At the cutting edge of HR tech: face-to-face with Ilonka Jankovich of the Randstad Innovation Fund

Technology is transforming the way organizations evaluate the skills and people they need, and seek to engage and recruit them.

As Venture Partner of the Randstad Innovation Fund, Ilonka Jankovich is not only at the forefront of identifying and investing in the startups that are pushing back the boundaries of HR tech, but also working closely with them on product development, pilot trialing and market application. We asked Ms. Jankovich to give us her inside view on the most exciting developments ahead, their impact on HR and the wider business, and how organizations can make the most of the potential.

Standing Out: How is HR tech changing the way businesses attract, select, manage and develop talent?
Ms Jankovich: These are really exciting times. We‘re seeing an eruption in HR technology that‘s set to reshape every aspect of people management, from engaging with potential candidates to helping them renew their skills as they progress through their careers. Within selection, for example, HR tech is opening the way to a richer and more accurate profile of candidates. The data has been there for some time, but we‘re now seeing a big leap forward in the matching technology needed to make the most of it. The benefits include a much better fit between the candidate and the skills and personality traits the organization wants. In turn, candidates can match themselves up with companies whose mission and culture reflect their values and aspirations. These matching technologies are now ready to be applied. To aid them, we‘re beginning to see the emergence of profiling systems such as voice analysis, which can help to identify the interests and passions of a potential candidate. We‘re also seeing the first shoots of a new generation of augmented reality, which allows candidates to immerse themselves in the working environment, and interact as if they were there.
For me, one of the most pleasing developments is how the use of technology in screening and initial interviews is helping to strip out many of the unconscious biases that could otherwise impede the careers of so many talented people. At work, technology helps people to collaborate from anywhere and at any time. Within today‘s more diffuse operations, that brings huge benefits in terms of efficiency. It also helps to integrate permanent, contingent and service provider personnel more closely and create greater cohesion and equality between people working in these different ways. Other key developments range from the real-time feedback that workers now want to access to the much broader and more customized learning and development that will enable people to remain relevant in a fast changing environment. These are all huge gains and I believe that HR will be more dynamic and valued within the organization as a result.

What‘s the key to making the most of these technologies?
Ms Jankovich: There is a tendency to look for big savings and sweeping solutions to big problems as part of the business case and evaluations of return on investment. In selection, for example, people want to use technology to screen more people at less cost. But experience shows that it‘s better to start small by identifying a particular challenge or problem and then develop a specific solution for this. You can then broaden out the solution and capabilities from there. Examples might include how to engage with and attract more coders. It‘s also important to look at how these technologies can enhance decision making and improve outcomes. For example, a better fit between candidate and company means that the recruit is likely to stay longer in the organization, and hence reduce re-hiring costs. It‘s important to have a baseline measurement of what you did before the technology was introduced, so return on investments evaluations are comprehensive and realistic.
What‘s also interesting is how many additional benefits become evident when the systems are up and running. For example, we‘ve found that automated screening can help companies to improve the experience for candidates that aren‘t selected and help sustain engagement for the future. This includes advising on what they could do to make them more suitable for the post and encouraging them to apply when a similar opportunity comes up.

Humans and artificial intelligence are increasingly working side-by-side. How is this shaping the world of work? How can this ‘collaboration‘ be optimized?
Ms Jankovich: It‘s important to be realistic about what robots can and cannot do. While some early studies talked about more than 40% of roles being automated, more recent research puts the number much lower. So it‘s important for each organization to carry out their own analysis to decide what tasks can be performed better by robots and which ones should be left to humans. The most important benefit is not the automation itself, but freeing up people for higher value tasks. Through machine learning, people also have better information for decision making. For example, if the analysis tells us someone is likely to be looking for another job, this is the trigger to prepare to market the vacancy. The key to this hybrid human/machine way of working is ensuring that you trust the data and are confident in acting on it.

How do you select startups for the Innovation Fund and how do you support them?
Ms Jankovich: The Fund invests in startup and expansion enterprises covering areas ranging from predicting workforce needs to new forms of psychometric profiling. One of the ways we target companies is by carrying out deep dives in areas such as analytics or social aggregation. This allows us to fully gauge the market potential and get close to the innovations and innovators who can take this forward. We seek to identify companies quite early in their development journey. The key selection criteria includes the strategic fit – how can we at Randstad harness this technology to make our processes more effective, and serve our clients better. We also look at the financial fit – how commercially viable is the idea. Also important is the cultural fit – how well can we work together. We don‘t want to be just passive investors.
We want to provide active support for the companies in our fund and eventually be their clients. This includes helping startups to trial minimum viable products and develop them for wider market rollout.
Having built up businesses from scratch myself, I know the challenges they face and we can build a rapport. My fellow Managing Partner, Paul Jacquin, has a venture capital background, which is invaluable in identifying and realizing the financial potential. Some startups won‘t succeed – if half do well that‘s good by the standards of a fast moving ecosystem.

A lot of companies are looking to work more closely with startups as they seek to create their own innovation ecosystems. What‘s the key to making this work?
Ms Jankovich: Startups inevitably work in different ways to larger and more established enterprises. But these different businesses can still collaborate very well. It‘s important to be open and realistic about expectations. You should also ensure that the people leading the initiative from the corporate side really want to be part of the initiative. The best people are the ones who are tech-savvy and comfortable with a disruptive and data-driven way of working. Once the developments are in place, it‘s important to be patient and avoid trying to integrate them into legacy systems too quickly, if at all.

Automation is transforming organizations and how they work, butit can also create anxieties within the workforce. How can this be managed? How can automation/AI be optimized for the good of society?
Ms Jankovich: There’ll be people who will feel left out because they don‘t have the right skills and lack the capabilities to acquire them. We need to find solutions for this group and this is where corporates and governments have a vital social role to play. The wealth created by machines could be invested in society to provide these people with new opportunities, a guaranteed basic income and meaning in their lives. For those who have a basic income and time, a new ecosystem could be created so that they can contribute to society. The need to take care of older people, children and the environment will always be there. In fact, social contact will even become more important with the rise of technology. A guaranteed minimum income would match the value to society with sufficient reward for the individual. Rather than seeing technology as a threat, we should be looking at it as a catalyst for ensuring everyone can benefit from this and everyone‘s contribution is valued.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.