RSS Feed


More Articles: Latest Popular Archives

Chatbots in HR, the realities and opportunities

Alistair Shepherd

Today, chatbots and AI tools, unlike humans, are usually designed to do one type of task, writing our shopping list and ordering food online, automating tedious data analysis or repetitive tasks so we can be more efficient and get on with the work that only a human can do.

But what if it’s one function was to understand people better?

Could a chatbot take on some of the more difficult, empathetic, context specific – human work, like learning and development? Work that requires the type of emotional intelligence that coaches, psychologists and people managers have spent years training to do?

How can a chatbot, an algorithm, ask the right question when even an experienced coach might struggle with how  best to approach a complex problem like the absence of trust in a team?

Two ‘heads’ are better than one
AI can help us take a blend of the best of technology and human judgement to create a more powerful interaction. For example, if a coach can use AI to help diagnose a team’s biggest problem before they even meet the team, they can skip ahead, spend more time on the solution and have a greater impact in a shorter timeframe.

AI can also help a coach or trainer adapt to different perspectives and team styles. Every team is unique, from an executive team in a large corporate, a remote software development team to a team of nurses, the varying contexts means they have different approaches to learning, even if they work within the same business. AI can inform the coach or trainer of what approach works best in each context, and using data can predict performance outcomes before they get started.

This broadens the opportunity for a coach to expand their client base and again maximise their impact.

On the theme of expansion, chatbots and AI also offer a the opportunity to scale learning and coaching to levels that haven’t been achievable in the past. High quality, high impact coaching is expensive and time consuming and therefore often limited to executive teams or big budget business. However there’s a strong case for extending coaching to the whole business. According to The Society for Human Resource Management 70% of employees indicate that job-related training and development opportunities directly influence their decision to stay with a company. So the more on the job training on offer, the easier it is to retain the best talent and reduce unnecessary attrition. Chatbots don’t require the same monetary or time investment as formal training or human coaching and are therefore a more realistic option to offer to the wider business.

While technology is improving rapidly, our productivity is only inching upward. We have more demand on our time, more channels and opportunities to collaborate and an overwhelming number of devices and notifications vying for our attention.

So although it may seem counter intuitive, in today’s world, where our attention span has been reduced to just eight seconds, chatbots can help us adjust our focus with small, timely tips and suggestions.

We often hear from trainers and trainees that while there’s huge amount of value in coaching sessions, it’s difficult to implement what’s been learnt because as soon as the trainees are back at their desks and work gets in the way. According to Josh Bersin, the reality is that we only have time for 24 minutes of learning a week.

So imagine if instead, an AI coach sat in on the session, then next time something that you’d covered came up in day to day work, it gave you a quick reminder of what you’d learned and what to do next. Or, drawing on the data it holds, it offered you context specific mirco-learning, like telling you a little bit more about how the colleagues you’re about to go into a meeting with prefer to communicate, or if being late to the meeting is one of their ‘red buttons’ and is going to start you off on the wrong foot.

This chatbot coaching technology exists and is a supplement, a guide to making human interactions – what really matter, just that little bit more pleasant and effective.

In practise
Teamwork is hard, it’s constantly changing, people leave and join teams, the structure changes along with the problems teams are working to solve. L&D need to be able to react and provide ongoing coaching, because if one thing’s certain it’s that today’s companies have to keep moving and innovating.

An industry we can learn and model ourselves on is healthcare. It’s still early days, but AI has the potential to revolutionise healthcare, in particular mental health. Traditionally, a relationship between a therapist and patient happens behind closed doors, understandably confidential, nobody knows what happens. However this makes it difficult to take action based on the meetings, what worked and what didn’t. AI platform, ‘ieso’, is offering a new approach that uses data to try alternative approaches, based on the patient’s context and previous treatment.

Therefore L&D should see itself as a function that understands employees and provides the right experience to encourage learning and performance improvement in the most relevant ways. We learnt at the last People Development Summit in Barcelona that the appetite is there, L&D are moving in the right direction and we’re looking forward to seeing the evolution towards AI when we go back next year. Companies aware of products that offer the best learning experience will be tomorrow’s stories of success.

Receive more HR related news and content with our monthly Enewsletter (Ebrief)