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HR update - Phenom’s evolving products & fortunes

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer May 1, 2024
Summary:
HR vendor Phenom dropped a ton of platform, AI and functional updates on analysts at a recent pre-conference gathering. Here’s a taste of what was covered.

HR

I recently attended HR & Talent Acquisition vendor Phenom’s 2024 Analyst Day (it preceded their annual user conference, IAMPHENOM). The narrative from the executives was quite positive and they shared a lot of stats, facts and product news. 

Who is Phenom?

Phenom’s purpose is to help “a billion people find the right work.”  They see too many ineffective recruiting/onboarding/etc. processes and too many position vacancies that could be filled internally.  Their goal is to help people and businesses get the best of the people out there. Skills, of course, is a big focus area for them. 

The two big stars in Phenom’s product line are their Talent Acquisition and Talent Management solutions. Their Talent Acquisition solutions include capabilities such as:

  • Career Site
  • Candidate Relationship Management
  • Chatbot
  • SMS/1:1 Messaging
  • Campaigns
  • Automated Interview Scheduling
  • One-Way Interviews
  • Talent Analytics

The Talent Management capabilities include:

  • Talent Marketplace
  • Employee Relationship Management
  • Career Pathing
  • Succession Planning
  • People Manager
  • Mentoring
  • Internal Gigs
  • Employee Resource Groups

When you peruse Phenom’s offerings, you’ll notice that they don’t sell/market ‘applications’ like many HRMS/ERP vendors (e.g., Onboarding, General Ledger, etc.). Phenom sells solutions for different personas. These personas include: candidates, recruiters, talent marketers, talent leaders, managers, HR, employees, HRIS, etc. That persona influence is how the company delivers ‘experiences’ for each constituent it serves. To that end, the Intelligent Talent Experience platform is the macro name for Phenom’s offerings. 

One Phenom executive summarized the company thusly:

  • We are an experience company
  • We built a platform on data, integrations and AI
  • We believe we are the most innovative HR company
  • We are committed to customer value realization
  • We play the infinite game

Phenom shared dozens of slides re: their platform and its capabilities with analysts. They communicated solid integration and AI stories to us as well. 

The company has 600+ customers and over 1,500 employees. 

The business update

Interest in the company and its products has been growing in recent years. For example, attendance at this year’s user conference is double that of 2020. 

Their customer roster has a number of large, enterprise-class firms including several large airline carriers, some very large retailers, financial firms, large technology firms and more. Their logo slide is impressive.

Customers of large HRMS solutions (e.g., Workday) are often users of Phenom. 

Product announcements last year

Around this time last year (March 31, 2023), Phenom announced its Experience+ (X+) generative AI capabilities. That announcement was noteworthy as:

  • It was a detailed list of planned developments and occurred just as the hype re: generative AI was only starting to take off
  • It was quite expansive in its scope with “18 platform intelligence and automation innovations
  • It would be many months later before other HR vendors would articulate their generative AI plans/enhancements

X+ would automate content creation, surface actionable insights and remove needless effort in the processes that Phenom users face. 

That announcement stated:

Phenom X+ is designed to dynamically support an organization’s specific hiring, retention and growth needs by leveraging an ensemble of AI models that consists of: a Foundation Model (any Natural Language Understanding [NLU], DeepLearning, or Large Language Model [LLM] such as GPT, Bard, or Cohere), Specialized Model, and Contextual Model. Phenom X+ differentiates with its ability to take additional context into account — including vertical, market, job zone (e.g., frontline/hourly or knowledge worker), company, team and user data — delivering an unparalleled level of personalization, precision and experience.

For Phenom’s two key product areas, Talent Acquisition and Talent Management, Phenom X+ would:

For talent acquisition, Phenom X+ automatically:

  • Generates contextually relevant job descriptions based on role requirements, past ideal candidates, and current high-performing employees
  • Auto-generates on-brand content and optimizes discoverability via search (SEO)
  • Offers a natural language search experience for candidates
  • Highlights best-fit external and internal candidates for any open role
  • Writes and personalizes emails, SMS, WhatsApp messages and campaigns to candidates
  • Schedules, reschedules, and cancels interviews using natural language
  • Develops individualized interview questions and guides
  • Publishes comprehensive interview feedback in real time for decision makers
  • Provides hiring teams with interview transcripts, candidate responses, summaries and actionable insights
  • Interprets notes and creates tasks to be completed
  • Analyzes Chatbot questions and generates appropriate responses
  • Scales multilingual experiences
  • Recommends optimizations to hiring workflows

For talent management, Phenom X+ automatically:

  • Provides performance insights across teams with next steps
  • Identifies succession planning opportunities for high-performing employees
  • Flags employee flight risks and provides prescriptive guidance
  • Detects skills gaps and surfaces upskilling and reskilling opportunities
  • Generates personalized emails and campaigns, as well as audience segments to foster development
  • Interprets and communicates organizational talent trends and ways to stay on pace

Product announcements now

Phenom has now placed many of its AI capabilities (not just generative AI but also ML (Machine Learning) and process automation) into its core technology stack. These capabilities are part and parcel of the offerings. The platform was a key discussion item of Phenom’s at the analyst event. 

Specifically, the company announced its Talent Experience Engine, X+ Agents, Talent Marketer Experience and Talent Leader Experience. The latter two are consistent with Phenom’s desire to create experiences for the targeted personas that its solutions serve. 

Additionally, we saw new capabilities for event marketers (e.g., for recruiters to use to promote and run job fairs), talent sourcers, etc. 

