Park, Calif., that’s striving to build a
futuristic “hyperloop” transportation
Talla “just took away all those
mundane repetitive tasks,” says
Edward Chen, head of HR at rLoop. At
any given time, rLoop has 200 to 1,000
volunteers in more than 20 countries.
That’s a lot for one person to onboard.
So Talla welcomes new team members,
suggests training, then says, “[I]f you
have any questions, ask the bot.” Over
time, the bot will be trained to answer
the same kind of questions.
“If someone asks a [new] question
[and] the bot doesn’t know how
to answer that,” Chen says, “I will
respond. But the next time the bot will
be trained to answer that question, so it
really helps me to focus on something
Another HR tech tool that uses
NLP has been developed by Scout,
a New York startup that promises
to find job candidates who may be
overlooked by traditional recruiting
software. Older systems simply search
resumes for keywords from the job
description. But if your resume is
written in a way that doesn’t fit the
job, you’re not going to get a call—
even though you may be the smartest
person on the planet.
It’s easy for resumes to be written
differently. Say that “smartest guy”
is a gal—or an ethnic minority. Not
everyone uses language the same way.
And not every overlooked resume
is a case of linguistic discrimination;
sometimes the problem is a simple
Scout CEO Andres Blank gives an
example: “We say ‘sales development
representative,’ ” he says. “ Many
times, it’s called an ‘inside salesperson.’
Sometimes it’s called a ‘sales
representative.’ Sometimes it’s called
an ‘SDR.’ And sometimes, salespeople
Scout brainstorms new keywords,
creates Boolean search queries and
scores the candidates it finds online.
Blank says this differs from traditional
technology because Scout collects
feedback from “the client and improves
This is where the “intelligence”
part of the technology comes in.
It’s one thing for software to simply
regurgitate words you’ve given it,
searching for them over and over
again. But artificial intelligence with
NLP can recognize phrases you haven’t
provided and even generate words on
Learning Company Values
Then there are new NLP tools
that go beyond simply streamlining
human resource work. One is
Growbot, which was developed by a
San Francisco-based start-up of the
same name and aims to encourage—
and measure—peer recognition
within an organization.
BY TERENA BELL No one wants to replace your HR staff with robots. At least that’s what Rob May says. He’s CEO of Talla, a Boston-area company that developed a “chatbot” that interacts with employees via chat programs such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. May’s company is one
of many artificial-intelligence start-ups
that seeks to shift some tasks from
workers to technology. Talla promises
to take over routine HR chores such
as helping employees change their
tax withholding or retrieve vacation
balances. Talla, May says, doesn’t want
to eliminate your people—just their
Whether your team consists of
10 people or 10,000, busywork is
very often a big part of the HR job.
Inevitably, those in the profession get
bogged down in people asking about
vacation accruals and 401(k) plans,
and “all these things that are just …
repetitive … ,” says May.
As a result, HR isn’t able to spend
its time on the issues that really matter
to the business.
Talla isn’t alone in the effort to
eradicate HR busywork. Several new
HR tech products now use “natural
language processing” to understand—
and communicate—as people do.
Commonly referred to as NLP, the
technology uses machine learning
to, among other things, recognize
different phrases that express the
For example, one employee may
ask: “How do I get my partner on
the health plan?” Another says, “My
husband needs insurance.” NLP
enables Talla’s platform to know these
sentences mean much the same thing.
Making It Easy to Use
Of course, there’s nothing new
about using technology to streamline
routine work that’s performed by
HR, points out Josh Bersin, principal
at Bersin by Deloitte. But NLP can
streamline it even more.
“Some of these chatbots are doing
The Next Frontier?
relatively traditional stuff,” Bersin says.
“But they’re doing it in a very easy-to-
Among Talla’s customers is rLoop, a
Silicon Valley nonprofit based in Menlo
Natural language processing is beginning to
demonstrate its potential as a transformative
technology in a variety of HR areas.