Technology has been changing the course of human history for millennia. However, we are at that point where the scale and speed of technology adoption is at a pace never before seen. Entire teams and skill sets can be made redundant in a short period of time as this adoption takes root. For e.g. the Settlement team in a bank can be made irrelevant if Blockchain is used to make this process happen. Similarly, learning to drive may become unnecessary, as aggregators provide transportation services more efficiently and at lower costs, and as the era of driverless cars becomes a reality. Also, the implications of machines that have the ability to learn and potentially exercise judgment, a hitherto "human only" ability, vs. those that followed instructions, is bringing science fiction to life.
What does all this mean for the HR Function?
A few thoughts come to mind. As some of the new technologies become more pervasive, organizational and workforce structures are bound to change. Many jobs at the bottom of the pyramid are being replaced by more efficient bots and this cognitive re-apportionment could mean managers handling teams comprising both human and machine intelligence. Further, there will be a higher prevalence of more flexible workforce models and utilizing skill sets within an extended ecosystem, rather than attempting to develop all skills in house. Readying managers to operate within these new structures, getting them to see the possibilities apart from the drawbacks, and helping them develop new managerial capabilities will be a key ask from HR.
Reskilling will be required across the entire organization. The extent will vary across sectors, however, there is no question that other than digital adeptness, employees will need to learn newer skills to stay relevant. Gauging the learnability quotient of different employees, investing in the right reskilling programs and facilitating redeployment to new roles will be needed. And despite all efforts, redundancies and job losses will need to be dealt with. This is not a new challenge for HR, but the function will be called upon to a greater extent to look at innovative and humane approaches of managing talent and skills in a way that's more flexible and in line with evolving business needs.
Ultimately, technology will also require HR to look inward – "physician, heal thyself". While the function's predominant role is to help the organization adapt to the impact of technology, there is also the dimension of how the function itself will evolve.
Artificial Intelligence (Assisted and Augmented) can enable HR to make far better decisions. Algorithms can help with accurate and targeted segmentation of employee groups, and understanding drivers for each can lead to customized approaches for each. This will bring down overall cost per employee while moving up engagement levels. Autonomous AI can be used to monitor and take appropriate actions on content in employee social media sites, both within and outside the organization, thus helping with employer branding. All through the employee lifecycle, advanced analytics can help identify skills and people who are likely to succeed, and bring down costs and timelines while doing so.
Technology can be seen as a disruptor for organizations and for the workforce, but if managed properly, presents tremendous opportunities. The HR function has an important role to play as a custodian of how an organization makes this transition. Even as businesses look at leveraging the opportunities presented to reach customers, transform business models and optimize costs, HR needs to look at every aspect of readying the organization for this change, even as it embraces opportunity to transform the function from within.