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Bringing HR and AI together

Human resources is a fundamentally people-driven function – it’s right there in the name, after all. It’s therefore understandable to think of artificial intelligence (AI) as a consideration for other departments. And yet, as understandable as this mindset may be, it’s becoming clear that AI has a place in the future of HR.

Human resources is a fundamentally people-driven function – it’s right there in the name, after all. It’s therefore understandable to think of artificial intelligence (AI) as a consideration for other departments. Contributor Dany Rastelli, Head of Communications, Elements Global Services.

After all, a machine can never replicate the nuance, comfort, and empathy of a person to person relationship: human beings can’t be courted, recruited, onboarded, trained, managed, assessed, and dismissed algorithmically (or, at least, not without considerable problems).

And yet, as understandable as this mindset may be, it’s becoming clear that AI has a place in the future of HR. If departments don’t reconcile themselves to this, they may find themselves behind the pace of change. Businesses and their HR teams must therefore think about how they use AI to structure and navigate work. If you’re running a department, these three areas should be a particular focus if you hope to adapt to the new, technology-driven normal.

Diversity and inclusion
In 2018, HR departments shouldn’t need to be told about the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce. Nonetheless, with recent reports identifying that only 6% of UK managers come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds – and with 29% of black employees believing that discrimination has impeded their career progression – there is clearly work to be done to level the professional playing field.

If nothing else, diversity and inclusion are simply good business sense: having a range of perspectives and experiences to draw from can improve your understanding of customers, your creativity, your brand, and your ability to attract and retain talent.

So, what does this have to do with AI?
It’s quite simple: AI can’t discriminate (unless it’s programmed to). It doesn’t care about gender, experience, race, sexual orientation, or any other biases that may consciously or subconsciously influence a recruitment or HR decision. Machine learning algorithms are already blind-matching the recruitment function with the most suitable candidates in various creative ways.

Consider Unilever, the international consumer goods company. To guard against the inevitability of bias, it has devised an AI system wherein each candidate is tasked with a series of games – their performance judged against an established personality profile. This reorients decision-making around relevant skills, thereby making all candidates equal before the recruiter.

Now, not every recruitment and HR department will have Unilever-level budgets, but there are AI-inspired systems and processes available that can help you iron out the effects of bias on the process of recruiting and managing people. Take advantage of them.

It’s very easy to think of AI as a technology principally focused on job replacement (or theft, if you’re feeling uncharitable). This is overall somewhat short-sighted: the invention of the mechanised loom didn’t cause mass unemployment, even if it did make some roles obsolete.

Nonetheless, technological unemployment is a real phenomenon – even if, as John Maynard Keynes said, it’s a temporary state of ‘maladjustment’ rather than an immutable status quo. The department can’t just think of the myriad process improvements that AI will bring; it must also think of the people. Some of them, inevitably, will be rendered jobless by the advances of this new technology. Wherever possible, this ought to be avoided.

So, a clear operational priority should be identifying which individuals are in the most danger of technological redundancy – and to think about potential other uses for them. Reskilling and retraining opportunities should be made available wherever possible: every employee deserves the chance to flourish emotionally, economically, and intellectually in their work – and few deserve to lose their jobs because their employer didn’t do enough to prepare for new technology.

Consequently, if you run a HR function, there’s a good chance you need a change of mindset: when AI automates processes that were once performed by people, HR must double down on those processes which cannot be performed by machines – lest it become an exclusively administrative function. Personalise the HR function’s offering to the people you have, and you’ll continue to gain maximum value from them even if it’s no longer possible for them to do their original job.

Colleague management systems
Finally, AI won’t replace the need for you to manage your interactions with colleagues in other departments, but it will make doing so easier. For example, frequently asked questions and frequently raised issues can be automatically, technologically handled – freeing up your department’s time and giving you more space to tackle the bigger issues of the day. What’s more, with machine learning, these systems will only get better at dealing with common issues and queries.

That said, it won’t help you solve the bigger issues of the day by itself: HR cannot afford to think about AI purely in terms of efficiency. It is as much about culture and values as it is process improvement, and it must be considered in those terms. If you embrace AI – and you will have to eventually – you must do so holistically, with a view to looking at how it affects your function, and your function’s relationship to the wider business. Bring HR and AI together, and you’ll have a department that’s built for the present and the future.

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