When Rinchuithar, 23, walked into luxury hotel Taj Diplomatic Enclave in New Delhi this September for her maiden job interview, playing mobile games was nowhere on her mind.
But the first thing her interviewers asked was to play a game called Dashi Dash, where she had to play the role of a waiter in an restaurant and match moods of customers with relevant dishes. Happy customers had to be served “happy” dish and those in sombre moods were expected to be served “sad” food, and so on.
Rinchuithar played Dashi Dash for around 20 minutes. “I liked the game so much that I didn’t want to stop playing,” says the Mizoram native. The following interview discussion focussed only on salary expectations apart from some routine queries. She was hired. Today, she is an apprentice in Taj Palace’s food and beverage (F&B) department — one of the over 25,000 people that Indian Hotels Co. Ltd, the Tata hotels company running the Taj brand, employs.
For Taj Diplomatic Enclave, Rinchuithar’s just the kind of staff needed in F&B. And by getting her and other applicants play the Dashi Dash game, the hotel’s HR managers such as Janhavi Malhotra, were able to identify the traits required for the job: social intelligence, reading emotions, not giving up, problem solving, and so on.
For a nation with some 40% of its 1.2 billion population around or younger than 18 who are glued to smartphones, gaming is clearly a good way to engage deeper. Potential candidates such as Rinchuithar are at their natural best while playing a game, instead of being confronted with pages of questionnaire to assess their skills.
Dashi Dash, was developed by Silicon Valley-based Knack, a company founded in 2010 by Guy Halfteck, a former Israeli navy commander. Knack’s founding team includes Jeremy Gray, a former Michigan State University professor of cognitive psychology and Shlomo Argamon, a data scientist who taught computer science at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In June this year, Tata STRIVE, a not-for-profit effort started in 2015 aimed at skilling India’s young millions, started looking beyond its existing tools to train students and match their skills with different job roles. For its part, Tata Strive already had a basic gaming tool used for assessment.
“But when we discovered Knack, we realised what we had was too basic,” says Anita Rajan, COO, Tata STRIVE and VP, Tata Sustainability Group. S Ramadorai, former chief executive of India’s largest technology company Tata Consultancy Services, is the chairman of Tata STRIVE. Rajan, too, is a TCS alum.
Understanding human behaviour, capturing human traits and then matching with the job requirements is the holy grail for not only the new age companies such as Google, Facebook and AirBnB, but also for over a century old enterprises including GE and IBM. What job roles can be best fulfilled by who is the question on the minds of most HR leaders because a good fit ensures boosted productivity and lower attrition.
Knack believes it can help answer the person-role fit question with its gaming apps developed by a team of neuroscientists, data scientists and the experts on human behaviour. Games such as Dashi Dash and many others from Knack, combine big data analytics and AI in the backend with a user-friendly and non-intimidating gaming front end to assess each individual’s potential accurately.
Knack has an interesting “starting up” story. In 2010, founder Halfteck was without a job. He approached a hedge fund, which kept interviewing him for over five months before rejecting him for lack of “creative thinking skills”. He then picked lessons from his gaming theory classes and started building Knack. Since then, some of the world’s biggest companies including Citi, AXA, GE, Nestle and IBM have become the top Knack users.
Knack is hoping some of these companies will start using the app in India too.
To be sure, Knack is not the only game in town. Others such as Arctic Shores or Pymetrics have been around, too. Arctic Shores for instance, counts BBC, Deloitte and Xerox among its top customers.
While candidates are playing games, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data algorithms are busy capturing and analysing behavior in the background.
“The games capture the user’s “micro behaviours” during the game. Micro behaviors are the sum of all the human expressions of thinking, doing, learning, engaging, problem solving, risk taking, and other emotional, cognitive and human processes of the mind that happen during the game,” says Halfteck.
The micro behaviours are tracked in millisecond intervals. “This rich data stream is transmitted in real time to the cloud where the data is processed and analyzed through a set of algorithms,” he adds.
How long a candidate takes before responding with an action, how she attacks a problem, the sequence in which different actions are taken, and several other reactions form the backbone of the analysis. Every 20-minute session generates megabytes of data, which is then analysed to produce insights about whether a candidate is suitable for the job being interviewed or not. The insights can also help assess future job roles for an internal candidate.
