GE’s Move into Digital Necessitated ‘Blitzscale’ Hiring

Amber Grewal, GE Digital’s vice president of talent acquisition, shares how her team did it

By Roy Maurer Dec 22, 2016
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GE was tasked with aggressively recruiting in a new market after it formed its digital transformation business GE Digital in 2012. The 124-year-old company, primarily known for manufacturing light bulbs and industrial equipment, had to scale up its recruitment of software engineers very quickly if it was going to realize its goal of creating a cloud-based platform and an app economy for the industrial sector.

These efforts required setting up shop in Silicon Valley and building teams, growing a global footprint and building operations and process for scale, all while focusing on speed—otherwise known as "blitzscaling," defined by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman as "when you need to grow really, really quickly."

Amber Grewal, GE Digital's global vice president of talent acquisition, discussed with SHRM Online how the company shifted its recruitment philosophy and processes to meet the gargantuan hiring challenge, pulled off one of the most successful employer rebranding campaigns in recent memory, and grew the GE Digital team from a "family of 100 to a nation of 28,000" in less than five years.

[SHRM members-only Q&A: How can we develop an employment branding strategy?]

SHRM Online: What are the key components that talent acquisition leaders need to pull off a successful recruitment campaign of the magnitude GE Digital accomplished?

Grewal: The core ingredients to successfully scale an organization for speed while entering a new market are a talent acquisition (TA) strategy aligned to business goals, the right TA skills and capabilities, agile innovation, and integrated technology.

Aligning TA to business goals ensures clarity on the end state and purpose of what the business is doing. With this, you can explicitly build the TA playbook and strategy to accomplish the business objectives—for example, determining if the business need is to address speed-to-market, cost, quality or market intelligence. Your TA play will be built around the solutions that link core TA outcomes to business objectives. You build to the business need.

The way to drive outcomes is having the right skills and people to execute on those outcomes. We identified four key behaviors and eight key skills that were necessary to TA. For example, one skill is predictive analysis, or using big data analytics to identify gaps, recommend proactive solutions to business needs, and provide insights to help anticipate and optimize the recruiting process.

In a world of unpredictability and new market growth, the need to be nimble and lean is critical. We incorporated agile methods such as "scrum" or "extreme recruiting" to get the right people, at the right time, in the right place. This practice ensured the importance of speed and focus on delivering key priorities to the business. We reduced time to delivery of hires from 10-15 weeks to 2-5 weeks.

Finally, the importance of integrated technology is key, as it affects all business operations in TA. We leveraged technology to integrate all candidate and manager touch points. For example, from talent community to CRM [candidate relationship management] to ATS [applicant tracking system] to our interview assessments to our onboarding and background check process. This integration created one location to gather data and insights and allowed greater efficiencies, better experiences for our customers and more significant talent insights. 

SHRM Online: What are some of the biggest challenges you came across?

Grewal: Some of the main challenges were the common ones you'd find any time you are scaling. However, what made this hard was that we lived in a bimodal world while trying to scale—standing up a digital company in an industrial world, changing the company culture and mindset. We were changing a more-than-100-year-old culture into a tech company competing for the most sought-after talent in the world. There wasn't a benchmark or best practice to digital transformation or how to build and scale a recruiting organization to support this major transition. Every day we questioned, "Are we doing the right thing? What can we do better? How should we do this?" Our mindset, in the end, was that we knew that this was something very special and if we kept to our purpose we could solve any challenge.

SHRM Online: Can you tell us how the company's now-famous rebranding campaign came about?

Grewal: The campaign "What's the matter with Owen?" was launched to help shed light on the transformation of GE becoming a digital industrial company. It took the real-life scenarios of common perceptions in the market. GE was not known for creating software and solving problems through analytics. For GE the commercials were a humble and transparent approach to sharing how GE was changing into a digital industrial company and becoming a leader in the digital world.

SHRM Online: What's next in the recruitment strategy for GE Digital going into 2017?

Grewal: To focus heavily on employer branding and positioning GE Digital as a leading software company. We will continue to scale our global footprint and grow our TA capabilities in emerging markets. We will keep investing in technology innovation to drive specific talent outcomes in predictive analytics, skill assessments and talent matching using machine learning.

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