How HR Can Enable People for the Future of Augmented Work

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer August 10, 2018
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Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace.

​Jeanne Meister believes that HR should take the lead in shepherding artificial intelligence (AI) software into the workplace, transforming the human resources function and enhancing the employee experience.

Meister is the founding partner of Future Workplace, a New York City-based HR executive network and research firm dedicated to the future of learning and working.

Future Workplace has created an online course featuring Hilton, IBM, Intel, GE and others who are using AI and realizing business benefits across the organization. 

She sat down with SHRM Online to discuss why and how CHROs and their teams should start learning about and crafting a strategy for how to best leverage artificial intelligence for HR.

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

SHRM Online: Why should HR pioneer the development of AI strategy in their organizations?

Meister: AI is at the peak of the hype curve right now. A lot of people are talking about it, but there's not a lot of understanding how to really implement and deploy artificial intelligence to enhance people practices in the workplace. And workers are fearful about it when they read about the jobs that will be displaced.

A McKinsey survey of 3,000 business executives across 10 countries and 14 sectors found that few firms have deployed AI. In fact, 41 percent of these business executives admit they have not implemented AI because they are not exactly sure what AI can do for them, how it can help their organization, how they can integrate it into their company or how to assess the return on investment in the technology. In addition, Future Workplace and Oracle partnered on research among 1,320 HR leaders and found only 6 percent of HR leaders actively deploying artificial intelligence in the workplace.

Both research studies point to an education and training issue. This is the moment for HR to take a leadership position. Of all departments, HR should step up and partner with information technology, customer experience, corporate communications and employer branding to develop a strategy for how AI can transform and enhance the employee experience. HR has an opportunity to assume a leadership position by being creative and strategic in using artificial intelligence across the employee life cycle, from sourcing new hires to onboarding, career development and coaching. HR will need to communicate and overcommunicate the reskilling commitment the company needs to make as AI is integrated into the workplace and at-risk jobs are automated.

As the focus of artificial intelligence pivots from automating a job role to understanding how to augment and upskill the role, the key will be to develop a strategy for how to best leverage AI across the people practices of an organization.

SHRM Online: How can HR educate the rest of the organization on the opportunities and challenges of using AI?

Meister: First, don't be afraid—be curious. There is already so much AI out there that HR leaders and their teams could start using to help the function work smarter and improve productivity. Consider products that will help you better understand how AI can improve your personal productivity and impact finding top talent for your company.

Second, be very clear about what business problem you think you can solve using AI technology. Is it to hire top talent faster? Is it to increase the diversity of new hires? Is it to offer personalized learning?

Third, start collecting data on the business problem to be solved using AI in the workplace, and develop a business plan based on that data. Pull in a coalition of stakeholders from a variety of titles, levels, expertise and geographies to develop a shared vision for delivering business results using AI.

HR will need to educate the stakeholders to create a shared vision on how to pilot some proof of concepts to solve the business problems that have been identified. The temptation is to get excited about the shiny new toy, but changes should be focused on helping move the business forward.  

Transparency is key. Make sure employees understand the benefits of AI and don't fear its ability to make certain tasks superfluous. In addition to the growing importance of communications on why and how the organization will leverage artificial intelligence at work, HR leaders must also be vigilant to deep-seated employee fears—namely fear of job loss and an uneasiness in learning new skills that workers need to overcome—to be able to truly embrace these new technologies.

A key finding from the McKinsey survey of early adopter companies using AI was the focus on using AI for growth and transformation initiatives and not solely on automation and cost savings.

SHRM Online: How can AI improve the employee experience?

Meister: AI has the potential to offer personalization at scale, beginning with the hiring and onboarding processes. The first area we are seeing early traction in using artificial intelligence is in screening and interviewing new hires. Hilton is one example of being an early adopter in using artificial intelligence to shorten the length of time to fill job openings. And their results are impressive. After implementing AI on their career site and using an AI-powered video platform to conduct interviews for high-volume jobs, Hilton was able to increase the speed to hire by 85 percent and over time has seen a greater concentration of high performers in their candidate pool.

We're also beginning to see AI solutions that offer personalization of learning—a Netflix-like learning experience for employees. Learning is moving from one-size-fits-all libraries to personalized pathways, along with recommendations from peers on relevant learning solutions.

One of the areas HR is struggling with is how to offer internal mobility to employees. As employees stay in their roles longer, companies are looking for easy ways provide employees with recommendations for new job roles to pursue within the company and the relevant training needed for these. Artificial-intelligence-powered platforms are being explored as the optimal solution for internal talent mobility. 

SHRM Online: Will AI predict which employees are most likely to leave?

Meister: Yes. Companies like IBM have come up with proactive retention programs, which analyze the relative importance of several employee risk factors, such as location, compensation, job role, employee engagement sentiment and even manager engagement, at the aggregate level for specific job roles.

The technology will predict how likely an individual is to leave the organization. Then it's the job of the people analytics team to identify employee groups in key job roles at risk of finding new opportunities outside of the company and to propose a program of manager intervention to prevent departures. 

At-risk employees could be concerned with compensation or career development. The key to the program at IBM has been not only the calculation of employee retention risk but the

creation of a playbook for managers to use with potential high-risk employees for engaging them in mentoring sessions or continuing learning and development opportunities.

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