HR Tech and Responsiveness can solve hiring problems: Vikas Sethia 'Most SME & Startup space employers still offline with their processes'

It’s been that time of year since May this year – the time when, immediately after the annual appraisal, many employees, particularly the newer young professionals, put in their papers, and the Human Resources team has a challenge on its hands – to quickly find replacements that fit best, in the shortest possible time.

What causes attrition, and how can smart use of growing HR Technology, plus a basic change in attitude and a personal investment in HR discipline help HR professionals reactively conquer, and proactively get equipped to face these challenges, and to generally acquit themselves as the talent-sourcing and retention champions that they are supposed to, and can, be.

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Vikas Sethia

We caught up with Vikas Sethia, Founder of HiringAlerts, a social-impact HR Tech startup that’s campaigning for a million responses to make hiring more effective in India. Before we cut to our QnA with him, a little more about Vikas: After spending 9 years with Quess Corp – managing different formats of the recruiting business, Vikas stepped out to work on one of the biggest challenges faced by Employers & Candidates – the problem of ‘not responding’ to each other. A management graduate & an avid reader, Vikas likes to mentor students and engage with early-stage startups.

HR Tech in India has been evolving for more than a decade. How is it being used in India?

Organizations have undoubtedly transformed their people experience in recent years. Everything from hiring to employee management to appraisals, even exits, is now tech-enabled. That’s the promising side of HR Tech.

What got missed was the exercise to ‘upgrade’ potential users of such technology. As a result, we now have so much scattered technology around us that people are busy building & reconciling data instead of intelligently using it.

A recent survey by ManpowerGroup revealed India is among the top 10 affected regions with 56% of employers facing difficulty in filling vacant positions. Of the 40,000 employers surveyed globally, 45% are struggling to fill roles,  and this trend has been increasing in the last 12 years

Let’s look at hiring for example. There is an amazing tech ecosystem allowing AI- and ML-based access to millions of CVs, and the ability to post jobs in seconds; yet, employers and recruiters rate ‘finding talent’ as most difficult of all hiring stages. Now that’s a downer in spite of the availability of modern HR Tech.

A recent survey by ManpowerGroup revealed India is among the top 10 affected regions with 56% of employers facing difficulty in filling vacant positions. Of the 40,000 employers surveyed globally, 45% are struggling to fill roles, and this trend has been increasing in the last 12 years.

And what’s on the brighter side?

On the brighter side, most employers in the SME & Startup spaces are still offline with their processes. That’s a potential segment HR Tech companies will be exploring in the next 5 years. In fact, the recently concluded People Matters TechHR 2018 conference in Gurgaon had 50+ HR Tech startups showcasing their products to 3000+ attendees.

So, HR Tech is available, but not being used often and smartly enough. Well, there’s no quick fix, but how do you think that could be corrected?

image-Hiring-alerts-viokas-sethia-mediabriefIt’s really not very difficult. People need to genuinely adopt and respond to technology without compromising on its intended purpose. For example, if an ATS was invested in to manage hiring progress and applicant data, recruiters and employers should take decisions based on what shows on their screen and not based on offline follow-up relays or what is convenient at the moment.

Most users will explain this vicious pattern of ‘not using technology for decisions’ by citing ‘data unavailability’ or ‘backlog’, but they also know for a fact that not keeping data up-to-date is a discipline issue with users, and has very little to do with technology.

People today get away with commitment lapses by using a ‘template of reasons’. What’s amusing, even, is that such reasons get considered without verification. HR Tech can start making a powerful impact on organizations and their people the moment users turn more compliant and enthusiastic about prescribed guidelines.

In a global (2017) report, Gartner said most of the recruitment process even in tech-enabled organizations, happens offline using emails, phone calls, spreadsheets and messages!

You spoke of responding to technology. Now, I’ve seen and know about HiringAlerts, and that’s why I reached out to you to help introduce it to the HR and entrepreneur community. So, tell them all: how relevant is the HiringAlerts program in this context?

HiringAlerts is a habit-changing initiative that’s campaigning for a million responses to make recruiting more effective in India. Incidentally, the program uses technology to make people believe that hiring works best when everybody responds! We want people to experience the simple and engaging side of hiring and to genuinely progress from pre-screening to joining stages in the fastest possible time.

HiringAlerts is also India’s first hiring response program and the simplest SAAS product ever made to connect employers, recruiters and candidates.

