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HR's Vital Role in 'the Most Important Tech Innovation in 50 Years'

visualization of generative AI withtwo people meeting and an overlay of numbers and figures

C-suite leaders may have gotten by in recent years with a simple understanding of the basics of artificial intelligence. But this year's explosion in generative AI makes in-depth knowledge of the topic a must-have for any leader.

"Generative AI absolutely is … the biggest innovation in tech in the past 50 years," said Jacqui Canney, chief people officer at ServiceNow, a California-based IT systems provider with 20,000 employees. "It's part of every conversation I'm in, whether it's at the board table, the executive table or the CHRO table. We're all talking about it and learning and experimenting."

As a software company, ServiceNow is working to embed generative AI deep into all workflows on its customer platforms. Those efforts to boost customer productivity are also paying dividends, as ServiceNow uses its generative AI innovations to improve its own employee and applicant experience, Canney said during the recent edition of the SHRM Executive Network's People + Strategy podcast.

When it comes to using generative AI for its internal HR systems, Canney said, "It's about creating time. It's creating smarter decisions. It's about putting relief into time so that we can have more intelligent productivity, not just productivity, by moving faster, by giving more personalized experiences."

For example, Canney said ServiceNow worked with its internal HR, CIO and product teams to create a suite of software products called Employee Growth and Development. "You can look at [employees'] skills, and using AI and machine learning be able to say, 'Here's how someone's skills are progressing. Here's the learning that they probably could take or grow from. Here's the experiences they could get. And then this is how they're going to be able to grow in their career through their development plans.' And it's all in this one single platform. That's the tech catching up with what I believe human resources has been trying to do for a long time. And it's pretty cool to see it in action inside our own company."

In response to the potential risks of unbridled AI, lawmakers and regulators have stepped forward in recent months to pump the brakes on this technology. The EEOC, for example, warned companies to prevent implicit bias from leaking into its AI-inspired recruiting and hiring tools.

"This is the part where I think humanity and trust has to be part of how you are using AI in your company," said Canney. "In our company, we have a group of us that are focused on that, so that we are still maintaining our values and … making sure that [AI] isn't violating anything that we would be not proud of here but using it in a way that is augmenting what we are proud of."

In the end, said Canney, HR leaders need to lead the way in their organization's responsible use of AI.

"You can't release AI into your company and into the world without having a caretaker of the AI. And my team takes that very seriously, particularly as it relates to our human resource area," said Canney.

More Takeaways from Jacquie Canney in the People + Strategy podcast:

Remote, hybrid or in-office: Employers 'have to earn the commute.' "At ServiceNow, we have personas that our people aligned to with their managers. You can be a flexible employee, which means you're in the office one to three days a week—preferably we try to center on two. Or you're a remote employee and you were probably hired in a role that you can work from home all the time. Or you're an employee that comes to the office all the time.

"Globally, we have more than 90 percent of our people in that flexible category. If somebody's in a persona that doesn't work for them or their job has shifted, we have these open conversations that move people between those personas. So far, that's been working for us. I'm in New York, and I take personal responsibility to help lead this office so that there are moments that matter that bring people into the office, whether it's social events, learning opportunities, community events or philanthropic events. We build a programming around that. We believe that we have to earn the commute. It's not just telling people that they have to come in."

What's the best path to the C-suite? Regarding whether HR professionals who want to reach the C-suite should stick with their current employer or job hop their way to the top: "I think you need to be constantly asking yourself, 'Are you growing and are you learning?' Start with 'Do your values align with the company?' And if you're growing in your learning and your values align with the company, you can stay and have an amazing long run like I did at Accenture [where she worked for 25 years]. … I could see why people are thinking about, 'Do I have to keep moving to jump to the C-suite?' I don't think you do if you're in the right place, but you should take a risk at the time when you're ready for it."



​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.