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TecHRseries Interview with Sultan Saidov, Co-founder and President at Beamery

Sultan Saidov, Co-founder and President at Beamery takes us through his accidental journey into HR Tech in this quick chat where he also shares his thoughts on the future role of HR and what it takes for hiring teams to truly capitalize on their talent operating systems:

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Tell us a little about yourself Sultan…we’d love to hear more about your journey in HR Tech and the story behind Beamery…

My story in HR Tech actually started somewhat unintentionally. I was sponsored through my time studying at Oxford by Deloitte as part of a ‘scholarship’ program they ran. After running a few events for them as their ‘graduate career representative,’ and getting an offer to join Goldman Sachs after I graduated, in my final year at Oxford I started doing some pro-bono charity work to help young people from underprivileged backgrounds looking for career and interview advice for jobs in finance and the city….”

This was during the time of the financial crisis, and many of the top banks and firms had drastically reduced their hiring, particularly for graduates starting their careers. Tragically, some of the brightest people I knew ended up unemployed, so after starting at Goldman I created a side project – to help people who did not land roles in the city be discovered for other jobs and by other companies. This project connected me with many heads of talent and HR at various companies and I began to understand the true depth of the challenges in TA and HR. I also began to understand the opportunity to not only create a marketplace where companies could find graduate talent, but for a bigger paradigm shift that would enable companies to transition from reactive job-based recruiting that relied on applicants, towards proactive, data driven recruiting that would allow them to attract and engage the right talent at the right time.

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What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when building the Beamery Talent Operating System?

The first challenge was simply building a sufficiently mature and expansive solution to get our first enterprise customer. Acquiring your first customer can be challenging for any enterprise software, but it is particularly demanding when you are creating a new category that requires major organisational change management to go with it. We were not starting with a single feature and expanding our product from there. Our first value proposition involved giving our customers a comprehensive data middleware that would allow them, for the first time, to have a single source of truth for all talent data. This was coupled with a suite of marketing automation and sourcing processes that would allow their TA organisations to become ‘proactive’ – both in ‘inbound’ (e.g. talent communities) and ‘outbound’ (e.g. sourcing) recruiting. This is not a small change or a small product. It is not a feature you can throw into an existing process. It requires integrating your existing data, creating new goals and objectives focused on proactive recruiting, and transforming the roles and responsibilities of your TA organisations to leverage this new operating system effectively. Going from the zero to one challenge of building this technology and data infrastructure was our biggest hurdle.

As HR Tech platforms evolve to meet today’s business needs, what are some of the key areas you still feel have room for a lot more innovation and offering from HR Tech?

There are still a lot of areas for innovation across HR Tech. A good starting point is to compare the employee and talent experience with a customer experience. Today most of our customer experiences are personalized – unique to each of us. No two people’s Netflix accounts or Facebook feeds look the same. As consumers we use content recommendation systems. In HR Tech we still use content management systems. This is because we don’t have the people-centric data architecture that can allow us to provide talent with the right recommendations. This applies to jobs, career development or other relevant content that is based on people’s capabilities (including their skills) and their intent (including their preferences). There is a lot of innovation that can happen as we start to ‘consumerize’ this talent and employee experience. When you look at the commercial parts of most businesses, they are able to forecast effectively like forecasting revenue based on pipeline coverage and forecasting churn based on user engagement. In HR Tech, due to the same data architecture challenge that has prevented us from creating consumerized experiences, we are unable to forecast effectively and dynamically. This makes us unable to create and adjust our workforce plans to respond to the changing needs of our business and changing market conditions. I expect there will be a lot of innovation in this space, and a greater urgency for businesses to tackle both these challenges – of experience and predictability – after the need for talent transformation has become more pressing in 2020.

As HR tech platforms become more sophisticated, there is also a need for hiring teams to have the right skillset to draw the right insights and data from these systems: how are you seeing smaller-mid-sized companies address this? What are some of your top recommendations?

