Disruptive Technology? Who Cares as Long as We’re Still Hiring?

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Jun 12, 2015

The shift in public safety best practice was dramatic.

Prior to early 1983, the Visalia, California police and fire dispatchers managed a manual process consisting of writing addresses on slips of paper when taking 911 calls. Plus, tracking police officers whereabouts manually via radio communication was tedious work.

My mother, the dispatch supervisor at the time, came home stressed night after night because of the new computer-aided dispatch system being implemented and all the bugs that entailed, especially way back then.

Not only that, her stress became compounded and complicated by end-user indifference and resistance – some of the other dispatchers and officers. Every single time there was a glitch; an “I told you so” response was what she usually heard.

Dealing with disruptive technology

But she embraced the changes that did eventually improve public safety delivery. In fact everything she learned about computers, databases and related technology systems were on the job at the police department. This experience led to other technology jobs, including Motorola.

While this disruptive technology didn’t displace many, if any, city employees during my mother’s tenure, and in fact head count actually grew due to the need to maintain the new technology system, technological advancements today do displace workers.

Think of it as the John Henry syndrome, an Industrial Revolution folklore about a steel-driving man who had to compete against a steam-powered hammer in blasting holes in a mountain for a railroad tunnel. He won, but then he died, not the most uplifting tale about progress. This economic metaphor was covered in detail by one of my favorite business podcasts called NPR Planet Money with a “man vs. robot” series.

Good for those who are in-demand and have the skills and experience not yet undermined by a disruptive technology. Or those who have the means to retool and learn marketable tech skills like the trend of liberal arts or social science college graduates going to coding boot camps and spending thousands of dollars for a few months of tech development.

Rise of the machines

In fact, one of the NPR Planet Money episodes pitted a business news writer against a software algorithm to write a Denny’s restaurant earnings update, and the algorithm won. As a writer, this makes me worry about my own longevity, and according to an Economist article titled Rise of the Machines

Kensho’s [quant] system is designed to interpret natural-language search queries such as, “What happens to car firms’ share prices if oil drops by $5 a barrel?” It will then scour financial reports, company filings, historical market data and the like, and return replies, also in natural language, in seconds. The firm plans to offer the software to big banks and sophisticated traders. Yseop, a French firm, uses its natural-language software to interpret queries, chug through data looking for answers, and then write them up in English, Spanish, French or German at 3,000 pages a second. Firms such as L’Oréal and already use it for customer support on their websites.’

Unfortunately, we are losing more and more jobs to the “machines” – how many in the near future is debatable – although The Economist article references a paper from the Oxford Martin School, published in 2013, that concludes up to half of the job categories tracked by American statisticians might be vulnerable.

Because of all this is why we have disruptive HR technology empowering the adaptive ways we have to recruit and hire.

The challenge in hiring today

Today’s hiring economy is highly complex, confusing and competitive. It’s like a classic high-performance engine we keep tinkering with, tuning up, swapping out old parts for new, with a lot of sweat and tears, even trying to converting it into a hybrid or an electric-powered vehicle, through every boom and bust cycle, especially the latest.

When I first entered the HR and recruiting technology market over 16 years ago, I went to work for a company called Our pitch was this: sources Interested, Qualified Applicants for software developer, IT, and Asian-language bilingual positions. You pay only for those candidates who you decide meet your specifications and who have agreed to an interview. You’re in control. Sophisticated artificial intelligence quickly predicts the likelihood of a match between interested applicants and a particular position.”

It was cool. It was ahead of its time. It was disruptive. And unfortunately, it became a demise before it really took off.

Time and again we pushed our artificial intelligence proprietary matching system. I’ve seen hundreds companies of the past 16 years who claim their technology will help companies identify and screen the right applicant for the right position quickly and effectively, if not automatically.

And there’s truth to that; there are many quality products and services that accelerate sourcing, recruiting and hiring.

The heart of hiring is a human one

Ah, but the humans in HR and recruiting strike back. In most of my previous jobs, I’ve hired dozens and dozens of employees – from higher education to high-tech to HR tech to marketing and PR. I’ve played recruiter, hiring manager and human resources — and it’s always been clear to me that the heart of hiring is a human one, and no amount of technology will permanently displace those involved in HR and recruiting.

It’s true that the next 5-10 years will bring unprecedented change to the workplace and the role of Human Resources. According to Alexandra Levit, a Future of Work speaker, New York Times writer, author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, and a recent guest on the TalentCulture #TChat Show, there will be those disruptive HR technologies that will influence the form and function of HR in a myriad of ways including how and where we work today, how we recruit and hire, and how we train and develop the workforce.

Not every technological disruption will be adopted nor will it transform business for the better, but the fact remains that empowering a better workplace and workforce is continuous. And in the midst of all this disruption, there’s been an online dialogue of late about what we call recruiting and HR and how the various iterations are deemed too pretentious, clinical, or even distasteful and aren’t reflective of how the “heart of hiring is human.”

But after all of the above, who cares what we call it as long as we’re still hiring?

This was originally published on Kevin Grossman’s Reach West blog.