Jason Averbook, CEO of Leapgen, on Digital Transformation in HR and Talent Assessment Tools

July 5, 2019 at 8:00 am

Jason Averbook

Jason Averbook is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leapgen, a firm focused on accelerating digital transformation in HR. Jason has been innovating in HR for more than 20 years and is widely respected as a thought-leader and prognosticator. We spoke with him recently about why digital transformation is only 10% technology, and why recruiters are overlooking some of the best talent available.

What does digital transformation in HR look like? Is it distinct from digital transformation in other departments?

One thing people have been doing in HR for too long in terms of digital transformation is simply buying technology. There’s a big difference between digital — which is the combination of mindset, people, processes, and technology — and just purchasing software. Really, the number one thing we see when working with organizations is exploring how you digitize the HR function, and 90% of that doesn’t involve technology. It’s about how you organize and think about HR and the roles within, then look for technology to fuel it. The technology is secondary to the goal, which is to become proactive instead of reactive.

Can you expand on that idea? What’s the distinction between those two in terms of HR?

Through its history, HR has been a reactive function. It responds to requests and answers questions, but for the most part, it’s reacting to others. What is shifting drastically is that HR is becoming more proactive and more prescriptive. I think about it like service — it can be a noun or a verb. Service as a verb is reactive because you’re just meeting requests. Service as a noun is proactive because you’re anticipating needs. So when HR calls someone, they shouldn’t immediately think it’s bad news. Instead, they should expect HR to be calling with information or assistance. That shift is a big part of the transformation we’re talking about.

If implementing technology is the last piece of the puzzle, what does it take for companies to lay the foundation of digital transformation?

This is going to sound strange, but first and foremost, you have to be able to change. The workforce has changed along with the expectations of what tools you will provide at work. People are switching careers more often and looking for different kinds of training opportunities. Recruiting and retention are different than ever before. The world of work is changing fast, and HR hasn’t done great at keeping up. Change is hard, particularly for a department that has done the same thing for a long time. And until you’re open to the mindset of change, you’re going to struggle.

Effective recruiting is especially challenging right now. Do you have any advice for how HR can change its approach to finding and attracting talent?

This has been a struggle for at least five years now. I think something that’s important to understand about recruiting is that it’s easier for a lot of professionals to find a new job at a different company than at their current company. And that’s really sad because most recruiters work on finding an outside hire. Many never consider the talent they already have. If recruiters could look both inward and outward, we could fill a lot more roles.

Candidate assessment tools are often used to evaluate outside hires. Could they also be used to evaluate existing employees for advancement potential?

Totally. Honestly, I don’t understand why organizations even separate talent into outside vs. inside. Recruiters should always be recruiting. And as professionals in talent organization, recruiters should always be looking for ways to leverage talent more effectively. From a strategic standpoint, talent is really the only resource HR has. And if they don’t understand talent at a DNA level, they won’t contribute much to the business.

So talent assessment is really the beating heart of HR?

I would say talent is the beating heart, but assessment is what you use to understand that talent. It really comes back to the why and how. The why is the talent and the how is the assessment. What I see too often is people who invest in talent assessment tools but then don’t actually use the data. It sits in someone’s hard drive.

Why would an HR department pay for talent assessment tools but not use the data?

Mostly because they’re siloed. Even if data on internal talent exists, recruiting may not be aware of it, so they go looking for an outside hire. These functions shouldn’t be separate — talent should be one thing — but a lot of HR departments are still siloed. The other problem is that when you don’t have a talent mindset across the entire company, managers think about what’s good for themselves or their department. Then, when it might make sense for someone to move elsewhere, managers get defensive. If you’re not going to think about talent comprehensively, it defeats the purpose of having the assessment data.

What advice do you have for HR leaders who are trying to make progress towards digital transformation?

It starts with breaking down silos and realizing that “talent” is the key asset. You also need to be able to asses that talent, both internally and externally. The goal is to stop thinking of people as employees or contractors and start thinking of all people as accessible (and potentially valuable) talent. Last, I would emphasize that recruiting never ends. We think that after the hire is made, HR is out of the picture. But companies should be recruiting their employees every day; otherwise, they will look elsewhere. Instead of trying to meet specific quotas and deadlines, we need to think about maximizing the impact of talent, and that occurs long past the initial job offer.

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