Artificial intelligence gives HR an opportunity to transform the enterprise

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[A special thanks to the co-authors Marissa Gilbert Golub and Bradley Hamilton.]

Technological innovations have impacted almost every aspect of life over the past century. The steam engine and electricity allowed total labor productivity to grow at more than 2 percent per year and the total number of weekly work hours to drop from 60 to 40.

The concept of artificial intelligence is not new but has recently come into view as a technology that is capable of revolutionizing the world and bringing a new industrial revolution. A significant amount of research and discussion among scientists and economists has focused on the critical topic of disruption to labor markets and potential productivity gains from AI.

However, there is a more nuanced picture of the way in which AI will reshape how we work – in many cases augmenting our abilities and supporting organizations to redefine their operating models for improved performance and agility. The role of human resource and talent leaders in pairing humans and machines to this end will be critical to success in the future.

4 steps for HR to support enterprise agility and value from AI

A global study conducted by Accenture Strategy found that 64 percent of executives plan to use AI to automate tasks to a considerable extent in the next three years and 97 percent intend to use AI to enhance worker capabilities. Naturally, human resources is no exception. In a survey done by ServiceNow on 350 HR leaders, 92 percent agree that the future of providing an enhanced level of employee service will include chatbots, and they are already bringing this vision to life by leveraging chatbots for recruiting, employee services, development, and coaching. Moreover, things will not stop there – AI will be infused organically into many of the standard tools and activities employees do every day. The traditional world of work, where people are assigned to jobs that contain tasks, is being inherently disrupted. AI can play a tremendous role in augmenting the capabilities of people and organizations to reinvent work and increase agility.

There are four key areas where human resources leaders will need to focus to get the most value from AI in the future:

1. Look inward

HR organizations need to first focus on internal training to help team members be conversant about the possibilities that AI technologies can bring to talent transformation. Additionally, HR needs to disrupt itself by focusing on the options to leverage AI for its processes – including how to automate and augment more transactional and compliance activities. The right people and skills focused on the HR operating model will set the stage for HR to have expertise in the process and free up team members to focus on the more strategic dimensions of implementing transformational AI capabilities. By transforming the HR business model to focus primarily on roles that humans will play in the organization, employees will become the key value drivers behind organizational success. In fact, 75 percent of business leaders acknowledge that a digitally enabled operating model must be customer centered, in this case, meaning HR personnel.

2. Reimagine the talent lifecycle

Machine learning and AI capabilities can and are reshaping recruiting, learning, performance management, and every other dimension of the l employee experience. Companies are using technologies for a variety of HR tactics, including the minimization of bias in writing position descriptions as well as the development of predictive analytic web-based video interviewing. Beyond talent acquisition, AI can play a role in improving the talent lifecycle in many ways. For example, identifying people with expertise on specific topics within an organization or supporting continuous performance management processes.

3. Help business teams rethink the nature of work

Inertia is typical in organizations, and AI is going to be no exception. Additionally, it is likely that leaders will look at AI as “just another technology” to implement. However, organizations that invest in changing the way that people work and interact with this capability stand to achieve outpaced value creation. This includes breaking down typical end-to-end roles into more segmented groups of activities and then targeting those to the appropriate source of labor – be it human or machine. Alongside this, people need to be skilled in how to use AI to support their work. Emerging tools that relieve people of everyday tasks such as scheduling appointments and booking travel (while still evolving) will benefit from HR’s involvement in adapting organization structure, performance assessment, and job/skill architectures. In practice, this may mean restructuring the HR business model to effectively identify the best opportunities for AI augmentation as well as streamline the interface points of humans and machines. This ties hand in hand with 81% of executives who expect to manage multiple operating models in parallel in the future.

4. Support enterprise reskilling

A rapid deployment of “new skilling” is an essential role of AI to help organizations seize value from AI. While three-quarters of companies are investing in AI, only 26 percent of executives believe their current workforce is ready for AI adoption, and a mere three percent of leaders say they plan to increase investment in training programs for AI. HR should lead the charge in changing this dynamic as well as the approach to re-skilling. Traditionally, learning and development is periodic with scheduled training programs. Through the use of AI, learning and development should reflect the agile model leaders would like to see throughout the rest of their organization: learning and development should be constant and re-skilling rapidly.

Getting started

CHROs and talent leaders have a significant opportunity to help build a future workforce in which humans and intelligent machines work together to improve productivity, innovation and growth. Here’s what they can do to get started:

Create partnerships and experiment

Don’t think that implementing AI right is something to do alone. It takes a broad ecosystem of capabilities and relationships to figure out where to invest and where to get the capabilities. Developing a more comprehensive strategy is essential, but just as critical is building trusted alliances across the enterprise and being willing to test and experiment with concepts to see how they work. This necessary collaboration will bring organizations out of siloes into a truly unified workforce, amplifying the organization’s ability to respond quickly to change. As an example, if new hire onboarding is a challenge for hiring managers, exploring ways to automate or augment the experience with AI can demonstrate how HR can leverage advanced technology to make principal activities easier and more efficient.

Design with the employee in mind

A fundamental activity for “getting it right” with AI will be redesigning the paradigm of employees’ relationships with the business and the nature of work in the future. A new design will determine the priorities for HR in where to invest in changing the talent processes or other nature of work as well as how to shape future learning initiatives. Syncing this new paradigm with business priorities will then enable a holistic approach to AI developed on an intrinsically motivated foundation, a key component of maintaining an agile HR organization. For instance, if organizational agility is a priority, HR can support talent investments and AI tools that assist people to move quickly and freely between projects and automate many processes that may create barriers to workforce agility today.

Prototype, evaluate and scale

A perfect approach or framework does not exist for leveraging AI to drive talent outcomes and organization agility. Leaders will need to be focused and courageous in their approach to prototyping AI solutions where it makes sense. If these new capabilities are put together in an employee-centric model, there is tremendous potential for HR to transform the way that people work and the way that organizations adapt to the future. Not every activity will flourish, but a thoughtful model can setup quick wins that can become more substantial capabilities over time.

Ready or not, AI is already making its way into our organizations and changing the nature of work. Savvy HR and business leaders need to develop a digitally-enabled culture focused on human-machine collaboration. This strategy will help enable HR to be a partner in creating value from the talent transformation by changing the way it works and how it invests to help employees get the most from their work.

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