As the nature of work transforms with the deep technological infiltration, the boundaries between human and machine workforce are fast blurring. Emerging technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, internet of things, robotics etc. are highlighting two sides of this coin. On one hand, predictions are being made about human jobs becoming redundant due to widespread automation. On the other hand, there’s a focus on human roles that will become important with uniquely human skills that leverage problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.
“Nearly all occupations will be affected by automation, but only about 5 percent of occupations could be fully automated by currently demonstrated technologies,” a McKinsey report noted. Amidst this to-and-fro, HR must proactively prepare for a hybrid future of work to enable man and machine to co-work towards efficient and effective business outcomes.
HR arenas impacted by the rise of AI
A look at various employee touch-points shows a new era of work where employees are tech-savvy and await a digital-first experience. AI has amazing potential to create an impact here:
• Employee Engagement: Sentiment analytics has the potential to understand the true pulse of the employees. Earlier a powerful tool used for marketing segmentation, organizations have realized its value as senti-meters to listen and learn about their diverse employee groups. The insights can be used to curate a hyper-personalized employee experience. Breakthroughs in computer vision, natural language processing, and complex games can build employee engagement systems centred on employee recognition, social networking, and collaborative working, through discussion rooms and breakouts.
• Recruiting and Onboarding : The right blend of AI plus human experience will enhance the candidate experience and build a great employer brand. AI-led intelligent applicant tracking systems are a must to carry out volume-intensive recruiter-activities such as CV screening, interview scheduling and open communication with potential employees. According to research, talent acquisition is an area where companies see significant, measurable, and immediate results in reducing time-to-hire, increasing productivity for recruiters, and delivering an enhanced candidate experience that is seamless, simple, and intuitive. Onboarding technology is another extension of this. AI tools can make one of the most time-consuming tasks in HR into a faster and more accurate process, thereby driving employee stickiness.
• Performance Management: Right from goals setting and management, to employee evaluations, to performance assessments, performance management process must be designed to be objective and aligned with business goals. HR must design an AI-driven PMS that invites collaboration from all stakeholders. For example, continuous feedback mechanisms and 360 degrees feedback loops with the right notifications and intelligently linked with manager-outcomes can help set up people for high performance.
• Total Rewards : Employees today want choice in every aspect of their work-life. This means that they must also be able to selectively choose the benefits that suit them from a readily available “basket of benefits”. An AI-based digital rewards platform where employees have individual sign-ons, can suggest suitable benefits to employees as per factors such as life stage, past behaviours, lifestyle preferences etc. Employees have the power of choice.
• HR Ops: Many administrative HR activities such as payroll and benefits administration, time and expense management, invoicing, business commute monitoring, customizable workflows, configurable policies etc. are best enabled through AI-driven tools. The idea is to streamline the repetitive tasks to enable human workers to focus on value-adding work.
• Learning and Development: As AI takes over the mundane tasks, insights related to human behaviour will become a paramount data input for AI systems. Unique human skills will be in demand in the future. For example, a new role i.e. Head of Business Behaviour will analyse employee behavioural data such as performance, personal, environmental data to help improve the employee experience, cross-company collaboration, productivity and employee well-being. Similarly, the Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer may focus on developing strategies to use technology in an ethical and humane way. HR leaders need to start thinking about what new jobs will arise and how they can build new capabilities through a future-forward L&D strategy.
We can see a number of employee touchpoints going high-tech, but HR must remember not to completely eradicate the high-touch element.
How to sustain AI-led change
AI will gradually become a game-changer. According to a McKinsey survey , the limitations of AI are partly technical, such as the need for massive training data and difficulties “generalizing” algorithms across use cases. But an overarching challenge is the ability of organizations to adopt AI technologies, where people, data availability, technology, and process readiness often make it difficult to truly imbibe digital.
“Technology changes quickly, but organizations change much more slowly,” said George Westerman in his article on digital innovation. For sustained change, leaders must envisage their people strategy basis a AI-heavy workforce. They must proactively identify the use-cases to optimize and enhance people processes.
Parallelly, organizations must upskill and reskill the workforce for performing well in a digital-first environment. This starts with a top-down approach; the CXO suite must drive a culture of digital-enablement and digital-empowerment by talking the digital language in business. This will help organizations embrace AI as an intrinsic element and get employees to thrive in this change.