#HRTechChat: Purbita Banerjee, Senior Client Partner and Head of Product Management at Korn Ferry

My guest for this episode of the #HRTechChat video podcast was Purbita Banerjee. “We’re here to create pathways to success for humans at work,” says Purbita of the mission at Korn Ferry, where she is senior client partner and head of product management. Artificial intelligence figures prominently in this new calculus, as we’ve covered previously, and the topic for this honest-to-goodness barnburner of a discussion with Purbita centered on how the state of the art in business software is upending long-held conventions in talent management and talent acquisition. All this innovation is all but obliterating the arbitrary partition that has for decades separated these two prominent domains of human capital management. When it comes to the podcast here, I highly recommend you press play on this one.

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Brent Skinner 00:03
Well hello everyone, and welcome to this the latest episode of the #HRTechChat video podcast. And today I am very, very happy to have with us Purbita Banerjee and she is senior client partner and Head of Product Management at Korn Ferry welcome Purbita.

Purbita Banerjee 00:26
Thank you. Thank you for taking that extra time to ask me how my name should be pronounced. I appreciate it.

Brent Skinner 00:32
Oh, you’re welcome. Absolutely. What the viewers may or may or may not know that the savvy among them probably know that we have greenroom time a little bit before recording actually begins. It’s nothing, you know, nothing weird about that all the all the important talks, late night talk shows do the same thing. So but in any event, yeah. Thank you for the phonetics on that. Appreciate it. And, and, you know, today we’re going to talk about advanced technology and artificial intelligence for HCM, talent acquisition, these sorts of things. And but before sort of giving away the store there, I love to just, if you could share with our audience, you know, what it is you do? What led you to your current role, all that kind of stuff, just to give them a sense for who you are. And, and, and while why we’ll be talking about what we’re, we’ll be talking about today.

Purbita Banerjee 01:28
Alright, sounds good. So as you said, I had a product for conferee, digital, and really all of the HR platform that we call intelligence cloud and the digital products that sit within intelligence cloud, spanning the entire employee lifecycle. I spent nearly 15 years in the world of HR tech. And I always like to say that, you know, I love operating at that intersection of human intelligence and artificial intelligence. And really, the last 10 years has been really that right, like, across all my roles, whether in building, cutting edge solutions, and Talent Management and talent acquisition. And certainly, you know, even parts of that, like learning and development, performance management, etc. It’s just been interesting how this has continued to blend, right? Best Practices methodology, the human intelligence, the human aspect of it, and AI kind of pushing the envelope constantly, right. And the last 10 years have been fascinating. And I wouldn’t be remiss if I don’t invoke the newest God in AI chat GPT. Talking about that has also brought, I think, the next gen more in, in all innovations and exciting work that we have to do and account very, I have that exciting job of really combining all that intelligence that conferee has built over many, many years, like 2030 years, and then layering on top of that the external market intelligence, AI, so it’s really coming together, right, the whole unified end to end human experience at work. And I’m super passionate about this, right? So we have our mission that says we’re here to create pathways to success for humans at work. And I absolutely love that I live and breathe it. And I think for me, personally, you know, based on my experience, conferee was a great place to land because contract made maybe unique, if not rare, that it is one of the only companies that not only solves problems through tech, but then really follows it up by you know, via change management, you know, putting in this great set of consultants to drive to real business outcomes and make sure that the investments that our clients are working, really get to the point of ROI, and that’s wonderful. I think I am super excited about being part of that story. Oh,

Brent Skinner 04:03
yeah. Yeah. It’s a great story. And I share your passion absolutely around, you know, the future of work, that I like to talk about the near future of work in the distant future of work and, and the, and the sort of the science fiction of work as well, you know, and I think we’re, we’re seeing a little bit more of a science fiction of work come true than I think we were necessarily bargaining for sooner than we thought. And so I’m so glad you brought up ChatGPT. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going around there. I’m old enough to remember when Korn Ferry was known mostly for executive recruiting. And you guys know that that organization is has really, really expanded and spread its wings and has been really, really exciting to watch. And I know we want to kind of you talked about blending. And, and I think that’s such an important point. My colleague, Jennifer dole, who who heads up talent management, the talent management practice here at 360 insights she and I, we did a, an internal podcast Well, every for the outside world, but between the two of us, and we in we, we titled it talent management, it will blend. And it was a bit of a play on that. Some of some people might recall that guy who went viral a few years ago on YouTube, he said, Will It Blend He put all these weird things in a blender and surprising a lot of things blended like I think he might have done is that maybe a battery or something, which maybe might not be the greatest idea. But anyway, so Craziest thing, then they wouldn’t plan. And so against that backdrop, you know, talent management is blending, and there’s a in a lot of it is due to this, this advanced technology, AI and other things where you don’t have the discrete silos that we had of the past, necessarily, you don’t have to think about talent management in that way, as much anymore. And that’s a good thing. Where do you think AI and other advanced technologies are most affecting talent management and talent acquisition?

