Storytelling about Eightfold with Kamal Ahluwalia

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 111. This week we have storytelling about Eightfold with Kamal Ahluwalia. During this episode, Kamal and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing

Kamal is an expert in all things AI and DEI. His passion to help candidates obtain the best career of their choice and to make hiring, retention and diverse growth easier on enterprises really comes through during the podcast.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 31 minutes


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William:   00:24
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Kamal from Eightfold, and we’ll be talking all about Eightfold. This is going to be a lot of fun. And, Kamal, we’ve done a podcast before, a topical podcast, which if you haven’t listened to, you should go back and listen to because it’s really good. But without any further ado, let’s do introductions. Kamal, would you do me a favor and the audience favor and introduce both yourself and introduce Eightfold?

Kamal:   00:54
Sure. Thanks for having me, William, always good to talk to you. So, I’m Kamal Ahluwalia, I’m the president here at And here what we’ve done is actually built the first single AI platform for all talent, for employees, for candidates, for contractors, and for citizens. And the goal is to help everyone on one side on the individual side, get the best career of their choice. And on the enterprise side, make it easy for them to hire, retain, and grow a diverse workforce. So that’s what we are solving for and we’ve had tremendous success and growth with our clients and partners over the last couple of years. And I think you may have heard about our last round of funding as well, a couple of weeks ago. So, well-capitalized now.

William:   01:46
Yes, well-capitalized, and congratulations. Raising money, no matter what people tell you, it’s never easy. But I’m glad that you’re well-capitalized. Because you’ve had a wonderful vision for what you all wanted to achieve and just having money in the bank and being able to actually execute on that vision, it just helps.

Kamal:   02:08

William:   02:09
I mean, it’s shocking money helps you realize that goal. Let’s parse some of these things apart for just a second. When your customers first… Well, I guess, prospects at first, when they first approached you, what are the problems that they’re trying to solve initially? Because, I mean, I know that it can do a lot of things, Eightfold can do a lot of things and help people in a lot of different ways. But what have you seen just recently where people are saying, “Okay, we have this problem?”

Kamal:   02:44
Great question. And I think that initial interest has changed over the last three years. Three years ago, I think we were being invited to a lot of CRM discussions, projects, evaluations. And then slowly people realized that CRM on its own is not going to solve anything. And by the way, that was also indicative of both HR tech stack, the HR market, as well as the HR organization that too many bits and pieces and silos, and not connected to each other, and took too much effort and all the burden was on the HR teams to make sense of all of it. So originally it was that, and then we started to actually really do well on the employee side and provide better and better solution.

Kamal:   03:34
So now, it is that notion of a single AI platform for all talent is resonating. So now the problem is this, it’s actually three. Number one is, last year with COVID, most companies genuinely started to invest a lot more and looking to invest a lot more in their employees. And most of them realized that they have no idea what their current employees are capable of doing. And for CEOs who were willing and eager to write big checks and invest, it was basically no idea. Then all this talk about digital transformation and how industries and companies are changing their business model and transforming, the talent began to surface that, “Okay, fine, I can make those changes. But where are the people who can sustain those changes?”.

Kamal:   04:25
So that led to the rescaling, upscaling that, “Do I have the people who can turn this into a subscription business?” Like all of us who use Amazon used it even more during COVID. I mean, it became every day, sometimes couple of times a day, Amazon would be delivering things to our homes. But you’ve never talked to anyone at Amazon, that’s the digital experience. And if more companies want to have that kind of experience, then where’s the talent that will give you that kind of digital experience for all your clients? What level of automation is needed? What kind of system… So that kind of thinking brought this thing to front that, “Okay, clearly I need to better understand what are my employees capable of doing and who can learn what?” Clearly, there’s a gap in where we are trying to go, and what we’re trying to do so far. But who can learn those new things?

William:   05:23
It’s interesting because you serve the organization, and so that starts with the board, the C-Suite, and then you get down into the HR and TA, generally, not all the time, but generally is a part of the HR budget. So sometimes when you’re having conversations with TA, they care about certain things, obviously; the attraction of talent, all the way to onboarding. And then you talk to HR, and they care about that, of course, but they care about that all the way to outplacement. And maybe even for some they care about the alumni experience as well, which is a little bit different.

William:   06:04
I’ve been selling and marketing to HR and talking to HR and TA for 20 plus years. So, they are different people. Venus and Mars, got it. But how have y’all found just interacting with TA and solving the things that they care about, and in talking to HR and solving for the things that they care about?

