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Adapting to Digital Disruption

Kathleen Yu is the CEO of Rumarocket, a platform that employs machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to assist human resource functions such as talent recruitment, management, and retention. Her cloud-based platform customizes her clients’ systems to analyze the potential of job applicants according to best hires, best performing, and most likely to resign.

Rumarocket is currently valued at USD 8 million, with a client base across the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It has a record of recommending applicants exceeding performance expectations, with clients reporting more than a hundred percent sales increases and performance improvements of up to 97 percent.

In this interview, she weighs in on the realities of digital disruption and the results of the Global Leadership Forecast 2018 and gives her thoughts on right mindsets leaders should adapt in these fast evolving times, as they transform their organizations to digital-ready ones.

What is digital disruption? How are leaders’ current behaviors about the digital economy shaping the reality on the ground?

Everyone is talking about digital disruption, but nobody really knows what it is and where to start implementing its logical framework. Current digitalization strategies demand a rethinking of talent management and adaptation to rapid changes in the digital economy, like moving towards more remote workspaces and freelance work. An organization must be technologically-savvy enough to use these tools.

Tech leaders—Whether they are tackling tech as an independent field or are in industries combined with tech—should be scrutinized with different benchmarks and standards. Regardless, technology does not exist independently of other sectors. Tech leaders have to be able to look beyond the technology in their hands and manage external ambiguities.

How can leaders take charge and champion digital transformation?

There are three things that are important when approaching digital transformation:

1. Integrative Thinking

I think integrative thinking should be number one. It significantly plays in the development of the correct and most adaptive attitudes for digitalization and new systems. That is what is mostly missing — shifting the focus from educational and skills credentials to the right attitudes. The latter does not lend itself to training, but leaders can always train employees for skills.

Leaders have to find new ways to integrate technology into traditional businesses. We see this trend now in businesses like LalaMove, which moved traditional logistics to the smartphone. We have to find different parts of traditional business where technology can be a gamechanger. That is the site of innovation.

2. Adaptability

An understanding of entire systems, instead of specialized ones, must be developed. This is the source of adjustments for technological transformations. Tech products are frequently undergoing iterations and new releases—take Gmail and the Facebook newsfeed. Leaders can’t stay in the box where they feel comfortable. They can’t just stick to one specialization anymore. They have to be adaptable.

Leaders exhibit considerable investment in their processes. They latch onto ideas of the permanent effectiveness of the workflow. But in a constantly changing environment, this framework will produce gaps in implementation. This is the sort of fixed thinking that leads to failures in adaptation. Leaders have to detach from their tried and tested practices and be willing to have these questioned without interpreting this as an attack on their credibility.

3. Digital literacy

The next step is being comfortable with using—and teaching others about—artificial intelligence. AI has to be applied to different functions. And of course, we have to take advantage of the cloud. A good example would be the use of AI and the cloud in developing self-driving cars. It’s one big system where self-driving cars learn from one another. They eventually detect patterns in data. This process must be repeated a thousand times before it can make sense, before there is a pattern. This is where transformation will come from. It’s how intelligent the AI tech becomes and who becomes the fastest to implement it.

Big data has to be implemented well. Take Facebook for example. Facebook streamlined its processes by pitting specific data points on every step of the day-to-day use of its platform, like how long people are looking at ads, where they click on the newsfeed, the number of comments they make. All of these steps are included under a larger strategy.

What is the role of HR in the transformation? How can HR adapt for the Millennial workforce?

HR should move away from a purely administrative conception, or simple databasing. There hasn’t been an integration of psychology and behavioral economics in structuring incentive structures, payment structures, and employment retention activities. A new talent culture has to be accepted.

We have to apply new ideas about HR to millennials, especially. They exhibit new work preferences. For example, they freelance, do remote work, perform multiple jobs. They also tend to change careers and leave companies for better positions at other companies more often than their older counterparts. Leaders have to accept this revolving door.

Companies may find them (us) weird, but this generation represents new employment standards. Big data should then revolve around understanding talent motivation and developing reinforcement around behavior — who are likely to stay and why, for instance. Big data and HR have to capture such data, and they can use this to cope with the eventual departure of talent.

How should HR deal with the ambiguity of a digital economy?

In a digital economy, there’s a constant pressure to define what happens next, but I think predictions are overrated. You have to cultivate talent that can handle end-to-end issues and not be focused too much on specialization. HR employees then have to know their system that well. They need to be able to act autonomously, if leaders fall short. If they can handle that, they can respond to issues at any stage of operations.

Finally, HR has to be data-savvy. It has to learn to interpret data and use this as business intelligence, specifically in the area of analyzing employee engagement vis-a-vis productivity. But it should also ground itself on a set of expectations departing from the way traditional companies viewed HR.

Where should leaders focus? What is the source of transformation?

What were some of the biggest key takeways from this study? This leads to the first key takeaway—know what you do not know, and that’s okay. Be in perpetual beta so you can adapt to the trial and error. It has to be like that before data can communicate with each other.

This will also caution leaders against pushing the extremes in their methods. At the same time, they can have flexibility.

This second takeaway? Knowing what you can and can’t control, which provides more space for collaborative work. Command and control is an outdated leadership stance. Everybody has to be responsible and accountable for outcomes. Leaders shouldn’t have monopoly of technology; it has to be democratically distributed. That’s why organizations are moving away from hierarchical structures. It helps the communication, and employees aren’t taught one specific task or one area of specialization.

The ultimate message here is adapt. Adapt in perpetual beta. There’s an irrationality to human behavior, but over time, as exhibited by the cyclical nature of recessions, there will be a predictability to this irrationality. You respond to transformations and arbitrary behaviors by mastering the fundamentals and the core.

Learn more about Digital-Era Ladership in the GLF 2018.

Talk to an Expert: Adapting to Digital Disruption
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