamification, if I want to learn something new, I read! While that is the way I learn, others might learn differently. So, it is better to be personalised on the basis of their learning preferences and ability. You may have to struggle to capture the preferences, and you may need to create an incentive for their personal curiosity over learning, so that they can be better in certain things. I learn either by reading or doing, and gamification is not my style! However, many millennials learn in many different ways, and hence, gamification is successful in certain areas. 
 

Mergers and Acquisitions prove to be a sensitive time for HR leaders. How can a HR leader sail through such acquisitions?


There are two facets to this. When you are being acquired there is a perspective of fear, and the perspective is different if you are the acquirer. From my perspective, I go back to change management and explain what is going to happen in a very transparent way. Some people may keep their jobs, while some may not. And, this is where psychology comes into play. While some employees may appreciate transparency and frankness, some may need multiple conversations. HR needs to convey the message that makes sense for the individual. You can talk about Technology and Innovation in the HR Space, but as long as humans are working in the organisation, the traditional HR Skills are going to play a very important role. AI cannot be its replacement for now. Once the robot develops human intelligence, I think we have to watch out.


Diversity is increasingly becoming important for the success of a business; how does ADP see diversity?
Diversity and inclusion is one of the key balances maintained by ADP. Globally, ADP’s  workforce is 50% female. We at ADP take pride in our commitment towards the LGBT communities. The Indian Supreme Court’s passing of the law accepting these communities into the main stream comes to us as great news. We have great support from our associates, and they volunteer to our programmes such as ‘TARANG.’ Thus, standing together has remained to be our strength. 

 

In such a disruptive era, is there a comprehensive HR strategy with a long-term horizon on sustaining leadership and the internal talent pipeline of ADP?

 

We at ADP do have an investment strategy in our leadership at various levels. We have been on a journey to define leadership expectations at various levels since we believe that they are very different from one another, and then assess all the leaders against those expectations to create a very personalised approach for development. One of the unique things that we want to do is to leverage the strengths of individual leaders to maximise that individual’s impact.

 

Since employee experience is so critical towards building a great organisation, what does ADP do as a policy to enhance employee experience globally?
 

As the HR in ADP, we have started our strategy keeping associate experience at the centre. We are working through various service delivery channels/systems to improve this particular aspect. We are very excited to launch the HR NPS survey to understand how the associate experience stands at all the organisational levels.


What according to you are the three most important skills that a digital leader of 2021 needs against that of 2011?


I am not sure I agree that leadership traits at the core change that much decade to decade. Any leader (digital or otherwise) needs to have 4 key things – Vision, Strategy, Talent, and Communication. Vision is to define why/where organisation needs to go. That requires studying market dynamics and creating a compelling business case for all stakeholders. Strategy is how to get to the destination. That requires understanding internal strengths and weaknesses and creating an optimal plan. Talent is to have the right people strategy to execute the business plan. Communication is to make sure everyone is emotionally connected to the mission and aligned.
 

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