Kamal:   06:29
Great question. And I think what you’re basically surfacing is the essence of people buy from people. The more you understand the personalities and who would do certain kind of role, it becomes a little easier to both have the empathy and for them to also build trust with you.

William:   06:48
That’s right.

Kamal:   06:49
I think the thing for talent acquisition is, it is really a sales and marketing job. Because every single person and your website, every single thing is all about showcasing the company and a particular job rate that you’re trying to fill. And the challenge part which [ [inaudible 00:07:08] has talked to a lot of my friends in HR, now TA, a lot of clients, but half of that job is what’s called soul-wrenching. You’re chasing down people in-

William:   07:19
Yeah, you’re scheduling interviews [inaudible 00:07:23] value-added. What?

Kamal:   07:24
Exactly. And in the evenings and in the weekends, so that’s not fun.

William:   07:31
No, no.

Kamal:   07:33
So if that part was automated, no one would complain. And if those hours weren’t-

William:   07:41
And possibly, just add to that, it’s also a better experience… We haven’t said that but it’s also a better experience for the candidate.

Kamal:   07:48
Exactly. So those things as we got into bringing AI into it, that, “Hey, a lot of these things we can actually automate.” And there was actually zero objection, and it was more about, “Okay, really?”.

William:   08:03
“That’s great.”

Kamal:   08:04
Exactly. “How fast, who else has done it, and can you actually quantify it for us?” So literally, across the board, we are improving recruiter productivity by 30, 40, 50, 60 percent. So that’s tremendous.

William:   08:20
It just gives them their time back to do the things that are more value-added.

Kamal:   08:24

William:   08:24
If they’re carrying 30 racks, 40 racks or whatever, when you’re carrying them in racks and you’ve got to go back and forth with people on scheduling an interview, it’s almost impossible to manage the candidate flow and also to be able to put those candidates in from hiring managers. So the automation, the different types of automation, and the way that you look at those things. First of all, y’all been vastly successful at just really helping streamline and making that efficient. What’s been different when you move over into HR? So let’s just say onboarding and forward, what are the… Because there’s automation everywhere… Inefficiency everywhere, I should say, what’s been the conversation or how’s that been similar or different to TA conversations that y’all have?

Kamal:   09:18
Great. So, there the challenge is slightly different. What we are bringing to the table is self-service career pathing. And any organization that has 5, 10, 20 thousand employees, there is no way the HR business partner knows everything about every job and every opportunity inside the company and how someone can get there. Secondly, just the psychology of the individual is; some are overconfident, as we were discussing on the last podcast, reckless, “I can do anything.” But most of us actually need that guidance and coaching and confidence that, “Yeah, you can get there. These are the steps. Here are some others who have gone down the same steps, and actually gone there and been successful.”

Kamal:   10:10
And also now lining that up with the new reality of remote work. That you can do more, you have more opportunities and more options than ever before, including international assignments, and we’ll get past COVID and [inaudible 00:10:29]. But we have more opportunities today than before COVID. So the thing here is, there’s a lot of money invested in learning and development systems, but ROI, adoption, outcomes are all nebulous.

William:   10:43
That’s right. Because it’s still based on usage, and [inaudible 00:10:48] content. Both those systems have to be filled with stuff that people care about, that you find useful. Because an LMS is great, historically on compliance. So if you need a bunch of compliance stuff, [inaudible 00:11:03] ROI and it’s pretty simple to build out, but it’s true learning and you got to have content in there that’s great, and then you got to, I would say, incentivize using probably better terminology, people to then use it and give them the time to go and do those things. But an LMS just by itself doesn’t solve the problem.

Kamal:   11:25
Exactly. And that’s where we come in because we are bringing in the jobs and the career paths and the goals.

William:   11:32

Kamal:   11:32
Because once the inspiration is in place, and it is personalized for every single person-

William:   11:38
Fundamentally, what’s great… Apologize for interrupting, what’s fundamentally, you shifted and what I love, it’s who’s in charge of your career? And then we can go back as long as we need to. Was the company manager of your career? Do you manage your career? Is it partially owned by both? And one of the things I love that’s brilliant about what y’all have done is you’ve basically said, “Listen, as an individual, you have a hand in this. You have a greater hand in this than you think. You just need some tools and resources to be successful.”.

William:   12:13
So, I love that. I just love that, because you’re giving… And I also think generationally, both my sons are Gen Z, they’re used to stuff being around them. Like they’re used to building playlists, they used to building the… The internet serves them. And so this makes sense, also generationally, but I wouldn’t leave it just at the doorsteps of generations, because everyone needs to rescale and upscale and think about how to make themselves better. So I love this. Take us a little bit more into the self-service part.

