FROM HUMAN VS MACHINE TO DREAM TEAM – Roundtable Report
31 July 2018 London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.
Mark Jones, New Business Sales Manager – NGA HR UK&I
Annette Capper, Head of HR Strategy – Veolia Environmental Services Plc
Claire Douglas, Head of Occupational Health & Wellbeing – SCS Railways
Vanessa Birchall-Scott, Director of HR – Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
Jan Hawkes, OD Strategy Manager & Commissioning Manager – Kent County Council
Lorenzo Chiozzi, Head of People and Performance – London Early Years Foundation
Jackie Tullett, HR SVP/Director – Talent, Change and Digital HR – Previously Northgate Plc
Daniel Kasmir, Chief Human Resource Officer – NGA HR UK&I
Martin Kirke, Group HR Director – Post Office
Stephanie Idusogie, HR Business Partner – Interserve Support Services
Tracy Noble, Head of HR UK – Alliance Automotive Group
Jane Williams, Director – People Innovation Ltd
Sarah Winkley, Deputy Head of Capabilities – Home Office
Matthew Collington, People Director – Previously Simply Health
Victoria Gentry, HR Business Specialist – Atlas Copco
What have been the discussions in your organisations surrounding the changing workplace framework and increasing digital influence, and do you invest in maintaining the human balance or are you considering what that investment might be?
Martin Kirke: For Post Office, from an HR point of view, there’s a huge emphasis in terms of recruiting important digital skills, but also we have to bring the whole workforce with us, both in the sense of engaging in this change and investing in their skills, to achieve a much better all-round experience and service, strengthening connections and adapting to customer needs.
Claire Douglas: In the construction world, advances in technology are seen in various tasks and it’s great that so many of these processes are now automated as it reduces the risk to health. There are, as ever pros and cons: but it’s been of enormous benefit for health & safety and work/life balance too. One of the key things that can prevent this is line managers not trusting their staff, it’s a traditional world that measures attendance over output, but that will change in time.
Jane Williams: I spent quite a bit of time in the mobile telecoms industry and it was obvious during that period that it was moving to remote working – virtual teams hot-desking. But in more traditional organisations it’s catch-up time – outmoded working practices and a huge legacy in those industries to be overcome. It’s a real challenge, in some industries – there are those who cannot see or understand the opportunity that AI promises.
Stephanie Idusogie: In eight years, Interserve has gone from 50,000 to 80,000 employees – a very high percentage of our workforce are frontline, minimum wage employees, and remote working is established and smartphones, smart ways of working and constantly promoting new innovation is part of the culture.
Claire Douglas: Just to make a point about people working fewer hours with flexible working, that isn’t necessarily the case. You can have teams losing that feel of being a team if you don’t make sure that you have core days when everybody comes together. It really has to be well managed.
Annette Capper: The biggest challenge that we’ve faced is the way in which we communicate. We’ve really worked Veolia’s digital employer brand and the streams that we use to communicate with all of those groups, and developing content for our Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Communication is a journey that will continue to be our biggest challenge as we work across many sectors and have a vast range of stakeholders.
Victoria Gentry: Likewise, we’re using lots of technology in service engineering. We have technology that’s on our compressors that feeds back to them and tells them what the problems are. So, before they even arrive on site, they know what the issues are. We’re also using augmented reality, so when engineers are on-site, they have headsets that enable them to see a component of a machine and they can compare it with the reality of what they’re working on which aids in the diagnostics and implementation.
Matthew Collington: We’re going through a new revolution in terms of how tech is operating. Historically, you look at when an industrial revolution takes place, the conditions for the workers worsen for the short to medium term. The thinking is, that we arrive at a point where instead of tech disabling and dehumanising, it enables us again, but how far off is that? Are the people who are in control of tech organisations “human enough” to want to exploit the people benefits?
Jane Williams: Amazon, for example, is driven by technology, not by people. Talk with a manager about their concerns and the response may well be “What are my costs per square metre”? Similarly look at the really new factories, they just have one or two people to run them per shift – that’s a major change which reduces the need to be employeecentric in some ways.
Daniel Kasmir: I don’t think we have the luxury for “what ifs”, the revolution is already here. Buy a pair of Levis, and the chances are that no human has touched them. Look at Ocado’s depot – robot vehicles moving products around, without any people in the scene – there are even robo-carers in the care system and we’re at the dawn of the autonomous cars. Every single aspect of how we work and live our lives will be changed and impacted by AI. Flexible working is important, but jobs are going to start to disappear in every sector and societally, we’re not ready for it. We haven’t figured that out, we need to gear up for it.
