Lilia Stoyanov, a CEO, CFO and Angel Investor who has managed global operations at leading companies like Transformify, Coca-Cola Enterprises, and Skrill/ Paysafe, joins us for an interview to share her expertise in Human Resources and HR Tech.
Tell us about your professional journey, Lilia. What have some of your biggest leadership/career learnings been so far, given your vast expertise?
It was an unusual journey as I became CFO when I was 27 years old. Most team leaders were almost the age of my parents and it was initially hard to build trust. At the time, I realized that it is your expertise and confidence that matter in any situation. People are ready to follow a leader who is knowledgeable, balanced and ready to take responsibility no matter how complex the situation is. Later, as Director Procure to Pay Europe at Coca-Cola Enterprises, I was better prepared to lead change and business transformation at scale even though lots of jobs were cut due to process re-design and automation. I received the 2013 Finance Excellence Award for the business transformation project and would say that the major takeaway is to be prepared and unbiased. Speaking with people who have been with the company for 20+ years can’t be replaced by doing your research and reading case studies. Remaining unbiased and accepting everyone’s point of view is the key to making informed management decisions.
Given the dynamics in the HR Tech domain, how do you foresee the future of this segment shape up? What kind of HR Technologies will witness a spurt in demand in the coming years?
There is an interesting trend as some of the most innovative companies like Tesla and Accenture are not relying on CVs anymore. It is early to announce that the CV is dead as it will take years for the HR professionals to adapt to the new reality and evaluate candidates based on other more relevant criteria instead of on prior experience. Lots of HR software companies, including Transformify, already develop technology solutions that help recruiters to select the most qualified candidates based on skills, preferences, salary expectations and other relevant criteria.
Leveraging AI and machine learning to enhance the talent acquisition process is another big trend in HR Tech. However, artificial intelligence is still in its infancy and HR software companies need to be cautious when developing algorithms. Instead of removing bias in the recruitment process, an algorithm may lead to excluding certain groups of people who may never receive an interview invite. There are many factors to be considered when developing candidate matching algorithms. Also, obtaining quality data at scale to train the algorithm is quite often a challenge. As Transformify’s mission is to provide equal access to jobs and secure payment to everyone no matter their race, gender, age, location or personal situation, we are extremely cautious when launching new technology solutions. Cutting-edge technology looks great in investor’s eyes but releasing new features in the HR tech industry has an ethical side that is never to be neglected.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see HR teams face when it comes to choosing and implementing an HR tech stack?
Selecting the right HR Software provider is not a straightforward process. Often, the IT team of the company is not involved which results in integration issues later on. Even if the selected HR Software provides all the features the HR Team cares about, it may not be compatible with the technology stack the company already has in place. By default, all custom solutions come at an extra cost that increases over time as the customizations require support and regular upgrades.
To be able to compare hundreds of HR Software Solutions and select the one that fits best, HR experts need to create a detailed checklist and assign priorities to the various criteria. Asking themselves questions like “How critical is to have information about the location of the candite? How important is to know what their salary expectations are? Can we migrate existing applicant data to the new HR Software?, etc.” will help a lot to create a good HR Tech vendor selection checklist. As it is anything but easy, our team published detailed guidance on selecting an HR Software provider and integrating the Hr Tech solution of choice with the existing technology stack.
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How should global organizations get ready for the Future of Work? Which aspects do most firms need to rethink according to you, given changing workplace trends and demands (the demand for flexibility, work from home options, growth of the gig economy)?
The gig economy is here to stay even though the legislation in many countries around the world is not addressing this new trend. There are two main drivers behind this trend – (i)Industry 4.0 and (ii) changing business models. For many industries like advertising, management consulting, video production, software development, etc. the traditional business models are replaced by a project-based model. Thus, hiring full-time employees becomes unpractical and results in thin profit margins. To adapt to the new realm, businesses switch to on-demand workforce hired on a project basis. Often, these companies work with the same freelancers and gig workers over and over again and call them when they have a new project matching their skills. That’s how Transformify operates too as having a big pool of talented freelancers allows us to have all the expertise we need at any given moment while delivering projects within budget. We even offer an HR Software helping companies to manage their own pool of freelancers, transfer payments to them worldwide and streamline the project management process.
