Chief Content Officer,
Techstrong Group


In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights video, Mike Vizard talks to Gretchen Alarcon, vice president and general manager for HR service delivery at ServiceNow, about how the acquisition of Hitch Works will enable organizations to employ AI to better manage talent.



Mike Vizard: Hey folks welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights video. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Gretchen Alarcon, who is Vice President and General Manager for HR Service Delivery for ServiceNow. Gretchen, welcome to the show.

Gretchen Alarcon: Thank you for having me.

Mike Vizard: Everybody we talk to is having the same problem, they can’t find the right talent. It’s not there isn’t a lot of people out there looking for work, but lining up the right people for the right job at the right time seems to be a major challenge, especially in all things digital business. You are an HR expert; it’s kind of a mess, how did we get here? How did all of this come to be, the way the state of affairs? I’m old enough to remember when it was hard to find any job and now everybody is talking about there’s more jobs open than there are people?

Gretchen Alarcon: It does definitely seem like there’s been a change doesn’t it? You know I think there’s always been a question, at least throughout my career, around the idea of a war for talent, and whether that was, you know, we’re looking for top talent, we’re looking for really hard to fine skills, there’s always been this question of, “Am I getting the right people to fill the role that I need at the right level, at the right time,” right? So that’s always been a challenge.

I think what’s happened in the last couple of years is a lot of employees took an opportunity to take a step back, look at their careers in light of the pandemic, remote work, you know new priorities, et cetera, and so people have been making a lot of changes in what they’re planning to do and as result we’ve wound up with a real talent shortage.

Mike Vizard: How do we go about addressing that? Because I think sometimes when I talk to senior leaders they’re not quite sure what talent they have, never mind what talent they need. I know you guys have done some work in this phase for you helping people figure out what the talent pool they already have is to maybe better understand what they need to fulfill for real. How does that work though? I mean is this all magic in AI or is there some science behind it?

Gretchen Alarcon: There is absolutely magic and science, that’s the best part about it. You know what we really looked at is to kind of take a step back and say, “Rather than looking at the person, let’s look at the skills that the person is bringing to an organization.” That’s actually what led us to go forward with the acquisition of Hitch, was to say we really need to understand how to map the skills of an organization and draw those connections so that we can actually say, “What are the skills that an employee has? How do those skills align with the work they’re being asked to do, or might those skills be applied to projects or work that the company needs to have performed?” They might not even know that that employee had those skills. So we see this as a way to kind of drive visibility for leaders, as well as helping employees find more meaning in their work, because they’re bringing more of their skills to bear as they’re thinking about the work they’re performing for their company.

Mike Vizard: Is there some way to maybe ascertain one’s skills somebody might be interested in acquiring based on their background and start to say, “Hey, you’ve got these skills so maybe you should be thinking about these other skills over here that are a natural compliment.” Because it seems like we don’t always have the best growth strategies for employees either.

Gretchen Alarcon: That actually to me is one of the most exciting things about this, is that we can start to say, “You have a skill set” and using AI we can start to say, “You know people in our organization who have these four skills often have this fifth; would you like to develop it? And by the way, developing this fifth skill might lead you to a new job opportunity, a new project assignment, that sort of a thing.”

It also can help as we’re starting to think about where are their emerging skills? Because what we might find is employees who have been with the company for call it five years might have a different skill set than people who are newly joining the organization. So we can start to match that as well and start to say, “There’s a shift happening in the technology or a shift that’s happening in the way people are being trained, that we need to make sure our existing employees are keeping up with,” which would help an organization better target what they’re development opportunities might look like.

Mike Vizard: We have heard a lot about the great resignation these days. It’s arguable about whether or not that’s real or if it’s just a great migration one way or other. But you mentioned there is a war for talent going on. Historically a lot of HR people kind of functioned as you know, not to be unkind, but they were the fillers out of the forms for the government and all this other stuff, and have they evolved now? Are they really talent scouts, talent managers? Are they acting like general managers of baseball teams?

Gretchen Alarcon: I think in the ideal world absolutely. What we would love to see is HR being that kind of broker for talent and say, “Here’s the talent I have. Here are the people that I can put on the field, right, for various opportunities, various projects,” or, “Here’s what I need to do in order to acquire the talent that we need to drive our business outcomes.”

What we’re definitely seeing now more than ever is that talent management and the availability of talent is a C-suite problem. So the CHRO is talking to the CEO, the CIO around, “What are the talent needs that we have to align with our business objections and how are we going to meet those talent needs?” I definitely see that change happening.