Jan Hawkes: We have to look at multi-agency, how we work with our partners, and how we link up our services with partner agencies, in order to assign the right care package, in the most efficient and effective way – thereby, freeing up hospital beds as early as possible – where a care package or care home placement is required. It’s all about how we collaborate, connect and communicate more smartly, using technology as much as possible to speed up the process, but also to align services.
Vanessa Birchall-Scott: Our staff are multidisciplined; medics, pharmacists and scientists and we have to keep them ahead of the game with IT, just as they do with advances in; research, medicines, medical products and even medical Apps now. We clearly need to take our staff with us, as there is the potential for AI that can select the critical information from scientific notes to the same accuracy as a person; but of course the software has to be designed and there has to be governance processes. The tiniest fault in software can lead to significant risk.
Jackie Tullett: Up-skilling and enablement is critical, and organisations are struggling – it’s hard to define with great certainty the skills and capabilities they need for the future. Concurrently, responsibility for re-skilling is also a challenge. Some jobs will go entirely, but some will morph. Companies will probably help people update their skills in-role, but what about roles and whole sectors where skills have become obsolete? What role does Government play? The STEM debate has highlighted that education isn’t driving the right workforce skills.
Daniel Kasmir: We cannot continue to bludgeon the workforce with processes which are 20 years out of date. Employee engagement might have been the buzzword for HR five years ago, but now businesses need to have established the new staples of a modern workplace such as; gamification, predictive analytics – using data much more readily to determine recruitment and performance – such capability is not a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity. How Amazon interacts with us, that’s our challenge as employers, to replicate that in the workforce.
Mark Jones: Most employers have the appetite to reduce manual tasks, to streamline end-to-end. But from what people have said, clearly there’s friction in the changeover and frankly, that’s not a surprise when you consider what that entails. It’s important to remember that the Rolodex was innovation once. We have to be quite tough about this in saying; “this is the way forward, this is the reality”. Through the pain barrier lies the potential and then momentum looks after itself.
Tracy Noble: Where we are completely lacking is in all of HR processes and certainly when you look at the commercial side of the business there is very little automation. The business is going to have to revolutionise very, very fast if we’re going to keep our competitive edge, but likewise as we’ve all been saying, that’s going to have a huge impact on the people side.
Claire Douglas: Humans are very able to adapt, that’s one of our greatest assets. What’s so difficult about this particular transition and adapting to this way of life is the pace of change. It’s just happened so fast and I think that’s what has led to the anxiety and the uncertainty.
Moving through this crossover period, it’s bound to be full of complications – unions defending their “human” members as the robots sweep across the workforce.
Tracy Noble: Yes, and you can actually see the divide right now. We have people who have worked for us for some considerable time who won’t adapt with ease, but the crux of the matter is, increasingly, technology is key to attracting the younger generations coming into the workplace – up to the minute technology – they expect it as standard.
Jackie Tullett: Agreed, I worked for a company going through transformation and everybody knew it would take a long time, but it was even slower because sections of the leadership lacked the belief that the change was for the better.
Tracy Noble: We’ve got the same problem. Our leadership is a little divided. Some resisting and others are going to embrace it massively, but you do need to have everybody pulling together in order to make this happen.
Daniel Kasmir: There is a chronic shortage of the right type of leaders – those whose stewardship can mesh together human resources and technology. While that continues, change will be challenging and slower than it should be.
Martin Kirke: Agreed, leadership in Post Office had the prescience and foresight to meet the necessities of physical bricks and mortar presence and grow the business digitally, and although synergies between the two in this seismic change are hard to find, the two are complementary now and the business is actually growing.
Perhaps to everyone’s advantage, this is mandatory change – there is no option
Daniel Kasmir: Yes, it’s inevitability the key driver. Just look at the high street where some retailers adapted to digital, because they accepted it was do or die. As businesses, we have got to be resilient and we have got to be prepared because the pace of change will never slow down, it will always accelerate.
Jane Williams: I have seen people in some businesses find, for example, virtual working difficult – the impact of change hasn’t been fully appreciated and so both the business and employees were unprepared.
Daniel Kasmir: In many ways, remote working has been a bit of a disaster. Organisations thought they could stand back and it would all happen naturally, but without cohesion and framework, it becomes a bit of a free-for-all, and it’s been exploited as a sort of “workers’ right”. Human beings need to come together. Technology is beautiful if we can embrace it properly.
Stephanie Indusogie: Agreed, face-to-face interaction should happen at least once or twice a month as part of understanding the people element, establishing trust that people will deliver and that people are accountable.
