How Companies Identify Talent with Ben Waber of Humanyze & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series with Kage Spatz, Founder of

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Humanyze Human Resources Hiring Strategies

At the end of the day, employees want to feel fulfilled, valued, and heard, and that comes with being able to make informed decisions that will increase collaboration, innovation, productivity, transparency, and beyond.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Ben Waber.

Ben Waber, PhD, is the president and co-founder of Humanyze, a workplace analytics company. He is a visiting scientist at the MIT Media Lab, previously worked as a senior researcher at Harvard Business School, and received his Ph.D. in organizational science from MIT for his work with Alex “Sandy” Pentland’s Human Dynamics group.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

I was fascinated by research into social networks and the power of human connection — how collaboration patterns between people are responsible for the majority of a whole host of outcomes.

When I started my PhD at the MIT Media Lab with co-founders Taemie Kim and Daniel Olguin, we started applying this approach at leading organizations by pulling aggregated, anonymous collaboration data from existing corporate systems (email, calendar, chat, call, and building sensors) to understand digital and in-person communication patterns.

We found that this data was orders of magnitude more predictive of business and people outcomes (performance, attrition, overall engagement, etc.) than existing methods. As we did more studies at more companies, we gained more insight into what patterns matter most for organizations. Eventually, we began working with companies to change how they were managed based on our analyses and then measuring the impact of those changes.

By helping inform decisions based on our insights, leading global companies were driving better performance and we could point to thousands of employees who measurably liked their jobs better. We started Humanyze to dramatically scale up that impact and revolutionize how we think about work, for the better.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?

In one company, I just vividly remember their data demonstrating the importance of workplace decisions. In particular, it turned out that what seemed to be driving dramatic differences in collaboration patterns wasn’t some complex management system or incentive structure — rather it was the physical distance between employees on campus.

We see this again and again, but it’s interesting how companies agonize over decisions on corporate campuses — should division X be next to division Y? Should we put team A and team B on adjacent floors?

For the first company that we started analyzing at a global scale, we saw that as soon as people got a few floors away, the probability of interaction went nearly to 0. This is true of both email and face-to-face interaction, distance is just a profound obstacle to collaboration. While some companies buck this trend, as executives see this data it’s freeing because they can understand not only the power of space but also when it doesn’t matter.

Wonderful. Now let’s jump into the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time-consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

  1. Make sure you’re including everyone on your team throughout the process. This plays a big part in collaborating, there’s not just one person that will be working with the suggested candidates, it’s a full team effort.
  2. Utilize the most efficient HR software and tools to overcome the challenges of the hiring process. This will increase the chances of not only finding the right talent, but also avoids the challenges of inconsistent candidate engagement, negative candidate experiences, and beyond.
  3. Embrace the power of data! In order to know who may fit best with an already established team, having key data points to understand how the rest of the team works will make the process easier to find the right candidate.
  4. Focus on the traits that matter in a candidate. It’s so easy to focus exclusively on their past positions or experience, but companies should also prioritize if and how that candidate could grow within the company and adapt to new talents and skills.
  5. Always look for ways to raise the bar and improve upon your process and strategies when it comes to hiring talent. At the end of the day, people are a company’s greatest asset, and the talent you hire is a key indicator of your business’ continued development and growth.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I’ll focus here on what I can reasonably do myself, acknowledging that there are many movements undeniably more important than the ones I’m involved in. Specifically, I would like to continue to be involved in a movement to center justice and ethics in organizational AI.

Within the workplace, algorithms have the potential for huge benefits and terrible consequences. Accentuating those benefits — more productive companies and people, more enjoyable work environments, better career results, etc. — require ensuring that biases and discrimination that are currently in our systems isn’t further baked in and scaled up. Done well, we can do more than mitigate harms — we can improve outcomes. But we can only do so if we are aware of these issues and consciously develop countermeasures to bring justice to the workplace.

We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

Arlan Hamilton, because she has a unique and vital perspective on business and the world in general.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your valuable insights with us!

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