“For example, we use a large dataset to map the distribution of any trait, competency, ability and altitude around the world building on data from users in 120 countries,” says Halfteck.
“This means the insights and scores are pegged against a global human potential index that’s scientific and objective and bias free,” he adds. Game-based assessment also weeds out any gender related or other personal biases that are invariably a part of in-person interviews.
The gamification doesn’t end with just recruitment assessment.
“There are new frontiers on the roadmap in terms of using AI to understand and predict success not only for jobs, but for a range of other objects – education, skilling, org cultures, and much more – and to use AI to profile the unique characteristics of companies and business units,” says Halfteck.
At its core, Knack offers an algorithm store to its customers.
“We have the Knack Store, which doesn’t sell laptops but the newest type of virtual assets: predictive algorithms. We have over 100 algorithms (like one for problem solving and one for sales agents) covering broad behavioral domains, educations, occupations,” says Halfteck.
Organizations also build their own custom Knacks. “Some of the areas we use these include gamification of hiring process, workforce readiness, employee engagement, identification of leadership and innovation talent, and so on,” adds the Knack founder.
Video games and surgery
“Kids who are really good at playing video games will become the best surgeons,” Devi Shetty, chairman and founder of Narayana Health said in an interview with The Hindu last month.
Shetty, who is widely credited with disrupting India’s healthcare scene with affordable surgeries, thanks to an assembly line approach across his hospitals, is shaping the future of healthcare in the country too.
A quick glance at the skills of future table produced by the World Economic Forum corroborates the same.
For users such as Tata Strive, these games are an effective way to map students with the job roles they are best suited for. And the challenge goes beyond recruitment for a particular job.
Every year, Tata STRIVE picks hundreds of young students from across different socio-cultural backgrounds and trains them for future jobs as part of ongoing government schemes. The biggest problem, according to Rajan of Tata STRIVE, is the attrition after they’re placed in a job.
“Nearly 40% of these students quit their jobs within three months of getting placed,” she says.
The crux lies in matching a student’s natural traits and real skills with the right job cluster. Unfortunately, there’s also a mad rush to achieve the overall skilling and training numbers as part of different government programs. India had a goal of skilling 500 million people by 2022 but earlier this year abandoned the target over the tardy progress with various programmes.
“It becomes mindless at times because enough attention is not given to ensuring that the training given to students matches their skill requirements. They get trained for jobs that they don’t like or deserve,” a government volunteer said, requesting anonymity.
In the pilot roll-out of Knack among 300-400 students in June this year, Tata STRIVE managed to get the matchmaking right, at least that’s what Rajan believes based on the results so far. She next plans to recruit and train 10,000 students over the next year using Knack’s games.
Not everyone is bullish about assessing candidates using games. Balachander N, group director HR of Coffee Day Group, says he’s unsure whether these apps will be effective while hiring low-skilled workers coming from different socio-cultural backgrounds, beyond the kind of candidates hired by recruiters such as Taj Palace hotel.
“However, it’s an interesting approach especially given (the need to hire) the millennials who are tech savvy. But will CCD look at it? Perhaps not, at least for now,” he adds.
Other experts such as Abhijit Bhaduri, formerly chief learning officer at Wipro, says the science behind assessments should not be overlooked no matter how cool a game-based assessment tool is.
“It is easy to get carried away by the UX ie gaming. Games are the sugar coating on the medicine. Assessments should not become merely a placebo. The main watch out is not to give up the science,” says Bhaduri. By UX, he is referring to user experience.
Another area of improvement for Knack and other gaming apps in India is to address the language barrier. With over 2,000 languages and dialects, the background of job aspirants is quite diverse. “A Hindi language version for India would be good and any other major languages like Tamil, Bengali, Marathi would make this scalable for India,” Rajan adds.
For its part, Knack is betting big on the Indian market.
“India is a significant market for two reasons – it is a rapidly growing market, and two, it offers a unique set of actors and diversified opportunities that is hard to get in any one market,” says Halfteck.
For Rinchuithar and hundreds of thousands of job aspirants in India coming from diverse backgrounds, gaming apps such as Knack promise a job with a fit that could be better than found in conventional testing and interviewing.