Time to re-think the impact of HR - Is the end coming??

HR expert Emma El-Karout reflects on how remarkably technology has impacted the way we work.

I wake up to the alarm set by Alexa; I ask her to snooze while I catch up on some news on my Bloomberg app and browse a new article on my HBR app. At 6.00am my Google calendar reminds me of my daughter's after-school birthday party. I arrange with another parent for her pick-up from school directly to the party on Whatsapp, then watch a clip on MentorBox for eight minutes (no time to actually read entire books) before a quick check of my inbox – all of this before I even get out of bed and on a device that's as big as the palm of my hand!

Today we speak about AI as the future of work. Will AI become a part of our lives the same as how mobile technology consumes us today? Does AI mean we will insert microchips in our employees? Surely not! Our concern as an HR community is beyond microchips, it's more along the lines of readiness. We don't think we are ready for this digital challenge; the more so because most of us are aware of the talent gap caused by digitisation. A talent gap within our teams and, most importantly, within HR leadership. But we have a big job to do and we need to plan for the workforce of the future at the same time that we're planning for our own jobs.

The new buzzword

We spend so much time thinking about digitisation in every forum and medium: on the net, in magazines, in conferences, at the board. Digital is the new buzzword. It is high on our CEO's agenda: driving digital transformation, becoming more competitive, and leveraging on digital/AI to deliver increased productivity and performance. On the other hand, our employees expect things to be easier and work better and faster with digitisation similarly to what they experience in their personal life with Alexa, VR, AR, apps, etc. But businesses are not catching up as fast when it comes to employee experience; and this is the danger we experience today. We need to get digital transformation to work for us and improve our people's experience into a smoother, faster, and easier journey. 

Upskilling is catching up with HR leaders; we need to equip ourselves with new skills. Being people oriented preferably with a psychology background is not enough anymore. The core skills needed are more of strategic insight, analytics, data driven approach to HR, commercial acumen, and digital competence.

Our biggest challenge as HR leaders comes from digitisation itself. Digitisation is changing everything in HR, from core functions like hiring, talent development, and performance management. For digital transformation to be truly transformational, it needs to impact organisations internally as much as on the customer facing side. It needs to flow throughout the whole organisation. This starts with effective processes of course, since a broken process operating faster helps nobody.

Learning is vital

Learning has a vital role to play in this. As we introduce change to the way we work, we should encourage behavior change and equip our teams with a new set of HR skills and prepare them to be future fit today.

Transformation in the learning space means a shift in the thinking from targeting ‘learning’ outcome to ‘optimising working’ outcomes. It's all about the business impact and not learning for the sake of learning. The learning model is shifting into providing limitless access to digital resources, thus providing the opportunity to help people be better at their jobs, with on-demand support and immediate access to created resources that link to the work they are doing and the goals of the company. More of a customised search function for organisations with a curated learning content. Digitisation in learning shifts the learning model form push to pull, whereby employees pull the learning as and when needed.

By providing digital resources where we previously ran workshops, employees access the appropriate support they need, when they need it. They can also share tips with other learners, encouraging peer-to-peer transfer of information and learning. Simple, efficient, and relevant.

When people and AI cooperate, they can produce a crazy amount of HR data. When equipped with AI analysis, HR will be able to provide the business with better insight into how to execute and operate. An organisation's success is a measure of how effectively and intelligently it combines people, processes and technology to deliver transformational value at optimised cost.

A knock-on effect of AI is the automation of some back-office HR transaction. This should help us work more efficiently and provide a better employee experience. AI intervention at every touch point of the employee experience cycle, i.e. early shortlisting of talent, applicants' screening, on-boarding procedures, and performance evaluation, can help us streamline these tasks and gain insights into the real performance potential of each candidate and employee. Most importantly, AI eliminates human bias and reduces the time HR professionals spend on administrative tasks, in turn reducing the burden of shared service centers through handling HR transactions and providing answers for routine queries. AI can also measure ROI on learning and development initiatives or new hiring decisions.

Artifcial Intelligence

With the above in mind, AI allows us to focus more on strategic planning at an organisational level as it processes data more quickly and efficiently. We spoke for a long time about managers taking ownership of their people. Now imagine a world were managers can autonomously access their direct reports' information via a chatbot and perform HR business transactions without accessing the core HR application.   

The role of AI within HR is invaluable in supporting smart people analytics to attract and retain top talent. AI enhancing the candidate experience and meeting expectations will help set some organisations apart from all the rest. Consolidating and analysing employees' statements, mood and intentions on social media, along with other available public data, makes it possible to validate the employee experience on a day-to-day basis. That sure gives a new dimension to strategic workforce planning to reduce employee attrition.

We shouldn't underestimate the importance of using quality data into AI. Yet, at the same time, we shouldn't assume that the implemented AI solution will always provide the correct response. We are the ones who need to ensure that the algorithms and logic are accurate to get the best results.

Another area that we see AI assisting us is automating HR processes. HR leader focus will then shift more into the development of real-time dashboards to provide insights to the business and engaging more with their business partners and employees. Time and physical presence are the biggest challenges in today's HR landscape, and AI should solve for that.

Digitisation should not scare HR leaders. HR will always be people-driven. AI is an enabler allowing us to enhance the human experience for both the organisation and the candidate. Increasing speed, quality and efficiency without sacrificing meaningful communication and relationships seem to be the right balance leading to the best possible outcome.

We ask the question again: is the end of HR coming? The answer is, not really, a new way of working is just dawning, one that we need to adapt to and for which we must upskill.

Emma El-Karout, MBA, is an HR expert with with several years of experience as an ExCom-level HR Director. She is also the founder of One Circle, an online platform dedicated to connecting companies with access to a globally available pool of seasoned HR specialists working on-demand.