The labor market, and the workplace, are facing unprecedented change. While robots and AI are creating these changes, they are also potentially HR’s best friend in coping with change.
Martin Ford’s classic “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” from 2015 is symptomatic for the tone of much public discussion about technology and jobs. Every so often, a globally renowned consultancy publishes research describing the disruptive changes we face in the workplace resulting from new technology. AI and advanced software will transform jobs at a scale we struggle to grasp, and this change affects manual and administrative work as well as knowledge work and complex problem solving.
I agree that “software is eating the world” and that it is poised to change nearly all types of jobs in the coming decades, but I do not share the often pessimistic – perhaps even dystopian – view of the influence of technology. In fact, quite the opposite: I would boldly claim that AI can help HR make our organizations more humane!
Strategic HR challenges
Many companies and industries face problems in the classic HR domain. Key challenges include:
- Can we attract the right people?
- Can we re-skill our staff as business needs change and new skills are needed?
- Are we able to offer individuals meaning and purpose on the job?
- Can we compete with startups when it comes to strong human relationships?
- Are we attractive in the minds of young people?
- Do we have a fluent organization ready for contingent labor and freelancers, and do we have a genuinely healthy and sustainable project management style?
All these HR issues easily qualify as top management concerns, and finding answers is not only the headache of the HR professionals. We must change our organizations profoundly to really cope with these issues. Most likely, our future organizations will become smaller while asked to deliver more – an exponential organization. To meet this challenge, we need to work in a more virtual way, supported by software.
The best way to engage your customers is to talk with them and listen. In sales, marketing, and services, we are working feverishly to have software help us with this dialogue. All the efforts we put into communicating with customers should also be applied to the employee side. We are flexible in securing conversations with customers, as we meet them and listen to them on social media, and we follow them if they want to meet us via another touchpoint or on a new platform. We use heavy analytics to determine their individual preference and facilitate their customer journey. This way of thinking should also come in use in the way organizations interact with potential and current employees. “Think customer” when thinking about your workforce may be the overarching paradigm to be applied in HR. In contrast to “think front soldier,” it is destined to make your organization more humane.
In corporate life, many job functions, policies, processes, and interactions are encapsulated in software-based systems. Currently we see a huge trend toward conversational user interfaces, like chat and voice, easing the conversations between humans and systems. Already, 34,000 chatbots are active on Facebook. It seems logical to use chatbots in the workplace as well, for humans to do their jobs more quickly and with less training, and for employees to engage in conversations with their managers and with HR. Employees would probably prefer to chat their way through handling a travel expense, training options, or similar practical challenges. Chatbots should be AI-equipped to have such conversations intelligently and make the organization more humane.
AI for diversity
Another important workplace challenge is addressing personal bias. The human brain may be wired for creativity and other abstractions, but it is also influenced by experience and therefore prone to make biased decisions. This may lead to lack of workplace diversity and lost potential. In contrast, algorithms have no problem chewing through thousands of resumes, helping you quickly select the top candidates for a position. You can also use software to create non-biased wording in your job advertisement. This is just another example of AI’s potential to make HR and organizations more humane.
Implement with “musicality”
These technologies, used in a short-sighted way and implemented with lack of ‘musicality,’ could destroy more value than they create. The intention must be to use advanced software to create win-win situations for employees, managers, and HR. Otherwise, it will backfire. As Peter Drucker said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. The classic silo organization may face a long journey. To enable an easier, more flexible, and more humane conversation between brands and individuals, the time to start is now.
For more on this topic, see Digital Transformation, Talent-Driven Organizations, And The Future Of Work.