But the other thing I’m seeing which is a really interested idea is this kind of democratization of some of these HR elements where individual business leaders are saying, “I still want to do this myself as well. I feel that I want to manage the outcomes for my organization, so I’m going to rely on HR as my consultant, as a person who helps me in brokering this talent, but I’m going to be very clear around what the skills are that I need to do in order to meet my business outcomes.” So it’s being seen as a business problem, as much as it’s being seen as an HR problem.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that the AI will surface up you know where exactly we do have a skill shortage in the company in a way that makes it actionable for folks and it becomes you know, “Here’s a list of priorities of where we need talent” and why we need that? Because I think a lot of times C-level execs are shall we say a little too far removed from the day-to-day to understand where the talent needs to be and what kind of talent is required.

Gretchen Alarcon: Yeah, I think that what we’ll start to see more and more is where is their talent needed or where are their skills needed? Let’s take it down to the skills level because it’s a little easier to understand. And understanding is that a gap within the organization or are there skills that could be transferred? So for example, a bank might start to see that they’re having a rise in people who are looking to refinance their mortgages and they might initially say, “Well we don’t have enough people with the skill set to help with that.” But using AI we can start to say, “Well here are some people who have very relevant skills or related skills, let’s assign them” or what they could probably provide this work with training so we can meet that business need.

So I think that’s where AI really starts to helps us understand you know how big of a problem is the skill gap and what are the options to be able to solve, whether that’s through development or on-the-job training, mentorship. You know starting at, “Where do we have the skills and what needs do we have,” we can then start to think through what those action plans might look like.

Mike Vizard: There are a lot of IT projects out there, so how do you make this one a priority compared to everything else that people want to spend money on these days. And HR, I guess, yeah they have their own budgets I imagine, but even those folks are not always spending money on IT, so how do you raise this up and say this needs to be a place where you’re actually going to invest?

Gretchen Alarcon: Well you know as I said before this really is becoming a leadership-level conversation around, “Do I have the right talent? Am I paying the right price for that talent?” You know, what’s the alignment look like?

And so I think understanding that you know this seem – you know IEC says this is the biggest risk impacting business in 2022, that gets a lot of attention and starts to raise it up. But I also think understanding that skills alignment is what drives business outcomes. So it’s not just that we’re testing this because we want to do a better job recruiting or because we want to get to, you know, better opportunities. We really want to tie this there is business value in aligning your skills and understanding what you need to do to develop them. So, to me, that is absolutely a business-level conversation.

Mike Vizard: We talked about this in the context of hiring folks, but it seems to me it’s also pretty critical to retaining folks and by retaining them in the first place I don’t have a hiring problem in the second place. You know how do I kind of use this to retain folks and maybe you know create more camaraderie in the ranks, because people with like interests and like skills might want to hangout with each other, but they just don’t know they exist.

Gretchen Alarcon: Yeah, you know I think that’s where there’s a really huge opportunity to think about what this does for an employee’s growth and their retention overall. Because I think a lot of employees when they think about their development they don’t necessarily think about it as a consistent practice, right? They kind of a moment maybe it’s tied to the beginning of the year when they’re setting their goals, maybe it’s tied to September when their kids are going back to school and they’re thinking, “Oh I should develop too.” Right?

So being able to provide this more visibly to them, helping them understand what those skills are that they have and then how those align with where the company is trying to go gives them a really clear plan to say, “I need to be developing these specific skills” or “These are the skills that I need to develop that might lead me to a promotion.” Maybe I’m looking to get into management. What are the skills that I have today, but what else could I be developing?

You know, key research said a year ago that 63 percent of workers who quit their job in 2021 did that because they felt they didn’t have opportunities for advancement. To me being able to have that visibility of your skills and understanding how those align with business needs really helps you see where your opportunities will be, so it’s definitely a retention driver.

Mike Vizard: All right. Well given the price of gas a lot of those people are back in the market, so at least you can then you know the talent pool is getting a little wider. So what’s your best advice to folks about how best to manage their talent and exploit what might be an opportunity, not the workers the opportunity?

Gretchen Alarcon: Absolutely. I think the first step really is to understand what is the company trying to address with their business outcomes? Where are we trying to go? Then what skills are really critical to a driving – to addressing those business outcomes? You can get down to some very specific capabilities when you start to look at that.

So rather than trying to address all skills across the entire organization, yeah that could be a yearlong research project, which would be very to have, but yeah we have goals that we have to meet. So really starting with identifying what are those key skills and then looking at a tool like this one that we’ve just acquired to really understand you know how do those skills map to my current employees and then what does that lead to as I think about developing them for new roles or where might I need to acquire? So I think really looking at that tangibly tied back to business outcomes and really thinking about how skills are going to drive your performance that’s a good starting place.

Mike Vizard: All right. Well Gretchen thanks for being on the show.

Gretchen Alarcon: Thank you for having me.

Mike Vizard: All right folks, and thank you all for watching this latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights video. That’s always a mouthful for me to say, but I manage to get there. This episode, along with all our others are on the Digital CxO website. We invite you to check them all out and, once again, thank you all for spending some time with us.