Jay Huang is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pulsifi, a Singapore-based HR technology company. Aside from driving strategic imperatives, Jay’s biggest role at Pulsifi is growing the team and supporting the development of team members. Under his leadership, Pulsifi has grown into one of the region’s most innovative HR tech companies with a portfolio of multinational clients.
Pulsifi has also built partnerships with the top technology providers in the world including SAP, IBM and Amazon Web Services, which involves integrating their platforms and joint go-to-market.
Before co-founding Pulsifi, Jay was Head of Strategy at CtrlShift, a regional AI player in digital marketing. Jay also worked for Boston Consulting Group where he advised global companies on business strategy and corporate development. Jay also has experience in venture capital and the public sector, having worked at SGInnovate and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore.
In an interaction with People Matters, Jay talked about the talent landscape in Southeast Asia, impact of technologies such as AI on talent professionals and the future of the HR industry.
How do you see the HR and talent landscape in Southeast Asia, especially in Singapore?
Let’s look at this from the perspectives of employer and employee. In today’s business world, billion dollar companies can be built in a matter of years, not decades like before. This 10x increase in speed has caused roles in companies to become a lot more demanding. Skills, experience, and education are not enough to cut it. Employers increasingly look for specific attitudes, behaviors, personalities, etc. as well, such as motivation to learn, grit and teamwork. Employers find that they need more than just CVs to understand people.
On the other hand, employees are increasingly looking for fulfillment and purpose in their roles. Beyond remuneration and career growth, employees seek to resonate with the vision of the company and the culture of the people. Putting both perspectives together, finding the fit between employer and employee has become a lot more complex.
How is technology including data science and AI helping organizations transform digitally and how do you see the impact of this for talent professionals in the region?
Technology in the form of software and machines have certainly increased process efficiency by doing the same things faster. However, the bigger value lies in data, which can drive processes to be done better. With technology and data today, the detailed state of affairs can be understood in real time, outcomes can be predicted, and calculated decisions can be made. In cases where data tells a very clear story, AI can easily guide us to those decisions.
Talent professionals definitely benefit from efficiency gains, such as screening candidates during the recruitment process. However, it should not stop there. Data is the big game changer. There has been a lot of “gut feel” used in HR, such as in important decisions like hiring, teaming and development. This is not to say that “gut feel” leads to bad outcomes. Rather, data-driven decisions are more justifiable and can lead to consistent outcomes. Because organizations succeed only because of their talent, the talent professionals that leverage the power of data will take their organizations to the next level.
How is HR leveraging data and insights to make informed decisions and how are they linking it with broader organizational objectives?
In hiring, many HR professionals rely too much on “gut feel” and unfortunately don’t use data and insights to define what traits are shown to drive success in the role, and assess how much of those traits each candidate possesses. A small proportion of HR professionals appreciate the value of data, and embrace tools to understand candidates holistically across hard skills and soft traits and hire for the traits that are shown to be strong predictors of success in the role.
At the same time, some HR professionals are fixated with organizational objectives like reducing time and cost to hire and forget that the real objective is finding the right person for the role. Yes, hiring is an expensive endeavor, but replacing a bad hire is even more expensive. The importance of finding the fit between employer and employee cannot be overstated. While convenience and cost are key considerations, HR professionals shouldn’t gloss over understanding what the business needs and lose sight of the ultimate objective of needing to hire right.
Outside hiring, in areas like succession planning, internal mobility, teaming, and learning and development, it is also common to see “gut feel” ruling over data and insights.
When done properly, data and insights on employees can then drive effective decision-making for the organization, both for short term and long term objectives. For example, HR can have an overview of its entire workforce’s skills and competencies and identify skills gaps to drive talent acquisition. Or they can use this data to single out high-potential employees based on their personality, interests, and performance reviews and consider them in the organization’s succession planning efforts.
What's Pulsifi and how do you bring value to your customers?
Pulsifi was founded to discover and realize the potential of people in the workplace using science. In the longer term, our vision is to help the world understand people and achieve their full potential in all facets of life.