Kamal:   12:51
Yeah, what we did was, last year, invested a lot in essentially what we call career hub, and it starts with the individual. Because the number one thing is, unlike some of the other solutions, our recommendation to every individual is, “You shouldn’t leave the company, and you should put it as a last resort.” Because they’re probably more opportunities inside the company-

William:   13:16

Kamal:   13:16
… for everyone to try and grow and go in different directions than outside. They have just not been made available to you.

William:   13:24
That’s right.

Kamal:   13:25
So let’s solve that first, and then make the exit interview the last thing. So-

William:   13:32
Have your customers on the career hub side, have they talk to you about the blend of personal and professional?

Kamal:   13:40

William:   13:42
So someone wants to learn Python, that’s one thing, when someone wants to learn drone racing, which is probably a personal pursuit or something that they care about as a hobby, are they looking at the whole individual from that perspective?

Kamal:   13:58
Absolutely. And because to some extent, we all are spending so much time at work with colleagues, and even in a virtual environment, that is necessary. The office softball team is as important as the next hackathon, and the next customer event.

William:   14:15
100%. I can’t tell you how many conversation I’m having now about retention. I’ve been a customer over the last couple years in the candidate-driven market to talk to people about attraction, especially the emphasis becomes more on DEI and all kinds of great stuff there. Attraction, attraction, attraction, how you find out, find out, find out. But now I find myself in more conversations about, “Hey, yeah, we got to find the talent.” “Check. Yes, still hard, got it,” all those things. But how are we going to keep the talent? What are we going to do programmatically, philosophically, what are we going to do?

William:   14:57
One of the things I love about what y’all doing is, you’re helping people understand themselves so that they can do the things that they need to do if it’s experiences or skills, et cetera, to then help them get to the next job, which helps with retention. Maybe it helps with engagement, technically, but it also helps with the end goal of retaining that talent.

Kamal:   15:19
Exactly. So we actually then went through every single thing that would be compelling. Your full-time career opportunities, the talent marketplace which is for the side gigs that are available at work-

William:   15:32
Right, that’s cool.

Kamal:   15:33
… for you to build new skills. Then mentors, people who would inspire you, people that you look up to. With context, get some time with someone that actually may unlock the next set of productivity for you, and referrals. How to actually find people with certain skills, how to get to work on a project with someone who’s considered a absolute expert in the market and in your company in a certain area. Then the biggest thing that we realized was, as we talked to our customers and got going, their challenge was, they wanted to do all that but then the profiles in HRIS were static. A lot of them were static with the data, the day the employee came in. Or the last time you change the HRIS system.

William:   16:21
Yeah, birthday, whatever.

Kamal:   16:23
Yeah. So we change that, “Okay, we will offer self-updating profiles.” Because it’s not just when you’re learning something, or doing something different that you need to update, everything that you’re doing every day is relevant to your profile. So we are now integrating with the flow of work. If you’re using Salesforce for CRM, we integrate with that so that sales and marketing people, because all of their daily work is sitting in there. So that’s filling that.

Kamal:   16:54
Engineering teams are typically checking in code with Jira, or GitHub, and other things, so integrate with that. Integration with Slack, Microsoft Teams, the collaboration tools that are being used today. So all these things where we are all spending all the time, that should actually be updating your profile.

William:   17:13
That’s right.

Kamal:   17:14
And that allows the system to make recommendations that are tailored to what you have now set up capable of doing next.

William:   17:22
Oh, cool. So again, using Amazon’s model, “If you like this book, you might like this book as well.” I love that.

Kamal:   17:30
Exactly. And everything, then you start bringing in the content, learning content, experiential learning opportunities, short time, full time, all these things are available to you. And you can actually decide that, “Hey, don’t keep bugging me with these things.”.

William:   17:48
Right. Right. Right. Yeah, and-

Kamal:   17:49
[crosstalk 00:17:49] preference, yeah.

William:   17:50
A little silent and you schedule things.

Kamal:   17:52

William:   17:53
Have your customers pushed you yet into alumni post… The relationship that we have with folks post their time with us?

Kamal:   18:05
Yeah, boomerangs are a good thing. And the other part is, if you look at this as a continuum like sometimes our paths will diverge, but then there is no need to burn bridges.

William:   18:20
That’s right, that’s right.

Kamal:   18:21
Most good companies are now interested in building the alumni network. In fact, this concept of talent network is now resonating more and more. That “What’s in my ecosystem? Who do I know?” And with our AI system, of course, we are able to actually give you massively big talent network of current profiles and all that. So that is resonating big time.

