Zahir Ladhani

by Natalie Miller • @natalieatWIS

Adapt to the evolved workforce with analytics and workforce science

A Q&A with Zahir Ladhani, Vice President of IBM Smarter Workforce

Published August 20, 2014


Vetting and hiring the top applicant for any position within in an organization can be challenging, but a strong and dedicated staff is the best foot forward for success in any market. The importance of finding the best employees and engaging with them is driving many human resources departments to transform the way they do business.

The use and management of data and analytics in talent recruitment and retention is important in today’s HR departments, says Zahir Ladhani, Vice President of IBM Smarter Workforce. It’s critical to use predictive hiring analytics to replicate top performers when sifting through the vast talent pool. Also, an organization with a social and collaborative culture that fosters strong engagement with each individual employee attracts better talent.

In this Q&A, Ladhani dives deep into the workforce climate and how it’s changed over the years, and speaks to the key challenges organizations face when finding and fostering great talent, the top factors of engagement, and how IBM’s new set of cloud-based solutions bring workforce science to clients.

Insights Magazine: Can you speak to the current workforce climate and how it’s changed over the years?

Zahir Ladhani: If you think about how work as evolved over time—the Agriculture Age came, then the Industrial Revolution came, and now the Technological Age has come—and work tends to change. Every time people get worried about what’s going to happened to jobs. I think if you look through all those times, people have actually prospered and more jobs have come about, but jobs have evolved and changed through all those ages. And even if you look at today, jobs have evolved and changed. If you look at the software engineer, 25-30 years ago software jobs did not exist and today it’s a wanted and needed job in the industry. Today, people have access to mobile and social networks and are checking their phones much more than they do other things. So work is evolving, and the way people work is evolving. Social collaboration is a major aspect of work. Top-down approaches verses collaboration is a major change in work that is going on.

What we are moving towards is that specialization and individualization of employees. So companies now need to engage their employees on an individual basis. We know enough about the individual, we know enough about every employee, and have the ability to give them tailored messaging and tailored experiencing. And that’s how work is evolving—with the advent of data, with the advent of the type of information that is available.

What are the top factors of employee engagement? >>


According to Ladhani, talent development and employee engagement rank as the highest priorities for chief human resource officers (CHRO) today—87 and 80 percent, respectively. Some of the key ways organizations are increasing engagement levels are:

  1. Clear vision: Does the leadership have a clear vision of the future, do employees align to it?
  2. Leadership: Do employees trust in senior leadership to lead them through that vision?
  3. Compensation: Pay comes into it, but there is a threshold over which pay is no longer an engagement factor.

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IM: How are organizations adapting to this change and what are the challenges they face?

Ladhani: The adaptation is currently slow, but as availability of the data is coming, people are going to evolve. And that brings us to the launch of our products that gives companies the ability to harness this data and manage this data, both in terms of their predictive hiring, in terms of their workforce readiness, in terms of their retention and predictive retention. The other part of it, companies are starting to look at how they attract and retain the best talent and how they are developing a social and collaborative culture. So companies are starting to evolve into it, and we are starting to see people starting to look for these types of areas and these types of things to work on.

What's challenging is, does a company find the right individual that has the right skills and attributes and the right experiences and fits into their culture and matches their top performers of that job family. And that’s exactly what predictive hiring does for them. That’s a challenge for companies because today there is a plethora of résumés out there—it’s a matter of how you identify and use the opportunity of the big data that’s available when hiring. I want to emphasize, the idea is not to replace the human being with all this analysis; actually it enhances human capabilities.

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IM: What is predictive hiring and how can organizations benefit from harnessing this information?

Ladhani: In predictive hiring, we look at it from an organization’s perspective. What are the key questions an organization is trying to answer? They’re trying to say, ‘I need to improve my business performance.’ And how do you do that? By hiring more people that have the talent and skills like my top performers. So you want to replicate your top performers in a specific job category so that you can increase your performance. That’s what predictive hiring does. We go into an organization and say, ‘What is your most important job family? How much more profit or sales or revenue does your best employee in your key job family produce than the average or low performer?’ Then we try to replicate that going forward. And how we do that is we interview those people, look at their profiles, look at their behavioral profiles, look at their engagement results and key elements in those individuals and then we learn from them what the very best traits are, and then we replicate them in the hiring, development, or promotion of people.

For example, we did this with a movie theater company. There were movies theaters around the country that had much better revenue and profits that others did, and this was a revenue category. We found that the most important job was the manager and the concession sales. Those were the two most important job families in that movie theater. Concession sales were high school kids; the manager was one who could manage and engage high school kids in their natural abilities to upsell customers when they come for popcorn and candies. We looked at the profile of the better concession sales, and these are kids with a natural ability to talk to people and who are more friendly to people rather than just sitting there or goofing off. The profile found what we could do with these children and how the manager could engage them further, and we were able to increase in-store revenue by $300,000 per store. If you multiply times the number of retail outlets, or movie theaters, you can see the magnitude of the growth they have. This is a key feature for organizations to take on.

IM: What is the importance of an organizations’ focus on retention and job readiness?

Ladhani: If you look at retention, because it’s very similar to hiring, at first a company wants to look at the turnover rate in the most important job category for success. You don’t want to do a peanut butter spread on this. You want to look at the key jobs that are impacting success and what is the cost of the turnover, in revenue or customer satisfaction or replacement costs, whatever the cost is, when one of your top performers in this job family leaves. Once we identify that, we go in and look at the factors that lead to attrition from existing employees. So we use exit surveys, use our background and data, we look at our engagement survey details, etc. then we deploy in our retention analytics that predicts future attrition. That then enables us to know what actions an organization should take in terms of retention of those individuals.

If you look at the workforce readiness, you step back into an organization’s future strategic priorities. Once you know your future priorities, we help organizations define what critical competencies they need—the skills, the knowledge, and the abilities they need to require. Then they need to assess their workforce. Does their workforce already possess those? What are the gaps? Who do we need to train? Which competency do we need to train or which ones do we need to hire for? It’s a very analytically-driven process.

Check back with Insights Magazine next week to take an in-depth look at out how the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network helps returning veterans and their spouses find meaningful employment, and to date, has found employment for more than 20,000 military spouses and 8,000 transitioning active military and veterans with IBM’s Smarter Workforce solutions.



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