We develop and provide organizations a people analytics platform that combines organizational psychology and data science into AI that predicts the suitability of people to a role, team, and organization.
Pulsifi’s AI gathers information about candidates and employees from multiple sources - such as CVs, psychometric assessments, video interviews, and social media. This data is analyzed using intelligent algorithms to understand hard skills and soft traits, such as competencies, personality, work interests, and work culture, and reveal predicted behaviors and attitudes of the candidates and employees, such as motivation to learn, grit and teamwork that I mentioned earlier. We call this the Individual Profile.
At the same time, we partner organizations to also benchmark their employees - analyzing employee performance, engagement and retention data, and determining the traits that are shown to predict success in each role in the organization. We call this the Success Profile.
Pairing an Individual Profile with the Success Profile, our AI calculates a Fit Score - a number out of 10 that reflects the suitability of the candidate or employee to the specific role.
The Individual Profiles, Success Profiles, and Fit Scores are used by our clients to make data-driven decisions in areas such as hiring - where we deliver on average over 100% improvement in candidate selection quality and over 70% improvement in operational efficiency - as well as teaming, succession planning, and learning and development.
Can you share some instances of challenges that you might have faced in terms of team building, creating the right culture, etc.? How did you get over them?
Building the team is indeed challenging. In fact, it is an evolving challenge. In our early days, we put together a skillful team, where we had team members with deep expertise in areas like data science and user experience. However, not everyone was driven by the greater vision and purpose that we were aiming for. We ended up wasting a lot of time and resources not doing the right things. It took re-hiring and replacing nearly the entire team to get us on the right track. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our product to guide us then as we were still building it.
Today, using our own product, our culture is much stronger. But while our team members are all very passionate about our vision and purpose, we actually take effort to be specific in aligning the team. For example, we embrace innovation, taking risks and trying new things in order to continuously improve. But risks can be interpreted differently across different people. That’s why we’ve made it explicit that we don’t take risks with things like data privacy and security because clients trust us with that.
Our own experience with people challenges strengthens our resolve to build an awesome product that will help other organizations overcome similar challenges.
Who are your competitors? And where do you see yourself and your company five years down the line?
When talking to clients - which are multinationals, large corporations, and government agencies - we actually haven’t come across another company that takes our approach to understand people and predicting outcomes. There are many companies out there in the people analytics space, but there isn’t one that we know of that uses a similar blend of hard skills and soft traits delivered in the form of SaaS.
Our competitors are HR consultants and recruitment agencies who help clients solve similar problems, but with more traditional approaches. However, we actually often partner these consultants and agencies to collaboratively help clients, with them providing bespoke services and us the deep analytics.
Five years down the line, I will be where I am at Pulsifi, and Pulsifi will be the go-to platform trusted by HR professionals and business leaders around the world, that provides the predictive insights to drive people decisions across hiring, retention, and development.
What advice will you give to aspiring start-up entrepreneurs?
Don’t rush into it. Learn what you will be passionate about for the rest of your life and define a vision that you will work towards. Find a co-founder who shares your passion and vision, and who will share all the ups and downs. When you get this right, being an entrepreneur will be enjoyable everyday.
For my co-founder Pete and I, our pursuit is the topic of people. How many people do you know who look forward to going to work on Monday? Probably just a handful! We envision Pulsifi helping people to truly understand themselves and achieve their full potential, starting with the workplace - and of course, to look forward to every Monday.
As more technologies invade the HR and talent space, how do you see the future of the HR industry?
There won’t be an invasion. HR and the talent space will increasingly become powered by technology just like all other aspects of business and life. In the near future, we won’t be calling technology out as “technology” anymore because it will naturally become part of what we do.
I do see a proliferation in the technology tools and platforms that will be available for the HR industry. Each tool or platform will focus on a specific use case, and some will excel at it. The expectation that some HR professionals have of one system to solve all their needs will no longer be viable. HR professionals that embrace and integrate the best-of-breed platforms will derive the best outcomes.