In the last decade, everything in hiring got a series of ‘upgrades’. Well, everything except people habits. Often, the ‘maker’ and  ‘checker’ are the same sets of people who believe they can re-engineer hiring processes any time without letting other participants know. And so you have all previous hiring efforts getting mixed up and pending responses forgotten without guilt

Everybody in hiring today is talking about the response problem. Why are people indifferent enough to not respond? Forget about the basic courtesy one always expects; they also seem to ignore how a response would help their professional function.

That’s true. Employers and candidates often complain about not hearing back from each other. Many conclude that when someone doesn’t respond, she or he may not be interested, but that’s not always the case. Responses get deferred when people do not have the requisite details or an organized channel to talk to each other.

Many organizations are quick to invest in HRIS and ATS products, but don’t leverage them for HR or business decisions. In a global (2017) report, Gartner said most of the recruitment process even in tech-enabled organizations happens offline using emails, phone calls, spreadsheets and messages!

It’ll be unfair to say that people lack the intent to respond. They just need an enabler that’s simple, accessible and speaks their language

In the last decade, everything in hiring got a series of ‘upgrades’. Well, everything except people habits. It is not unusual for hiring priorities and methodologies to change frequently, since the ‘maker’ and  ‘checker’ are the same sets of people who believe they have the privilege to re-engineer hiring processes just about any time and without letting other participants know about it. In pursuit, all previous hiring efforts get mixed up and pending responses are forgotten without guilt.

It’ll be unfair to say that people lack the intent to respond. They just need an enabler like HiringAlerts that’s simple, accessible and speaks their language.

What’s the go-to-market approach for HiringAlerts?

We don’t think a mass-license-selling approach works for HiringAlerts. It’s a program that needs adoption and not one-time selling. Potential users would often hear me saying – I’m not selling you a product; I’m buying your intent to respond!

For a moment, let’s assume that a large sales force is vigorously selling subscriptions by enticing users with free offers and digital campaigns. The sales effect will invariably score a large number of signed-up users — promising enough for investors to take note! — but in no time end up with very few users who will genuinely stay with the #Promise2Respond habit.

Tell us about #Promise2Respond.

#Promise2Respond is the habit-changing philosophy behind HiringAlerts. The message is quite straight forward: if you are hiring or getting hired, whether you use HiringAlerts or any other program or product, just ensure there is nobody waiting for your response.

It’s quite painful when someone doesn’t turn up for interviews, and even worse when a new ‘joinee’ doesn’t show up after 30 to 90 days of notice period. Equally frustrating is when candidates don’t hear back after interviews. Hence the need for #Promise2Respond!

At a recent event in Pune, we had more than 100 participants who acknowledged and said they #Promise2Respond with great enthusiasm. That quite reinforced our belief that #HiringHabitsNeedChange, and that people are willing to support such causes.

What’s your view on attrition trends in India?

Attrition is a two-sided coin. Organizations need some churn in people to bring in new ideas and business growth. Likewise, it is important for people to move across roles to learn and step up in professional careers.

The youngest professionally qualified employees are often under immense pressure to get unrealistic salary increases because they are repaying loans for professional degrees that have become increasingly very expensive. So they may be tempted to jump ship QUICKLY AND OFTEN, without realizing how harmful such hopping will prove for them later

Unfortunately, not all attrition is controlled and planned in line with suggested merits. Exits are often an outcome of burning bridges with managers, colleagues or the organization itself. Since most indifferences relate to compensation and performance, attrition activity is relatively high immediately after the appraisal cycle.

The youngest employees often put themselves under constant pressure to get unrealistically higher salary increases, and most often, the reason is they are repaying loans for professional degrees that have become increasingly very expensive. So, even if the work environment and job roles are really good, they may be tempted to jump ship after six or twelve months for a higher pay packet, without realizing how harmful such hopping will prove for them later.

Another reason for job seekers to explore opportunities could most likely be a recent vendetta, and hence the approach is either biased or compromised. When candidates join their next organization under desperation, chances of attrition are high during the first 6 months. Such new employees may also not give of their best in an endless pursuit to find ‘better’ jobs  — thanks to the  apply-syndrome temptation and several interviews that still await feedback. Early attrition not only increases ‘cost & time to hire’ for organizations, but also sets back business plans by several months.

When all potential employers close the loop on applications — including reject decisions — candidates are likely to accept their next job offer with seriousness and greater clarity on available career prospects. Second: when candidates experience too many ‘rejects’, their inclination towards and acceptance of their current job may unexpectedly turn stronger.

In recent years, automation and process improvements have also caused attrition scenarios. While some organizations chose to redeploy affected workforce in other divisions, others have had to let go of talent without much choice.

Employees may need to accept these trends as part of a growing and maturing business ecosystem, and continually prepare themselves to identify next-level career challenges.

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