One area that got attention was the Talent Experience Engine. According to Phenom, Talent Experience Engine can leverage advanced technologies (e.g., AI) to: 

  • Create Content: use Phenom X+ to generate new personalized content, such as landing pages, emails and SMS — all at scale. 
  • Identify Segments: leverage real-time platform data to automatically identify high-performing, relevant segments to target outreach. 
  • Build Personalized Journeys: create a structured engagement plan for candidates, employees and alumni that serves up appropriate content driven by recommendations based on in-depth analysis of past performance. 
  • Automate Outreach: identify the best channels (including email, text, chatbot and events) and timing of messaging for each segment to maximize engagement and conversion. 

As a result, Talent Experience Engine can: “assemble an entire campaign, including: identifying target audience segments, determining their journey for consuming content and delivering insights to optimize outcomes.”

In a quick review of Phenom’s YoY product enhancements, the firm has made a considerable amount of progress in delivering the solutions it promised last year and it has deepened its functionality for certain users/personas. 

AI is now an integral part of their functionality and it is pervasive, too.  Their recent press release recaps, extensively, the enhancements to their product line (e.g., Frontline Worker Experience, X+ Agents, Talent Leader Experience, a slick interview assistant, support for contingent hiring, and more). It’s worth a read if your firm is considering a talent acquisition or talent acquisition solution. 

Since that announcement in March 2023, the Phenom X+ customer adoption has grown from 20 to 600 customers. 

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HR integrations

Phenom has been the first vendor in a long time to proactively address HRIT issues and concerns.  In fact, only one or two vendors each year might even acknowledge this group or its challenges. Phenom spent time discussing the integration capabilities and implementation challenges the bedevil the HR and HRIT organizations. On the integration front, they showcased a rather impressive number and variety of connections to all kinds of HR and other applications. 

Phenom believes that a key success factor for them and their customers is to be able to implement and integrate the applications quickly and easily.  Phenom’s solutions are frequently connected to a number of third-party products that include many HRMS solutions, niche/best-of-breed HR products (e.g., an employment verification service), accounting applications, office automation tools, etc.  Note: a typical large HR system customer may integrate with 100+ other systems. 

This is a critical point as in our HR strategy work for clients we often find that missing or broken integrations are a key work driver for HR team members as well as a cause of lost business benefits. Helping its customers get a fully integrated solution implemented can be a major boon to Phenom’s net promoter scores (NPS) and drive customer satisfaction upward. 

To this end, Phenom has developed a large number of pre-built integrations with popular software products (i.e., their Self Serve Integration Platform). These integrations include connections to products from Salesforce, Trelio, Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Zoom, Slack and many, many more.  Integrations may support application connections, data integration and data from forms entries. 

And because some integrations may connect custom or heavily modified solutions (or require specialized workflows), Phenom also supports a low-code set of tools. 

Templates are also available to help format data and perform other tasks with third-party products. I saw templates for UKG Ultipro and Ceridian solutions.

Automated interview scheduling

Scheduling interviews is a major work generator and tedious activity. Lots of people and schedules have to be reviewed to find that ‘perfect’ time slot that works well for everyone. And that’s the simple way to see it as often there will need to be multiple iterations of calls, emails, cancellations, reschedulings, etc. before the interview can even get penciled into everyone’s calendar. This work is tedious, non-value-added and frustrating for everyone involved. In other words, this is a perfect application for artificial intelligence. 

Phenom has had success with its Automated Interview Scheduling product. Just under a million interviews have been scheduled for Phenom customers resulting in time savings of 1.5 million hours. One major transportation firm gained the following benefits using Phenom’s Automated Interview Scheduling:

  • Saved over 36,000 hours
  • 81% of interviews were scheduled within 24 hours
  • 65,000+ interviews were scheduled
  • 77% people that were invited to apply for a position scheduled an interview with the carrier

Going forward

I’ve got to hand it to Phenom as they were quite transparent as to what their strengths and challenges are. Their technology was clearly a strength. Now, Phenom is pouring lots of effort into improving its implementation capabilities and customer success capabilities. At least three presenters covered these topics.  (This was not an either/or proposition. Phenom is pursuing technical and customer satisfaction issues simultaneously now.)

I wasn’t surprised by this as rapidly growing firms, like Phenom, will experience growing pains. The better firms address these quickly and professionally. Phenom has brought in several external executives to help with these issues. These persons are bringing into Phenom new methods, discipline, metrics, and, of course, a sharp focus on all things that will drive upward momentum in customer satisfaction. 

Given that HR organizations are often under-loved, under-funded and under-staffed for transformative change, it’s always good to see vendors come up with programs, tools, methods and more to help an HR change program succeed. 

My take

There was no doubt that Phenom understands AI and how to apply it in dozens of places within its solutions.  Their knowledge of the talent acquisition and talent management processes/competencies is palpable, too. 

So, what areas of improvement would I offer: 

    1. Don’t lead with platforms – Parents are always proud of their children and tech vendors love to rave about their progeny, too. But, too much bragging on one aspect of a solution can be counterproductive. Case in Point: Almost every ERP, HR and other application vendor is touting their AI capabilities and platforms. Yes, a platform is the enabler for delivering new capabilities quickly but, trust me, every vendor is beating this drum. I like Phenom’s experience messaging and I’m afraid it’s getting drowned out by the platform hoopla. 
    2. Time to add a new persona – I suspect that most HR firms address personas that align with HR internal positions. That’s great but it misses a number of non-HR people. Kudos to Phenom for having alumni in their list of supported personas. I would, though, like to see them develop a contrarian persona, the miscreant, who will try to abuse or misuse new AI-powered talent acquisition capabilities that Phenom is deploying. Imagine how Phenom could show this to prospects and use it to illustrate the additional checks/balances, security, etc. that Phenom possesses. 

I look forward to seeing what HR adjacency spaces Phenom will address next.

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