TecHR Interview with Przemek Berendt, Founder of Talent Alpha

Hi, Przemek! Tell us about your journey so far, what inspired you, Mike Kennedy and Szymon Niemczura to start Talent Alpha? 

Talent Alpha came into being in 2018 after discussions between myself, Mike Kennedy, and Szymon Niemczura. All three of us had worked in the IT services and did business together but in different areas. As a global Vice-President at Luxoft, a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, I have a pretty good understanding of the IT outsourcing market. Mike with his 25 years at Goldman Sachs, where he headed up global teams in the Technology Division, has a strong client perspective. Szymon has several successful tech start-up businesses to his name. So when it comes to Talent Alpha, his experience is invaluable. Together, we created a team with a great, 360-degree understanding of the IT services market.

All three of us saw the opportunity to reduce inefficiencies in the IT world while addressing the enormous global demand for Talent. The global tech talent gap is getting close to ten million unfilled positions and is set to further widen. However, we also saw that there were in excess of 25,000 small and medium-sized IT companies in CEE, which were very keen on winning new projects on the international market. This equates to nearly 700,000 people potentially open to being engaged in international projects. However, the problem was that these SMEs were too small to win projects from global clients. We saw it as a huge chance to ‘connect these dots’ by establishing Talent Alpha.

Can you tell us more about your “Tech Talent as a Service” model?

Talent Alpha is a Human Cloud platform that provides tech talent on-demand with an easy switch-on / switch-off option. Many aspects of running a business today converge into as-a-service model: cars, offices, or software. We feel that talent is next in line. Imagine having IT professionals you need to be available on-line on a platform. So as a company, you don’t need to have all of the people on board or spend time and money on recruitment and onboarding processes. You don’t have to wait to realize your next projects. The tech talent you need is available now.

Another advantage of Talent Alpha’s solution is that you will still have a team of people rather than a disparate group of freelancers. On our platform, you can hire an entire team from trusted SME partners which have a track record of successful projects. Our partnering software houses are based in CEE and the region’s tech specialists are among the most skilled in the world. So Talent Alpha can provide existing teams of great quality at cost-effective rates.

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What would some of your top tips be when it comes to hiring/engaging for Tech roles, given the current market dynamics, growing competition between employers, and the new trends like emerging Human Cloud use?

The days when you could have all the specialists you need onboard are gone. The talent gap and demand for tech specialists are so huge that you need to implement the model where at least part of your team will consist of gig-workers or other external vendors that will hire agile workers. This is also in line with the changing expectations of specialists. In the US, around 40% of the workforce is already gig workers who work remotely in the Human Cloud through a variety of different platforms at least part of their time. Understanding this and building a workforce strategy that includes a contingency workforce is now vitally important.

However, being open to new staffing solutions doesn’t mean that you have to lower your standards or demands. On the contrary, the modern tools and solutions will allow you to get the maximum value out of specialists, wherever their desk is or whatever type of contract they have with your company. You need to know their skills and capabilities and be able to track their progress, development, and motivation. This is why Talent Alpha is investing so much in Talent Science. We believe that every skill should be measured and checked with trusted tools. Of course, we should know each specialist’s capabilities in hard tech areas, but cognitive and personal traits are also key components in providing advanced, tailor-made team matches for clients and projects. Finally, you should pay for results, not engagement. At the end of the day, you want high standards and value for money from your as-a-Service provider.

Can you share some best practices when it comes to “choosing the right HR Tech tool’ – what should teams keep in mind?

The HR world is changing so fast that it’s difficult to predict which solutions will be real game changers and give you a real competitive advantage. On the other hand, you cannot afford to fall behind your competitors in this ‘war for talents’. So you need to implement a real culture of innovation where you check different tools and solutions in small pilot projects, some of which will fail. In my opinion, the HRTech market is where the Marketing Tech market was some 8-10 years ago. It will take time for winning technologies and brands to capture the market.

So I would rather say it’s more about your culture and processes than your choice of the best tools. In fact, it can occur that the small start-up, you decide to cooperate with, can bring you more value than a trusted, expensive solution which everybody already has.

