There is no shortage of media attention given to the topic of artificial intelligence and the impact of automation on job prospects in the future. In fact, a recent study by Forrester suggests that we can expect 10 percent of U.S. jobs to be lost to automation in 2019. McKinsey suggests by 2030 that number will balloon to 800 million people. If HR executives are not proactive, they are likely to find themselves included in those statistics.
It seems as if Kodak and Blockbuster take the brunt of the criticism associated with companies who missed opportunities to transform themselves–and subsequently survive in the new digital age. So how does the HR function avoid a similar fate? By embracing the idea that aggressive self-disruption will lead to long-term sustainability. This is hardly a simple task considering the pace of technological change, the shifting demographics of the workforce across the planet, evolving social norms and complex economic interdependencies. However, this transformation is no longer optional, but mandatory to survive and thrive in the modern corporate landscape.
But transforming to stay at the top of the corporate ladder–as was the situation with both Kodak and Blockbuster–is not the case when it comes to HR departments. Here is the harsh reality: HR was never really in the driver’s seat to begin with. Many in the media wondered “Where was HR?” as the #MeToo movement gained momentum in 2018. But HR has never been in a position of formal control over executives, managers or even front-line employees. HR’s proverbial quest for a “seat at the table” should have been abandoned years ago in favor of a new set of priorities that truly enable them to be influential and impactful. With their unique position of intimate involvement in every department across an organization, human resources can be a true business leader–but this requires an internal transformation first.
The answer lies in adopting and incorporating the right technology–one that acts as a partner for executing successful HR programs and tactics. From there, HR professionals can prime themselves to be prepared for–and occasionally predict–these disruptions, both within and outside their own departments. Here are three ways HR can start to disrupt itself accordingly:
The modern HR department provides administrative support to organizations in the form of payroll, benefits, compliance with company policies, recruitment needs, performance management and employee development. As highlighted earlier, jobs that can be automated will be–and the majority of these aforementioned transactional functions of HR will eventually succumb to technology and outsourcing. It is time to stop holding on to antiquated assignments and instead, start embracing AI and automated systems that will free up time for higher value priorities. If implemented successfully, these technologies can be vital partners that help propel traditional corporate functions into the modern age. If HR does not have a well-defined strategy that blends the business, technology and people-related aspects of the organization, they will continue to find themselves taking marching orders from someone else, rather than contributing in a way that can be impactful to the business.
Most HR professionals spend 30-40 percent of their time on administrative, transactional tasks. But if those have been automated, that frees up a significant amount of time–the most valuable commodity on the planet. So how should that newfound time be spent? Becoming an expert on the business. With this new schedule flexibility, executives can learn the nuances and dynamics of the industry, the competition, the business model, the strategy, the challenges and the opportunities. All this expertise will put these executives top of mind when it comes to driving important business objectives. And the beauty of this is that the best way to do this is to spend time talking with people in the different functional groups of the company. As near-professional conversationalists, this task hardly seems like a stretch for HR practitioners.
As mentioned previously, traditionally, HR departments are generally not able to exert formal power over the workforce–but the one aspect of HR that all other corporate functions remain jealous of is the department’s access to data. The value of people-related data, when combined with financial and operational data, will increase exponentially in the next decade as organizations look for opportunities to adapt quickly to an ever-changing environment, one that is increasingly putting employees and customers first. As technology becomes ubiquitous–and therefore a commodity–many companies are beginning to realize that their most valuable differentiator is their people. So, leveraging technology to access, aggregate and assimilate data into improved decision-making capabilities will transform HR’s role from compliance to consulting. In addition, this will highlight opportunities to improve the performance and productivity of people, overall helping the company reach peak performance objectives.
By following these three steps, HR departments will be well on their way to a digital transformation and to becoming key business consultants enterprise-wide. However, just focusing on one of the above will not be enough–rather, each aspect should be viewed as parts of whole that, when compiled together, can help to drive successful digital transformation. Face it, the pace of change will never be slower than it is right now, making it a crucial time to put the wheels in motion. Technology will play a central role in the disruption of HR, as AI and automation will remove the transactional burden of business while at the same time providing access to a deluge of people-related data. But that data needs to be in context to be valuable, hence the need to become genuine experts in the business itself.
Virtually every industry on the planet is experiencing significant change requiring us to reimagine the workplace, making HR’s transformation vital. If these new priorities are embraced, HR has the potential to become change agents versus the undercover agents they are perceived to be today.