Purbita Banerjee 06:21
So maybe a couple of thoughts before getting into it, you mentioned, you know, the whole science fiction aspect to this. And I think that every day, the amount of time I spend in separating fact, from fiction, really, really interesting. You know, there’s everybody’s jumping on the AI bandwagon. And this is waves of things that happen. And, you know, we sit back and think, okay, the problem that we have to solve for clients and what problems that clients are solving for aren’t changing, you get different mousetraps, you get different tools in your toolkit, right. But let’s be clear about not changing our focus from the biggest problems that our clients want us to solve. So that’s like a, you know, I think every day I remind myself to be laser focused on that. So and, of course, this whole notion of talent management, blending with talent acquisition, is a big thing. So there’s so many layers to this. So we can maybe start talking about how this blend has happened over the years, and then talk about how AI has really accelerated that and where it’s added value.

Brent Skinner 07:32
I love that idea. Yeah, yeah. Like, how did we get where we are?

Purbita Banerjee 07:37
Yeah. So and, you know, there’s a lot written on this, and this is sort of my take, if you wish, and also looking at how not, you know, so there’s been the HR tax angle of it, where technology providers, you know, constantly coming out with new bells and whistles. Sure. But then the adoption piece within organizations, right, and, and it’s been interesting to watch that. And I would say that, you know, two big phases over the last 10 years that I’ve been observing, right. One is that whole big focus on that integrated talent management system, that one source of data where you can have, you know, all the different talent practices are still sort of siloed. But then you have all the data rolling up in one place, so that you can at least do analytics on it. And there was this emergence of talent analytics, every organization invested in, you know, having a talent analytics team of workforce planning analytics team that can look at all the data sitting there. And most companies, I would say, have either already invested in and has gotten the benefits from it, and or are investing in it now. Right? So this is kind of the late majority phase in the innovation maturity curve, if you will, that more than 75% of organizations are there and they are reaping the value of having. Ease and you’re able to integrate all of this in the back end. Right. I would say the last five years is this whole and this whole, like employee centricity, ensuring that whatever we’re doing, we’re engaging with the employees and and that it’s, it brings them value, this whole notion of just like we serve customers, HR should be serving employees. And so there was great innovation on better, you know, UI like user experience and just better workflows for employees. And I think that for most organizations, they are still I would say the early adopter phase of it right? There was a lot of acceleration lots happened across the whole, like the three years of pandemic post pandemic time, right? The era of digitization, so many have invested in learning experience platforms that whole like career journey platforms. So there are a lot who have started there, I would say they’re still not necessarily seen the benefits yet. Watching it very carefully. In fact, a lot of my focus has been on seeing why, you know, the adoption isn’t as great as it was all you know, supposed to be and what else can we do to really get it because that is important, we have to get that done. But I would say that second, and I think the next frontier, and this is where AI, chat GPT and all of this may play a big role. And what’s coming is, I think two things are this lasting sort of talent journey. Even with a talent experience, I feel like it begins and ends it’s broken is like when someone gets hired. And when they exit the organization, I think what I’m seeing is that stretching, right, you’ve got to think about engaging warm talent pools, and who are you attracting, who are you bringing in and keeping that warm, and then even as you’re, you know, helping employees through the talent journey, and even if they exit, they may return, right. And it reminds me of one of the conversations I had with the very progressive HR leaders CHRO of Smartsheet, Megan Hanson, she has since moved into a new role. But she’d said that, you know, I want to invest in my talent, even if they leave, because the brand I create here by investing in them will bring them back again, right? And progressive CHR OHS are thinking about it like that. So to me, that’s where directionally we are going, keeping the brand experience live, that connection going. The candidate isn’t selected in one roll, let’s bring them in on different one, if they’re leaving, still help them be successful wherever they go. With exit and, you know, the career goals and supporting them. A lot of companies that do mass layoffs do think about these things, but it is you know, with the hope that hate it, let’s invest in the relationship and with the talent. And that that should continue. So that’s where, you know, I’m thinking about what would it look like? Next?

