Waleed Mahmood – Digitas Health
Waleed Mahmood is something of a matchmaker. With 15 years of experience in human resources, he scrutinizes people’s skills and talents to place them in roles they not only love but that will help them advance their careers.
However, finding the perfect match for a particular position means he must often veer off the beaten path and take calculated risks.
Recently, he was conducting interviews for an opening on his team at Digitas Health and discovered that his favorite candidate didn’t have any official HR experience. However, the applicant did have years behind a front desk in a hospitality role. They were patient with strong listening skills and a high emotional intelligence, someone who showed Mahmood they could calmly handle aggressive questions and help people during difficult times.
He says when people contact the HR team, they are often dealing with stressful situations. He almost immediately felt that the non-traditional applicant would succeed in such a role and hired them.
It turns out his experience helped him make the right decision, as that person is now excelling in that role, thriving and exceeding all expectations.
As the vice president of resource management and talent acquisition for Digitas Health, a company Mahmood has been with since 2018, he’s doing everything possible to ensure it continues growing and evolving. DH is a global agency specializing in marketing and advertising for health organizations. It’s expanding its client and product portfolio with each passing year.
In 2006, DH became an official part of Digitas. In May 2023, LinkedIn ranked the latter as one of the top companies in marketing and advertising. DH has also won several accolades, including Ad Age’s Best Places to Work each year since 2020. In 2023, Ad Age ranked it in the top 10.
“Recruitment and the proper use of resources is truly like matchmaking and needs the human touch—but that doesn’t mean we can’t automate a lot of our processes, and that’s a key focus for me and my team,” Mahmood says.
Coupling automation with human acumen
After handling recruitment, talent acquisition and other human resources matters for well over a decade, Mahmood has learned that supply and demand rarely match. With a growing company like DH, he often needs to look externally, though he makes every effort to ensure he and his team never pass over a fitting internal candidate. That’s why he wants to integrate more technology into the recruitment process.
“We are like air traffic controllers and, just within DH, we’re trying to guide over 800 employees—and the company—towards sustained, long-term success,” he says.
Since January 2022, when he was promoted to his current position from director of resource management, he’s been bringing in more data to the realm of people and talent. He and his team collect data from current employees and candidates that covers everything from what they are currently doing, what they want to be doing and how they are performing in their current roles, whether at Digitas or elsewhere.
They then store this data across various systems and use automated reports to extract data based on open positions, including promotions and even lateral move opportunities. He says this automation has helped them place current employees in projects they will enjoy and in which they will excel.
However, he says this sort of automation is merely scratching the surface and that the crown jewel for him is integrating artificial intelligence.
“Our team wants the best for everyone, because a happy, satisfied employee means a better future for them and Digitas,” Mahmood says. “That being said, we can’t be everywhere at once and know everything.”
His hope is that AI will be able to provide recommendations for project placements. So, if someone’s project is ending at Digitas, instead of them simply joining another one at random, the AI software will suggest which projects are best for them.
“The humans will still make the final decisions,” Mahmood tells Vision with a laugh. “We just want technology to assist us in gauging what’s most important for our team members.”
The I in AI
Mahmood wants to better understand AI and its potential applications in the HR world. He’s continually trying to further his education, as he feels that AI will positively disrupt many sectors beyond HR.
He particularly enjoys his role at DH because he sees it as “sitting at the nexus of people, business, operations, analytics and technology.” The people part has always been important to him. In fact, when he graduated with his bachelor’s from SUNY Geneseo, his degree was in communications with a minor in international relations.
Mahmood’s desire to interact with and help others has manifested in various forms. From 2005 to 2017, he volunteered as a first responder in various capacities. Through his experience as an emergency medical technician, he gained a multitude of skills he still utilizes in his professional life.
“I’ve learned to quickly assess situations and calmly make decisions, regardless of the amount of pressure or stress involved,” he says. “This has become second nature to me now.”
Since July 2022, he’s also been a board member of SUNY’s Geneseo Alumni Association.
“I love working with people, so it’s no surprise that my career has gone down this particular path,” Mahmood says. “Working with my team, I get to blend analytical intelligence with emotional intelligence to find the right people the right roles, so they and DH can succeed. It’s all about attaining that perfect balance.”
View this feature in the Vol. IV 2023 Edition here.
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