What are some of the biggest challenges you see HR teams face when it comes to choosing and implementing an HR tech stack?

The main challenge which enterprises currently face is the time it takes to implement a change. Instead of working on small projects, where an HR team can easily engage and check a new HR tech solution or provider, all projects may have to go through an extensive process and often get stuck in procurement or need to wait for approval at a senior executive level. This can put a significant block on innovation.

What’s your smartest productivity hack?

Measure as much as possible and meticulously plan all processes based on objective data. Today there are tools that make it possible to measure factors such as recruitment performance and ROI, specialists’ skills that dovetail with projects, employee satisfaction, and vendors’ added value. You can implement CRM systems to manage communication and candidate/employee experience. You can adjust your performance depending on real-time results. You just need to make that decision to become a really data-driven team/department/company. However, despite all of these tech solutions at our fingertips, we must remember that people come first. Numbers should allow us to give fair feedback as well as motivate in the first place. I would paraphrase the old marketing saying “if it’s not measured, it’s not HR”.

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Your biggest learning so far in HR/HR Tech?

No matter how much technology is changing the way we work, it is still people who are the most important part of this process. Even the best HR Tech tool will be of little value if it is not considerately implemented. If you want to succeed, you need the best people and you need to keep them highly motivated. It means that each HR Tech solution you implement should be human-centric, focused on the personal needs of specialists and the way in which they can realize this need through their cooperation with you.

Tell us about some of the top HR blogs/HR books you’d love to suggest the rest of us read! Also, it would be great to know about your 4 biggest career takeaways, from your journey so far. 

I am a big believer in interdisciplinary life long learning. One of my talents is to spot a solution that works in one area, and adopting it in the other. This comes from being naturally curious and looking for inspiration in not obvious spaces. Here are some of the titles, that were on my bookshelf in 2019 that I think can inspire HR leaders:

21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harrari that can give a glimpse into how the world we are living in is going to evolve.

Blitzscaling” by Reid Hoffman that explains how startups disrupt different markets and scale very quickly.

The business of platforms” by M. Cusumano, A. Awer, and D. Yoffie that talks about how companies should build platform strategies in the age of hyper-competition and digitalization.

Why Digital Transformation Fail – The Surprising Disciplines of How to Take Off and Stay Ahead” by my former boss at P&G Tony Saldanha that gives you hands-on tips on how to successfully implement a digital change.

Tag (or mention/write about) the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.

I would love to hear from a man I had a privilege to meet, who built one of the strongest company cultures I have seen in my career; Mr. John Pepper, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble.

Which is your favorite team building/leadership/hiring quote?

“I never lose. I either learn or win” – it’s a great quote by Nelson Mandela. It’s the attitude of a great leader, but it’s also a way of thinking which empowers teams to achieve more together and not be stopped by obstacles.

Any parting thoughts here you’d like to share…it could be on anything, work-life balance, etc. 

I believe the world of HR is on the verge of a major disruption. The forthcoming generations will engage, grow, and work in totally different ways than what we are used to.

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Thank you, Przemek! This interaction was fun and hope to see you back on TecHRSeries soon.

Przemek Berendt is an IT services industry executive with over 18 years’ experience in starting, growing and scaling IT services businesses both in Poland and around the world. Between April 2011 and April 2018, he was Global Marketing VP for Luxoft (NYSE: LXFT). In September 2018 he founded Talent Alpha, with a mission to build a ‘future of work platform’ and transform how professionals can be connected with opportunities. In October 2019, the company won the Startup Award Grand Prix at the UNLEASH World Conference in Paris.

Talent Alpha is a Human Cloud Platform that uses Talent Science to precisely match Tech Teams with Enterprise Clients. The company addresses the global Tech Talent Gap by giving on-demand access to thousands of battle-tested IT teams working in small & medium-sized IT Services companies across Central & Eastern Europe. By capturing and visualizing hundreds of data points regarding the precise technical skills and cognitive abilities of each IT specialist on the platform, Talent Alpha is able to provide advanced, tailor-made team matches for even the most demanding of clients and projects.