Brent Skinner 12:22
Yeah, the the Exactly. You’ve touched on so many points, one that that you made me think of is just this, this sort of, you know, with that attitude of the relationship of an of an employer looking at it as a relationship with the employee, as opposed to the employ being, you know, an asset or just a there’s some word between asset and pawn in the middle there that I can’t think of at the moment. But, you know, really understanding that implicit in that is that, you know, hey, when you left us whether, you know, whether we had to lay you off, because of business conditions, or because you left, there’s no, you know, there’s no psychological splitting there, right, we’re not looking at you as a bad, it’s all bad or all good, right. And so we understand that, that you’re somebody who’s going to come back, or that we might we understand we, we have enough self awareness and enough ability as an organization to, to look inward and understand that we are going to, we may well need somebody, again, who has left for any reason, whether it’s because of us, whether we you know, precipitated it, or they did it of their own volition. And that’s, that’s a really important point. One other thing that you brought up, that’s, that’s, that really parlays, or dovetails with something that I’ve been seeing a lot is just that, and I like to say, you know that this is just really kind of a plan words. But I like to say the employee experience begins before the employee is even an employee. Right. And of course, that’s what the term talent experience is for. So you know, but at the same time, you know, we have this, we have this term employee experience that is really taken over and you haven’t seen the same sort of preponderance of permeation proliferation of the term talent, talent experience. So though, it’s definitely a term of art in our industry, but that’s really interesting, too. And, and you mentioned sort of the two phases that I’ve kind of got that have, that have led us to where we are and one being sort of, you know, being able to to harness and marshal all that data from talent management into one place to produce, you know, actionable or useful analytics and that I definitely recall that phase I lived through it from the outside looking in. But also the other piece of it is, you know, really thinking through employee workflows to make to accommodate the way people work. As so that talent management could accommodate can be most well matched to how people work. Right? So they can reflect the talent experience in that way. And, and I wonder if maybe that was, is do you think that was the genesis of the the idea that is now everywhere if the employee experience?

Purbita Banerjee 15:24
You know, that may have been the Genesis, but I think the real accelerant came when the whole like digital workplace started, right? Three years ago, or three years ago? Yeah. So it was, what happened was all employees suddenly felt like they didn’t have an anchor, they weren’t going into the office. So they weren’t really meeting people. And they were all in the digital world. And organizations had to instantly think about, Well, how am I going to engage people when I don’t see them every day? And what are they looking for. And at the same time, I think there was also this whole, like, entry of the Gen Z workforce, I think both of these really changed employee expectations from employers, and employer expectations of employees, right. Being with an organization is no longer that sticky. People keep moving around, which is the whole notion of they may move around and potentially come back, right? Maybe as a leader one day, maybe as a different role. So this whole concept of an alumni of an organization, I think, is a powerful one that you’ve invested in someone so much don’t like, you know, think about how you might at some point, and then in a different way, a different word, they can come together. The other thing was the b2c world, right? Employee expectations from being on all of the social media platforms and everything else that they’re doing and learning elsewhere. What they expect out of the enterprise has changed completely. And there was a lot of this notion around, you know, we need to be more b2c focused. And, you know, we need to design with the employee in mind. And so that’s that happened quite a bit over the last five years, too, I would say, and where, what where we’re sitting on right now, and something that I feel has to get reconciled is this convergence of the b2b world and the b2c world, right? And I’m seeing that a little bit on the learning side already, right? Think of some of the big players like Udacity, Udemy, you know, others, right? They’ve got this whole, like learning marketplace where employees or anyone really can go in and learn. They also have their enterprise offerings, right? Imagine an employee working at an organization and they invest a bunch of their time and learning, you know, learning new skills, getting a says getting feedback, you know, getting new experiences. And then they leave and go to another organization, what happens to all of their history? If you really want to make it employee centric, wouldn’t you carry their profile and their achievements, accomplishments into the next role, right. And we have to solve the, the who pays for it part of it show right as a business model, and what happens right next, and there’s privacy and everything. But that is a problem. Like when you’ve invested the organization has invest in an employee has invested in that, in that time effort to get upscale employees would want to carry right, so there’s been this notion of

Brent Skinner 18:26
a digital wallet, or like a digital suitcase. Yeah, yeah.