William:   18:45
I mean, y’all releasing features faster than I can keep up with at least. When you talk to a practitioner, and you see it in their face, so when you show them something. What is that right now that’s something that… I call it the ‘aha moment’ but it’s something especially in HR, where they see something and it’s like, “This is life-changing”?

Kamal:   19:11
There are a few of those, but I will give you a couple that are I personally love. So you’re aware of our career site, where an individual all they have to do is upload their resume and the system immediately tells them that, “Here are the job that fits you best. Here’s a strong fit, here’s a good fit, and why.” Explain everything. So essentially, anytime anybody’s in your career site, you have your best recruiter doing a pitch to them in the best possible fashion, “There are others like you from your college or another veteran like you,” all that stuff. So that part is great.

Kamal:   19:51
Then, we have added, now, survey capability to gauge the candidate experience and measure it. So now it doesn’t just say that, “Oh, this was cool.” Now you actually, right then when they apply, you can ask the question that, “Hey, how was this experience compared to the other times you went looking for a job?” So the early results, there’s only been rolled out last couple of months on the candidate experience side. The score is coming out to be 4.54 across multiple, multiple customers, on a scale of one to five.

William:   20:28
Oh, that’s fantastic. Are you also either now or do you see it in the future plans to also do recruiter experience in hiring manager experience as well?

Kamal:   20:38
Exactly. Because this thing can now be inserted everywhere. For the employees-

William:   20:42
So you’ll do it with employee experience.

Kamal:   20:45
Exactly. It’s all measurable and it’s all… Because now you can even have these as the MBOs for your HR teams-

William:   20:53
That’s right.

Kamal:   20:54
… that raise it by x percentage of point because you can measure it now.

William:   20:56
I’m really interested when y’all get into that manager experience and also to be able to… Because this is 360 degree feedback. If we can actually do this correctly, we can start to find out where bad managers are, and then put them on a path. I’m not saying line them up against a wall or anything, but if we know where they are, then we can treat it, we can fix it, we can put them on a path to… But if we don’t know where they are… You mentioned earlier about… When we were talking about competencies and skills, that the C-suite might not know what they have. Same is true about managers. They know they have them, they just don’t know exactly where they are. And I think that as you evolve, all of these surveys, these ratings, you’re going to start to find out… You’re shining lights in the corners, so you’re going to start to find out where these bad managers are, which is good because that’s the first part. You got to know where they are, then you can then treat that.

Kamal:   22:02
And the approach we’re taking there is, especially with our diversity dashboards, because that one also ends up being very sensitive information, simply to make it visible, because whatever is inspected, improves. People just need to know that now, all of these actions and decisions are actually trackable. And then, if you’re wearing from the norm, very easy to actually then identify. And that makes a big difference. Because especially on DNI side, people do want to do the right thing, they just don’t know how to. And we’re both solving the solution and we’re giving them pass versus just lecturing. But the other part is, I think with all these areas that need improvement, it all needs to be in a positive reinforcement fashion, versus being punitive.

William:   22:54
Right, of course. And again, that’s going to be individualized and personalized. Some people need some of the more critical things, and some people need more the affirmative things, and we’re all a little bit different there. When folks hear it, when practitioners are building a business case for Eightfold, are they… Price, quality, and speed are always in the mix somewhere in the mindset, or at least the framework of when they’re building a business case. Do you find it easier to just land and expand and start with like, “Hey let’s just solve one problem.” And then we can go off to the races and fix all the other problems throughout TA and HR? Or is it easier, or have you found it easier to go in and look at holistically the entire TA and HR technology stack and figure out, “Okay, here’s how we can make it all better”? Right now, where are you finding your best path?

Kamal:   23:56
So with larger customers, it’s the second one where they are starting to like the single platform for all talent. Now, the phases may actually be, let me start with talent management or career hub first, and then I’ll expand it to hiring.

William:   24:14
Right, right, [crosstalk 00:24:15] management.

Kamal:   24:16
Exactly. And now exciting part is, we now have several clients who now are using us both for full time and for contractors. So the platform scope is already beyond that is now all of talent. And the second part is with AI, that’s what’s different it’s not just selling seats on the [inaudible 00:24:41]. The AI platform works with data, the more data it’s seeing from your company, the better and faster it gets, the recommendations becomes specific to your business.