Absolutely – at Beamery we often think of this as the ‘second’ skills gap – the first being in our ability to get insights on skills from talent and people data, and the second being our ability to act on those insights. The first challenge for small and mid-sized companies is to have the right tools in place to acquire those insights and data. Most smaller companies rely on end-to-end ATS and HR platforms. Adding additional tools on top of these systems can be too costly, both financially and in allocating people to manage those systems. These end-to-end systems are not currently designed to offer effective and actionable forecasting, as they are primarily designed as process and tracking systems. As a result, they do not have the kind of rich data based on ‘people’ and ‘skills’ that is often needed to draw the right insights. However, that does not mean that smaller companies cannot be more scientific with these existing tools. I have two recommendations for companies in this situation. The first is to run a ‘skills analysis’ across your business. Ask yourself, what skills (or capabilities) do we have in our organization that allow us to be successful today, and what will that need to look like in the future? From this, you can identify what skills gaps you have, and then determine which of those are most critical to your business. The second is to map the outcome of this skills analysis against what your other system data is telling you. Are you able to help grow your employees to learn the most important skills? Are you able to attract talent with the most important skills? This form of exercise can help smaller teams identify which of their data insights are most important in practice, and what actions to prioritize.

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What are some of the biggest predictions you have for HR Tech in 2021; the biggest features of HR tech that will be in-demand? 

I feel that there will be a lot of change across HR Tech in 2021, but I have 3 predictions in particular to share:

  1. Diversity will become a more important consideration for AI in HR Tech, with new processes put in place not only to assess the risks of using AI to create bias, but to report on the outcomes of AI tools in how/where they are either addressing bias or perpetuating it.
  2. There will begin a shift away from the static way in which we typically assess candidates and employees based on how their resume maps to a current vacancy, towards assessing people based on their potential, mapped not to vacancies but to career path and/or gig-based concept of work.
  3. We will see organizations starting to attempt ‘continuous workforce planning’ with more frequent adjustments to HR and TA policies based on more frequent reviews of data. This will allow companies to adjust more often to changing market conditions and risks, something that I expect will be a key feature of 2021. This will help determine which of their talent and people goals can be met best through ‘build, borrow or buy’ decisions (i.e. growing people internally, hiring contractors, or hiring and training full time staff).

As HR leaders respond to the business needs of the new normal; what are some of the top thoughts you’d share with them when it comes to implementing better hiring and retention policies to maintain staff stability and business growth. 

I would start by really listening to your people and understanding their needs and preferences. A year like 2020 has shown that change can impact people differently, and that better hiring and retention policies are often ones that avoid one size fits all solutions. Instead they are driven by empathy and inclusion, and built to accommodate flexibility where appropriate. I would then focus on creating the right training programmes and the right environments and messaging to support continuous learning – to empower people to take control of their own development. This is increasingly important in a world where businesses and role requirements are evolving rapidly, and where our people need support in adjusting their expectations of work and acquiring new skills based on how their work may evolve.

What are some of the top tech trends and in-demand skills you feel will dominate HR and HR Tech in the near-future? 

In terms of trends, I expect that in the near term we will continue to see band-aid type solutions continue to dominate the airwaves like new tools that help make things virtual and new AI that helps with matching. However, I feel that in 2021 and beyond, we will start to see the transition from these band-aids to foundations of new methodologies and technologies desperately needed to shape strategies for the next 5-10 years. As we move to this transition, skills focused on data analytics, and talent and HR operations will be increasingly in demand.

Before we wrap up, we’d love to hear a little about the employee culture and experience at Beamery!  

If I had to pick just three words to summarize our culture and employee experience, it would be kindness, transparency, and innovation. We’ve focused on creating an environment where people help each other do their best work – to bring out the best in others. As for most businesses, 2020 has brought a lot of change, and our team has risen to the challenge, adjusting our communication and work rituals to enable more flexibility for people to work in their own schedules and digest information in formats that work best for them. For example, we just ran our first fully virtual offsite, coordinated across 16 hours of time zones over 2 days. To make this successful, without creating death by zoom, our team turned it into a build your own adventure. We had both live sessions (such as joint cooking) in different time slots, and pre-recorded sessions in multiple formats – audio for those taking a walk, video for those wanting to watch, and written versions for those with less time who wanted to skim through and catch up on the content later. This kind of multi-channel, empathetic approach comes from a team where everyone has a part to play in building an environment where everyone feels empowered to listen, speak up and risk being wrong. Finally, I would highlight that there are five guiding principles that sit at the heart of the way we make decisions – both for our people, our customers and in how we build our products. These are to start with why, to own the change you seek, to act with kindness, to communicate openly, and to make a positive impact together.

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Beamery’s Talent Operating System allows enterprises to attract, engage, and retain top talent, and manage the entire talent journey on one unified platform.

Sultan Saidov is the Co-founder and President at Beamery

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