Purbita Banerjee 18:33
So that’s another one that if we can crack the nut on that and crack the business model around it, I think a lot of HR tech vendors would be bouncing on that opportunity.

Brent Skinner 18:43
I think you’re right about that. And that’s really interesting. This might be a good segue into how is I know, we want to talk about how learning in the content for it fit into the equation now that talent acquisition and Talent Management are kind of really there’s no clearly defined a sort of, Beyond The Beyond crossing the Rubicon of of efficiently being an employee of the image of the company versus a candidate. Right. Beyond that. There’s a real sort of blending of stuff that’s, you know, that sort of a mixing and combination of things that’s happening, a blurring of the lines. How does learning and how do learning in the content for it kind of fit into that equation in terms of Yeah, so,

Purbita Banerjee 19:35
you know, I think you answered that let’s talk about how talent management and talent acquisition blending has been happening right. And there are two aspects to this answer. There is the technology aspect to this answer and the employee candidate focused aspect of this, and then what’s happening with the HR function itself, that we can solve for that having a common data source having everything to be a source through one single platform, the continuing employee experience and everything. But you, you really can’t solve for the way HR teams are structured unless HR organizations restructured themselves. So what I’m finding is, I think technology is way ahead, in wanting to break down the silos, right. And I think organizations and the seniors in organizations probably want to break down the silos. But if you really look into the roles and responsibilities, it feels like and, you know, like an assembly line, right there specialists doing the same thing over and over again, because they’re really great at it, versus really walking alongside an employee throughout the employee lifecycle, right. So you have a lot of specialists who see one aspect of the process still sort of in a silo, because also the KPIs are still not necessarily aligned, right. So the person that has to fill a role, their KPIs are about getting that role filled. And sure, you may talk about quality of hire and all that. But there’s always the, you know, in one month, two months, someone says, Yes, I’m satisfied with this new hire, and, you know, you say, great quality of hire, versus somebody who’s an l&d specialist, right, or someone in talent management, right? How are their KPIs or their KPIs being measured. So I feel like a lot of the time the engagement, attrition or whatever falls into the manager bucket, right when the managing the employee, not necessarily, you know, not necessarily at those specialists. So you still have this assembly line where they’re handing off, you know, the employee from one bucket to the next. And they’re all trying to solve for their area. And unless that looks different, like that’s not a human centric design, like if you don’t do technology and processes in a human centered design, you also have to structure the team in a human centric design. And when that happens, you can really break down the silos and truly blend and no longer pie in the sky philosophy here because honestly, with Chad GPD, I see Chad DBT could be you know, the specialist over the shoulder, right, you can get charged up to do a lot of the tasks around, let’s say targeted sourcing personalized messaging campaigns is so many places in which it can leverage a GPT. But you don’t have to be an expert sorcerer necessarily to be able to do sourcing and hiring. Neither do you have to be, you know, an l&d specialist to be able to truly, you know, analyze the data and be able to say, Well, what should employers be focused on what skills are trending? What do they need to do, et cetera. So perhaps there is a utopian world where you have more of that, like HR generalist that are working on making employee successful, and they have a group of employees that they are working with, like the HR business partner kind of model. And they really do manage end to end, they still may be some specialists sitting behind the seals in certain areas, maybe in analytics, or workforce planning, or maybe there’s certain parts, but largely that you can really, truly break the silos have consistent KPIs for what the business cares about, and organize that way.

Brent Skinner 23:21
Oh, yeah, that’s, that’s really, really interesting. This idea that it hadn’t occurred to me. So thank you, you know, this sort of this legacy team, or this legacy, HR organizational framework that’s sort of lagging, I think, is what I’m hearing you say, you have, you know, Benefits Administration specialists, you have payroll specialists, or administrators you have, depending on the size of the organization, someone who’s who’s, you know, who’s, whose charter is talent management, you know, VP of talent management, and why don’t we have, we should be moving toward I’m sort of reiterating what you said or sort of paraphrasing with move toward a model where, where we have just people specialists, right. And I’m thinking through what would that look like? Well, maybe, maybe, depending maybe there’s maybe there’s a golden ratio for HR people to employ for headcount. You know, each HR person is a people specialist is assigned a certain percentage of the employee population or a certain demographic of the employee population, and they hit soup to nuts every, you know, talent acquisition all the way through to, to payroll and, and, and separation even. Right. And that’s, that, to me is super interesting. You know that there are some really interesting sort of progressive minded employers out there, you know, one of them isn’t actually in the vendor in the space unit for and we actually just recorded a, an episode of the podcast with their CEO Mike Gatling is going to be going live later this week. And we talked about he when he went in there and he was he’s been in he was at Northgate or Renzo way back. And he’s been at SAP SuccessFactors leading that before he, I think it was just before he joined Unifor. But anyways, point being is he’s a very sort of, you know, future thinking sort of fellow and, and he renamed the HR department, the people success department.

Purbita Banerjee 25:43
Love it, love it, right. Like, you know, the customer, you sold you, like you had account managers, you had hunters, farmers, right? And then there was the client success that it was and you know, it’s a similar analogy, why not? Why not have a people success?

Brent Skinner 25:58
I love it to go ahead and choose the thing,

Purbita Banerjee 26:01
right? It’s not so new, like, there aren’t like small medium sized companies have that as their HR team, you don’t have all the specialists who are, you know, working on all the different departments, right? It’s only when organizations become larger, that they have that kind of, you know, setup, and honestly, through AI and chat GPT, you can have a similar model as a small and medium sized HR department might have and be able to do it that way.

Brent Skinner 26:30
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, it’s it also shifts the mindset, you know, there’s there’s sort of a demarcation, I think, really, in the HR, in the practice of HR, where there’s, you know, you have your operational HR, and then you have your strategic HR, we hear it 360 insights, we call it concrete and abstract HCM or HR, whichever, you I know, those aren’t interchangeable, those two terms, but a lot of it’s lots of overlap. But you know, it’s the stuff that’s easy, quite easily quantifiable into in terms of labor expended fits into, into into an accounting spreadsheet, very easily. But then you have that strategic or abstract stuff, which has to do with, you know, the employee experience, employee engagement, employee sentiment, employer, brand, and culture, and that’s all stuff that doesn’t necessarily translate to an actual number, because you can’t actually, it’s a different number for everybody. But if, but, but the assumption is really important, the really important postulate to, to accept is that it’s always going to the better those things are, it’s whatever the number will be, it will be greater than zero. And so it’s going to be good for the business. And this is a conversation we have with a lot of folks. And I’m sort of on a on an unofficial mission as an industry analyst to kind of advocate for this for this idea. And I’m not the only one there’s there are others that are doing the same, advocating for the same thing. Yeah, so it’s, it’s really, really interesting. I lost it, there was something that you said a few minutes ago that was related to this, or there was another point that you made, and maybe we’ll get we’ll get back to maybe it’ll come back to me. This is this is really, really interesting. Just you know, in terms of let’s let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute here. Is there anything about these two to my these two domains of HCM, talent management and talent acquisition that did should continue to remain separate? Or separate? Or that aren’t, but you wish would?

Purbita Banerjee 28:48
I really do. I feel like they are, as I said that they are the siloed operations, but I do wish that they do combine. So I think it’s more of a, I don’t believe that they should be separate. The only thing that I feel really, you know, deserves specialists is, you know, those folks that actually look at it end to end like strategic HR or talent analytics folks or workforce planning that sure you can have them do their work by you know, they are really focused on gathering data, that they are not necessarily the ones managing the people experience. So they can stay in, in their, you know, world where they become more of the, you know, shared service, really, for the HR people success people, let’s say, right, and so that could remain separate. But I think every other role and process within talent acquisition and Talent Management, I think benefits from really coming together and supporting that entire journey, and it’s a long time coming. If anything, I feel like I think technology is probably a little bit ahead of adoption and And, and I and the other thing is, you know, the last two, three years has been so much talk about employee experience that it almost takes an altruistic you know, mode. But it is less, it is actually good business sense. It’s not just about doing, you know, like I mentioned, engaging with employees, even after they’ve exited, that is a good business move it is you’ve invested in this person, you’ve gotten them aligned to your culture, they have spent time in your organization and contributed, why wouldn’t you invest in them a little bit longer, and see if they might be willing, after gathering other experiences and skills, come back and add more value to your organization. So I think each of these things actually have a good business case around it. So, you know, honestly, I don’t think anything should, you know, be kept separate between talent acquisition and Talent Management, and they should really, you know, look at either blending and at a minimum, leveraging the same technology tools and everything, because when they don’t, so I’ve seen examples of failed, again, I would say progressive organizations that have made those investments in, you know, the employee experience, I’m not even kidding that they have probably eight different tools that they’re expecting their employees and managers to log into, well, even if not log into, like, going to different places, right. So go somewhere to look at open projects, when the talent marketplace go somewhere else to go learn, based on skills go somewhere else to see what open jobs exists in the organization and go somewhere else to see what their career path should look like. So it’s still pretty disparate, even after organizations have made that investment. And that’s because the lnd leader probably made an investment in a learning experience management system, right. And Alex B, and the head of TA, when a made an investment in an internal mobility and the recruiting software, and you know, like a talent management person when it made an investment in talent, marketplace, but if this, but if they don’t invest in this in a consistent manner, and by ensuring that you you ultimately think about, hey, you just brought in three different tools for your employees to get after. That’s not gonna work. So, again, I think I don’t I don’t have anything that I would say should remain separate.

Brent Skinner 32:35
You know, our friends over at leap, Jen, they talk about the whole employee, I think, the whole employee, I think that’s the term they use. And that’s, it’s, you know, why not think about the whole? Well, there’s a term again, employee experience, but the whole employment, you know, maybe something like that, you know, absolutely, absolutely. And, you know, again, going back to that, that that’s a good business practice to engage with that person that has left no matter how they’ve left. You know, that’s, you know, that’s, that’s just kind of disavowing the assumption that, that this was an on, there was an unrealized benefit from this investment, maybe just the benefit will come later, you never know. So that’s really, really important. I love what you have to say about and I’m looking at the time, and we don’t have much more, but But um, one thing that you mentioned was, you know, how chat GPT can can help with these help kind of in the nooks and crannies here and help to, to sort of blend everything and maybe help people success departments you know, move away from the specialist, the narrowly defined special special specialists to, you know, the people specialists. And I think there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of application that that will be many applications that will will emerge for for generative AI, I read it. This is a little bit of a of a, of a fastball or it’s coming from from left field or whatever. And, you know, but the I read it, and I don’t know the answer, but I read a headline the other day, and I didn’t read the article, because I was busy. But it was really interesting. It’s it was a VC, venture capitalists in the space saying that, you know, generative ai ai is great, but the real, the real rubber meets the road with autonomous AI. I think I’m thinking about automation and all this kind of stuff. Do you have any, any thoughts around the different kinds of AI that are that are kind of emerging and how they don’t know about autonomous AI?

Purbita Banerjee 34:50
I will make a note and go find out about it. I was almost worried that you would say that the article name you read was Um, you know, one of my articles that, you know, I will go and look into it.

Brent Skinner 35:10
Yeah, it’s interesting stuff. It’s interesting stuff. I don’t know much about it either. But, you know, I think I think the takeaway is that there’s so much, there’s so much potential upside with, with innovation in the space and, and how it can really, really get us to think about these entrenched domains in a much more holistic way. And I absolutely love what you’ve had to say about that today. I mean, it’s this is a message that really, really needs to gain continued to gain traction, as you know. So thank you. Thank you so much for today. Yeah.

Purbita Banerjee 35:52
You, you know, it was really lovely. The conversation and I think, the way you asked me these insightful questions actually got me to reflect more. So this was really, really fun. Thank you.

Brent Skinner 36:06
Well, thank you. I’ll take that as high praise. Really appreciate it. Well, yeah, I really, really admire your work. So thank you so much for joining us today.

Purbita Banerjee 36:17
Glad to be here. Thank you. Bye bye.

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