CHRO dinner explores the integration between man and machine


CHRO Dinner discusses how AI and machine learning is fast becoming a reality in performance management.

On 17 August, leading HR executives gathered in a private room at The Saxon Hotel, Villa and Spa to discuss the changing face of performance management in the age of AI over a mouth-watering three course dinner.

The evening, which was hosted in partnership with Workday, started with an ice breaker where all attendees had to complete the sentence: ‘What most people don’t know about me is…’

One executive revealed that in her spare time she’s a dancer, while another shared that their side hustle is being a superbike racer who occasionally graces the Kyalami racing tracks to partake in competition. Another also admitted to being a bit of a speed freak who often got in trouble with the law for driving at ‘ridiculous speeds’ on national roads.

Another revealed they have a great love for outdoor sport such as cross-country marathons, cycling and are an avid participator in competitions such as the Cape Argus, while another shared how they are a qualified chef who never actually used the qualification.

AI and performance management

Delving deep into the topic at hand, attendees shared their thoughts on how their respective organisations are grappling with the challenges and opportunities brought about by the rise of AI.

One executive highlighted that in 2018 she did her MBA thesis on areas of HR that will be disrupted by digital transformation, and now all that is a reality, “What we found in the performance management space, is that the major disruption is that in the linear process before one had tech and systems, humans did the entire process. So in a 10-step process, one had a human start and a human end, so you could hold those humans accountable for the output. This disruption, where robotics and AI are doing some of the steps in the process, raises the question as to how one would manage this, from a performance perspective, with a hybrid evaluation of the machines’ performance vs. the humans’ performance.”

An exec who is in the automobile industry said this is their new reality in the assembly line. “We implemented AI projects into our systems in order to drive efficiency. So the impact was more on the human factor, where we are obviously more efficient, but now the big challenge for us now is not on performance management, but rather to start thinking around how we do proper workforce planning and how we do that proactively, because AI is here to stay. But we also need to not forget the human element, and there are unintended consequences.”

She, through her experience of implementing these projects, advised the others that a sure way to navigate this transformation and disruption is to be part of the conversation – before, during and after the implementation, to ensure the human element is not forgotten.

Facing the emerging realities

The notion that machines are taking over is not a pipedream, said one executive. “Of course, there are some skill sets that need human intervention, but what I am finding is that one has to make a social call on whether the organisation drives employment for the sake of employment, or drives the bottom line and invests in other things such as technology.”

Another HR executive agreed, noting that one needs to be conscious and deliberate about the matter: “My challenge is how we find that balance when AI can do most of their work. In our research industry, we are finding that the younger generation is over-relying on AI. As such, they are not developing their capabilities in researching, time management, resilience, problem-solving and simple attention to detail.”

This poses the question: does one measure output when people are using ChatGPT to do their work? “Especially with IT skills, [we’re seeing] people asking for salary increases, but all their code is generated by AI.”

With a different view, a CHRO said she feels that AI is impacting the performance of the business, but not necessarily performance management. “Our business is still very much a person-to-person business. The human touch is vital to a lot of what we do, and thus we look at performance the same way. Our business model is about who gets to the client first and who is quickest in being able to resolve the issue that the client has – and AI can go a long way towards achieving that.”

Finding common ground

After much robust discussion, guests all agreed that there needs to be a partnership between technology and humanity. “Whether you want it or not, AI is here. It won’t take away jobs, but those who leverage it will perform better,” one said.

An HR executive from the FMCG sector highlighted that CHROs need to be careful not to latch onto trends without asking fundamental questions about what it’s all about. “Instead of understanding the business first and figuring out a strategy that works for the business trend, we tend to go to conferences and try to bring those learnings into the workplace.”

In his opinion, AI is just part of technology – not as a standalone factor, similar to when automation came about.

“In my sector, we work with tangible inputs and outputs, whereas in the banking sector, things are more intangible. When it comes to performance management, it’s horses for courses. For us, it was about instilling discipline to ensure that people understand the importance and value of the scorecard, so we spend a lot of time and resources on training and getting buy-in from the leaders.”

Those in the room agreed that there is no silver bullet to merging the people’s agenda and technology, but what can be done is to get the people buy-in on the digital transformation journey.

“For now the bigger topic is more about managing people’s expectations and attitudes towards AI and not necessarily about managing their performances as yet.”

Those attending the CHRO Dinner were:

  • Anastasia Sodalay, managing executive – human resources, Premier Group
  • Diana Forsyth-Pegg, customer base account executive, Workday
  • Jabu Mahange, group HR executive, Famous Brands
  • Juliet Mhango, CHRO, Avacare Health Group
  • Kgaogelo Letsebe, senior writer, CHRO SA
  • Kyle Chetty, executive HR and culture, Autoboys
  • Michele Seroke, CHRO, Motus
  • Nametsegang Maruping, HR director, Webber Wentzel
  • Siphiwe Ngubane, business development manager, Workday
  • Sungula Nkabinde, community manager, CHRO SA
  • Tshephisho Tabane, group HR executive, Clientele
  • Vinolia Singh, chief people officer, Adcorp

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