Learn to Love AI and All Its Disruptions

The technology of today is transforming the workplaces of tomorrow, says Jeanne Meister, founding partner of HR advisory and research firm Future Workplace.

From chatbots to digital assistants, AI is disrupting every aspect of how we work. Many of the changes AI is ushering in will transform how HR recruits and engages with employees, and will even alter the basic composition of the ideal HR leader, Meister says. In The Future Workplace Experience, Meister and co-author Kevin Mulcahy laid out a roadmap for how HR professionals can embrace AI and automation to foster success in themselves, their employees and their organizations.

Meister will delve into this topic again at HRE’s HR Technology Conference & Exposition® in September when she moderates “How HR Leaders Are Using AI to Transform the Employee Experience.” The panel discussion will feature best practices by HR leaders who have adopted AI solutions, and who can offer a forecast on how AI is primed to disrupt and revolutionize the future of the workplace.

Meister sat down with HRE to discuss what HR leaders should be doing now to get ready for these transformations.

What is your response to the doomsday predictions that automation is going to take over the workforce and eliminate scores of jobs?

I believe the opposite is true. We have to develop an awareness and strategy around how AI will complement and augment many different job roles. There were doomsday predictions that many jobs will be automated away but the more recent predictions–I’m thinking of McKinsey–said that 60 percent of all jobs will have at least 30 percent of their activities that will be automated; the issue isn’t that jobs will go away, but rather, how we work will change, and some percentage of our activities will be automated.

That really puts a focus for HR departments on looking at which roles these are and what their strategy is for upskilling. Somewhere between 75 million and 370 million people may need to switch jobs by 2030 due to automation, but upskilling is the right focus–whole categories of jobs will not totally go away. Some are at greater risk than others but we can get caught in the hysteria while the real issue is how we use AI to complement and augment our work.

How do you think HR leaders can effectively communicate that message to their employees?

Transparency is incredibly important. Employees are also reading these doomsday predictions and they’re concerned. In our research, when we asked, “How do you personally feel about how AI will impact the future of your work?” 25 percent of employees were scared. I think, ultimately, that concern can impact productivity. However, Accenture’s recent research, Reworking the Revolution, found that 62 percent of employees believe using intelligent technology will enhance their jobs. They’re wanting to use intelligent tech at work but only 3 percent of executives say they’re really investing in training employees to do this. The most telling number is that, by 2022–which isn’t that far away–one in five workers will have a digital assistant as a co-worker.

The issue is, are we training our employees to understand how to work side-by-side with a digital assistant, and are we being transparent about it? Research has found that, when HR leaders think about AI’s impact on the organization in the future, they focus on improving efficiency, cost savings and making faster decisions. There’s a big gap here because we need to focus instead on how to complement and augment the human capabilities we have on our teams. HR leaders have to deal with the perception of AI in the workplace and how it will impact the team.

What is the best way to integrate human and artificial intelligence in the workplace?

HR leaders need to develop a plan looking at their own organization. They often forget their own team can

Jeanne Meister, founding partner of HR advisory and research firm Future Workplace

be a model. Look at key job roles and what activities are ripe for total automation. Then look at ways a bot or digital assistant can complement or augment the experience, either with a customer or a candidate, and what processes will need to be changed to make that happen. Before you even get to transparency with employees, you have to have a shared vision and point of view across the organization around how AI will impact key job roles and what you’re going to do about that. It’s not just an HR call to action. This is a moment in time when HR can be a leader on the conversation and pull key stakeholders together–functions like customer experience, marketing, IT and communication–and develop a shared vision and strategy on upskilling. It requires shared thinking and it’s a huge initiative that HR cannot and should not do alone.

What will this integration of human and artificial intelligence mean for the skill sets future HR leaders will need?

There will be a changing composition of the HR team; I think it will be fairly common to have a lot more computer and data scientists on your HR team than ever before. There are some HR skills that will always be important, such as change management. [Adopting AI] is a massive change-management initiative, and HR needs to understand the changes that are coming and what they can do about it. Critical thinking and systems thinking also speak to how an HR leader can start this conversation about how AI is impacting the workplace and how a company can start developing a shared strategy. There are also some new job roles that I see [because of AI], such as a human and machine manager, who can help train the AI and continuously update the data the AI solution has so the organization can be transparent about how they’re making decisions.

How can HR upskill team members on how AI will impact HR?

Future Workplace has created a five-week online course powered by NovoED, a MOOC [massive open online course] social-learning platform titled “Using AI 4 HR to Enhance the Employee Experience.” The online course was designed by and for a board of advisors of HR leaders and includes 12 case studies of how companies are using artificial intelligence to transform and enhance recruiting, new-hire onboarding, internal talent mobility, career development, performance management and coaching. During the five weeks, learners work in teams and complete an Action Plan educating their stakeholders on how the organization can leverage artificial intelligence for HR. Those who complete the program receive a digital badge shareable on social media.

How does AI help link the candidate experience and the customer experience?

One firm, Amaya, says you can automate up to 75 percent of recruiting communication with a candidate; [AI] can source candidates, talk to them, give updates on the status of their application, set up an interview and issue a Net Promoter Score. At some point, you have to personalize it but, from the point of view of a new hire–specifically millennials–this is a huge improvement in the candidate experience. The one thing candidates often complain about is the big, black hole they put their application materials into, and they may never hear back–or, if they do, it’s a long time later. Millennials expect immediacy and speed. This is a huge improvement. There is research that 41 percent of candidates who had a negative experience with a company would take their product purchases elsewhere. That means a loss of revenue for a consumer-based business. But on the other hand, 64 percent who say they had a great candidate experience are very likely to pursue that brand from a consumer point of view. There’s a connection here. It speaks to everyone, but I think it really has the most impact on millennials, who are moving more than boomers or Gen Xers and are in that recruiting phase more often.

What is the single biggest technology disrupting HR?

I think the biggest disruption is using predictive analytics for HR. I had a great example in The Future Workplace Experience about IBM, which used Watson for predictive retention. It was really looking at key criteria such as your role and your tenure within your organization, your geography and a number of other “risk” factors. With the engagement of your manager, this data can identify the employees most at risk of leaving the organization and identify what HR could do about this. There are a number of [companies] using analytics and machine learning to calculate employee-retention risk. In an era of such low unemployment, where there is a real need to tap and identify talent and keep the high-performing talent you have, I think this is one of the most important applications. HR can follow this up with giving the manager assistance on how to keep this high-potential person from leaving, which is key. We need to get to them before they leave the organization with a solution and a proposal to stay.


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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.