It is argued that the gig economy is ripping people off the benefits they had in the past and were taken for granted by earlier generations. To some extent, this is true, especially when ‘’taken for granted’’ is considered. The new realm requires a change in paradigm as gig workers and freelancers see their ‘’employer’’ as a client and the relationship as managing a small business of their own instead. It is a level of flexibility that did not exist in the past as gig workers can select which projects to work on, how many projects to undertake at any given point in time and how to manage their savings and investments in pension funds, real estate, etc.
Can you tell us about some of the most innovative ways in which Transformify customers have used the platform to optimize/drive results?
Our HR Software solutions have been driven by clients’ needs. We started as a Freelance Platform, but our clients said ‘’ It’s great, we can source freelancers in no time but can you help us manage the relationship with them and deal with payment transfers and billing?’’ and we addressed this need. Then, one day, our marketing team received a very candid message from a mother who needed to work from home to take care of her kid in a wheelchair. That’s how we realized that work from home and remote jobs can actually help people in need and developed a Diversity Hiring Solution. However, most people in need are not easy to reach to and they are too shy to apply for jobs. Telling them and the society at large that there are jobs and CSR programs specifically addressing their needs resulted in the development of our Employer Branding solution. Our most innovative clients used them all to reach their target group. In the past, one of our clients reached out and said ‘’ We want to hire more mothers who have been out of the workforce for 6+ years. This is an untapped talent pool as mothers are well educated but not given a chance after a long career break.’’ Together, we developed a PR and marketing plan to spread the message via Transformify HR Blog and our media partners, then we listed the jobs on Transformify so our candidate matching algorithms could streamline the talent acquisition process, and finally, as some mother were work from home independent contractors, we transferred the payments to them.
We’d love to know your thoughts on gender disparity and pay issues in the typical B2B/Tech marketplace? What are your comments/suggestions to narrow this gap?
Unfortunately, despite all the efforts in the last 10 years, there is still a gender pay gap. Looking at Transformify stats worldwide, I would say that the gap is much wider in some countries due to the traditions and status quo. Often, women don’t feel confident enough to even ask for a pay rise. It will take more time to enforce legislation requiring employers to close the gender pay gap and offer the same pay rate to people having equal skills and experience.
In 2019, I had the privilege to interview 20+ diversity and inclusion leaders worldwide who shared some of their best practices. These include the same start salary and regular pay rate reviews, skill assessments and pay rate tight up to the assessment results, achievement-based pay rises and more. There is no universal solution as different industries and geographies face diversity and inclusion issues of their own.
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What according to you will be the top HR Tech Trends for 2020?
More people will join the gig economy and will undertake freelance jobs at least from time to time. Even in developed countries like the US and UK, lots of people need an extra source of income to make the ends meet, pay mortgage, repay university loans, etc. Freelance jobs along with traditional employment address these needs.
Encouraging people to start small businesses of their own is another big positive trend around the world. Entrepreneurship has many faces and running a blog, engaging with affiliate marketing or small translation agencies fall into this category.
Industry 4.0 will result in cutting jobs that could be automated but new jobs will be created to address the new reality.
HR Tech will be focused not only on streamlining the talent acquisition process but also on closing the digital skills gap as it is obvious that the skills the business needs are not necessarily possessed by the candidates.
Tag (or mention/write about) the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.
Although Tesla is not an HR Tech company, it has adopted some very innovative HR practices and I would love to read the answers of one of their Talent Acquisition Directors.
Your favorite team building/leadership/hiring quote?
If you know what you want, you will always have it in the end.
Any parting thoughts here you’d like to share…it could be on anything, work-life balance, career goals, etc.
Growing a business is never easy, let alone in fast-changing industries like HR Tech and fintech. At the same time, nothing can address better unemployment risks than running a business of your own.
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Lilia Stoyanov is the CEO and angel investor of Transformify. A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission.