The Modern HR And Talent Management: Interview With Benoit Hardy-Vallée

BenoitHardy-ValleeBenoit consults with HR leaders to bring innovative practices, evidence-based techniques and workforce analytics in the workplace. As the practice lead and thought leader for IBM Smarter Workforce & Social Business Canada and Caribbean, he develops strategies for talent management, collaboration, leadership development, performance management and employee engagement that makes use of the best technology, science, and analytics. 

Editor: Please tell us a little about yourself – your career path and expertise

Benoit: I went from A to B – Academia to Business! The common thread in my academic and business experience is understanding of how people and groups make decisions. My academic work, which focused on rationality and decision-making, from a multidisciplinary perspective, helped shape my understanding of employees and organizations. For the last 8 years, I have been consulting with many organizations on 3 topics I am passionate about: analytics, collaboration, and engagement, i.e. the foundations of the modern workplace. I like to understand the challenges and ambitions of our clients, and how they want to evolve toward the new, Millennial and sometime post-Millennial organizational archetype: an organization based on purpose, agility and evidence. For me this is more than a job: I believe that by helping our clients transform this way, we are contributing to the eradication of what Karl Marx called “alienation” – the disconnection between the work and the worker.

I built my expertise working mostly with HR leaders over these years. Employee Surveys, HR strategies, technology deployment, project management, consulting engagements – all that helped me being helpful to our clients and share IBM’s point of view on the marketplace. I am now part of the leadership team for IBM Smarter Workforce and Social Business and shape our approach in Canada and the Caribbean, and consult more closely with a few clients.

Editor: What topic will you be speaking about at the Canadian Talent Management Summit?

Benoit: At the Summit, I will be talking about how cognitive computing – i.e. the application of advanced machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence – can help HR functions to be more strategic, nimble and evidence-based. I illustrate that by showing some of the work that IBM has been completing with other clients using Watson, our cognitive computing, and how HR leaders can start rethinking their role in a world where, for example, we won’t need to do the heavy lifting when it comes to analytics. If Watson can help developing new recipes or cancer drugs, then think about everything it can do for HR! Imagine if an intelligent bot can do research online and suggest candidates for that new job opening, or can predict which team members would function best together. When you think about a movie like Her, you might think it’s completely futuristic, but we’re not too far either.

Editor: Why is that an important topic to HR and Talent pros?

Benoit: I think it’s important because for many years, HR and Talent professionals have been saying that HR needs to “have a seat at the table.” But to deserve that seat, it’s important to be able to contribute meaningfully to the management of the business. Showing your own effectiveness is not enough – we have to be able to recommend courses of action for the business (hire people with XYZ profile; cut down initiative ABC because it’s creating some cost; change your curriculum because it does not lead to a performance improvement, etc. ). That means using evidence, which means using data. And unfortunately, often times using data to guide talent decision means using rearview-mirror information (dashboards about the current state) or spreadsheet that are cumbersome and unreliable. Evidence-based decision making should be frictionless and insightful, and that is what cognitive computing can do for HR and Talent professional.

Editor: Please share 2 or 3 ‘influencers’ in the talent and recruitment space who you follow and tell us why:

Benoit: Dan Pontefract: his team led a cultural transformation at TELUS and his message resonates with everyone who believes in creating meaningful and productive work environment. (@dpontefract)

David Green: my colleague David has an in-depth understanding of workforce analytics and the industry. Great communicator. I learn every time he posts or writes something. I have seen very few people with that level of reflexion in the field. (@david_green_uk)

Josh Bersin. The man does not need an introduction. He is the voice of the industry and analyses every trend in the world of talent. Since he has been doing that for many years, he often puts things in perspective. (@Josh_Bersin)

Editor: The HR Gazette is a big believer in the shift from traditional thoughts of HR to embracing modern HR as part of ‘people and culture‘. What does ‘people and culture’ mean to you? 

Benoit:People and culture’ means that our primary focus is the nodes (people) and connections (culture) in the organizational human network, not policy or processes.  We consider first the individual and their talent (human capital) and their interaction (social capital). A modern HR function sees people and culture as a competitive advantage: if you have the skill, motivation and collaboration required, you can really differentiate yourself in the marketplace. I recently delivered a keynote presentation about innovation within IBM. One of my main takeaways, after looking at 105 years of innovation (and more than 7,000 patents per year), is that it’s not about money or R&D spending or innovation method (although all that is necessary). In the end, companies innovate because people have the mental space to reflect and the social space to connect. Bring the right people, drive the right culture, and you will see innovation, even with limited means.

Editor: What do you think will be the major developments in the Talent space to watch out for in the next 12 months and why?

Benoit: The war for collaboration. I think the war for talent is over. Talent won! Talent is recruited, coached, nurtured, marketed – and switch job every 2 or 3 years. Talent is doing very well. The real challenge now is to facilitate teamwork and cooperation across department and functions and sometimes companies. This is really hard. In our employee survey, across a database of 18M respondents in the last 3 years, more than 80% of the respondents would say that the people they work with cooperate to get things done. When we asked the same type of questions but refer to cooperation between departments, it’s more like 60%. So how do you bridge the gap? Technology can help, but it won’t be the answer. It’s a mix of agility, evolving the culture, promoting diversity of thought and collaboration and using the right tools. Sometimes it’s very simple: recently a start-up proposed to hire teams rather than individuals! 

More about Benoit

Benoit is also an interdisciplinary scholar who has edited books, published research articles and organized conferences that helped systematize the current knowledge on human decision-making across various disciplines (philosophy, psychology, economics, neuroscience, biology). He studied in Montreal, Paris, Waterloo and Toronto. He obtained his Ph.D. in Philosophy and cognitive science from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales in Paris. In his Ph.D. thesis and post-doctoral research, he studied how brains, minds, and groups make economic decisions.

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