William:   24:54
Which I already know to be true, with your API strategy means that you can then interact with other systems that they already have and pull out data, so that it just that makes the case even stronger. What are some of your favorite buying questions? You serve with CHROs, chief people officers, and all those staffs, what do you love to hear from them?

Kamal:   25:19
There are couple. One is, how long will it take? [crosstalk 00:25:27]-

William:   25:26
Because that’s traditionally been in months and years.

Kamal:   25:31
Yeah. Especially the last HRIS change took 18 to 24 months.

William:   25:36
Oh, yeah. We won’t name any names but yes, of course.

Kamal:   25:38
Exactly. So that’s one. In fact, one interesting thing is today, for a client in Europe, that’s in the final stages. So I was on at 2:00 AM on the call with them. And then it went well, originally, now they’re saying, “Okay, we want to be live in September.” It’s like, “Really?”.

William:   26:01
“Yeah, oh, we only have 700,000 employees in 120 countries and we need that to be in 80 languages.” “Okay. Yeah, sure. Great, we’ll flip a switch.” But what’s interesting is y’all built for speed. You’ve always been built for speed, so this plays to your strength in some ways. So when they ask you a question of how long does it take, they’re playing in your backyard at that point.

Kamal:   26:25
Yeah, there’s that. The other one that I really like is there’s always both curiosity and education needed on AI, or how algorithms work, how it eliminates bias. So there the questions have shifted from, “I don’t think you know how to do it or I don’t believe anybody has solved it.” To now, “Okay, that makes sense. Can I talk to a client or two who has done this?” So now they just want the validation stamp also. “[crosstalk 00:26:55] get it, makes sense, if others have also done it, then I should be now racing because I have now… I’m on solid footing.”

William:   27:02
That helps, because the categories of all the technologies obviously evolved, you’re on the forefront of bringing some of this stuff to market and so the buyer is a little bit more aware of what their peers are doing and how they’re having success. So last question before we roll out, when I ran an ad agency, when I was in the sales process, I had three words that were indicators of, “This person is just not going to be a good fit.” And they were; fast, easy, and cheap. And I never told anybody this, this is just keywords that I had in the back of my mind is, “If ever a prospect said fast, easy or cheap, it’s time for me to pay the bar tab and leave.”

William:   27:46
Because you have hundreds of conversations with folks, is there anything that you know they just don’t… They’re not ready. Maybe that’s a better way of thinking about it. They’re just not ready. They are three years ago, they were reluctant or maybe skeptical or fearful and you’re talking to them now and it’s just you can tell with a lot of questioning, “Yeah, they’re not ready, and we’re going to be pushing a boulder uphill with this the whole time.” If it’s not keywords, is there any phrases or any tells that you look for?

Kamal:   28:21
I think there are two, three. One is when the execs don’t get involved.

William:   28:27
Ah, yes.

Kamal:   28:30
Then I worry because if this is not important, if talent issue is not important for CHRO to actually pay attention halfway through the process, that’s a clear sign that this organization has other issues besides not having the right technology.

William:   28:47
And you’re not going to be able to fix that.

Kamal:   28:49
Yeah, because this is… So that’s one. Because, look, talent transformation or a single platform for talent acquisition, talent management, and now for a continuing workforce, that is not going into any organization without the top knowing and endorsing that strategy. So if they are not involved, that’s a problem.

Kamal:   29:12
Second one is, if there is no compelling event. That, “We’ll get there, when we get there.” That’s always a problem because that means they’ll be kicking tires, and we’ll be playing the golf edge for a long time.

William:   29:27
That’s right.

Kamal:   29:28
But if they have the compelling event, then everything is doable. And I think the last part is, people do talk about pilots and proof of concepts but those are now less of an issue because one, we have so many customers lie that the proof in the pudding is now evident everywhere.

William:   29:46
Yeah, you don’t have to prove that it works. You went through that phase and you don’t have to go through that phase anymore. But also it’s an indicator. It’s a buying indicator. If somebody’s like, “Oh, I’d like to pilot this with my office in Detroit.” It’s like, “Well, then you’re not taking this seriously enough.” And I love your comment about executives, the C-suite, the board. If talent isn’t important… And you know, financially, it’s an expenditure. If it’s not important enough to get involved, they’re sending you a signal.

Kamal:   30:19

William:   30:19
I love that. Well, brother, I could talk to you forever and you know that, but you’ve got a job to do. And so I’m going to get you on to your next thing. Thank you so much for coming on to Use Case Podcast.

Kamal:   30:30
Always a pleasure. And thank you for having me.

William:   30:33
And thanks for everyone for listening, until next time on the Use Case Podcast.

The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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