Claire Douglas: The point is, different people liking different ways of working and that needs to be considered in flexible arrangements. Leaders must know their teams and the personalities within them. It’s also important if you’re going to be working remotely, that you consider mental health.
Jackie Tullett: That goes back to the calibre of line managers.
And its about accentuating, celebrating and demonstrating the positives that achieves momentum.
Martin Kirke: Absolutely, for example, there was a time when an inordinate amount of time was spent on relocating people – not an easy process – but technology and remote working has made a huge difference there, a real positive benefit that people don’t even realise.
Tracy Noble: Yes, I agree on that. The organisation I’ve just come from introduced Yammer, it was adopted right across the organisation for knowledge sharing and productivity increases, and clear data showed customer satisfaction increased.
Martin Kirke: Yes, there are huge opportunities for HR, technologies are merging, for example; a combination of social media and learning such as; Hive Learning. I think this helps break down barriers because learning is seen as fun and social.
With employers increasingly hiring for attitude and potential over qualifications and experience, can digital processes be sensitive to this new criteria? Will the unbiased value of digital process match up to human sensibilities? And how can we identify and prepare for the so-called key roles that “haven’t been invented yet”?
Tracy Noble: Having just secured a new job, I can say that it doesn’t work today. I used to work in TV, I applied for a job at another major broadcaster and was rejected because I had no media experience. So, clearly something went wrong there. If the configuration is wrong we could miss out on a lot of potential talent.
Annette Capper: At the moment there are ways of cheating the system: If you put enough key words in your CV that fit the job description, then your CV will always make it to the shortlist. This is where bias comes in, because at the moment with some of the older systems that are still in place, we cannot be certain we are accurately screening applicants.
Victoria Gentry: When we rely on technology, we should really not just blindly rely on it – we must be critical and ensure it’s measuring what we actually want it to measure and that it’s not giving us the wrong outcome.
Daniel Kasmir: Agreed, I’ve had more positive experiences. I think the searching software is not so good, but there’s some predicted analytics which is beginning to more successfully fuse human interaction with machine process. I managed a project with a big retailer and they were looking for departmental managers and their default was, older women – that was their gut-feel presumption. However, this was totally counterintuitive, as the more reliable demographic was 28-year-old men.
Stephanie Indusogie: Yes, I can say I agree with that. The screening does have some kind of bias to it. We try to combine the human element in screening, particularly in identifying the behaviours that we want in the business – that element of human intellect is important.
This notion of recruiting for people that “fit our culture and values”, isn’t that a snazzy way of saying he/she is “one of us” or indeed “not one of us”?
Vanessa Birchall-Scott: The whole idea of profiling does concern me, because you want a mix of people to work well in a team and not for all to be similar. I can understand why you might want to use technology where you have very large numbers of applicants, but I do think that you’re hard pressed to beat the human interaction.
Mark Jones: If you’re running large scale recruitment drives where say, you’re looking for field engineers for a depot and you typically have 200 to 300 applicants and you ideally want them to live within 20 miles of the office, CV passing works really well. That’s where it makes the recruiting community much more efficient.
Annette Capper: Technology aside, avoiding bias goes right back to the basics of writing an advert in a balanced way – not feminine nor masculine, ageist or racist, because you want to make your attraction narrative as appealing as possible to all.
Daniel Kasmir: Employers are looking for values which weren’t even considered before such as; resilience and capacity for change, and psychometrics can identify these factors across genders and races.
Could it be that more digital processing is inadvertently making the skills shortage worse, by it’s binary process?
Jane Williams: It’s about what does the system do and what does it verify, and then how does that match with the jobs? Where you have 2,000 applicants for one vacancy, these days, you cannot do it any other way – as to whether technology is biased in testing for “cultural fit” is a serious consideration.
Is there not a risk that if you programme systems to look for “cultural fit” it begs the question, what is being looked for and is this not a move towards anti-diversity?
Jane Williams: If you fit the culture, then you could be any age, any sex, and any nationality. We’re not prescriptive. Certain culture traits go back to certain societies which would have to be another level of research. I have not known a company recruit to type, whatever that means.
Matthew Collington: I recall an episode of Friends where Rachel takes up smoking again to help her develop a relationship with her smoker boss. Back to the point, we seem to accept technology in all it’s shapes and forms as something that we have to tolerate, even if what it leads to is a decay in the mental health of the people on the receiving end, where’s our role in that?
Jackie Tullett: But, there is something about the maturation of technologies and technology fads. There is an excitement as people try new things, and some of it sticks and some of it falls away. At the moment, because of the pace of change and the expansion of technology, we’re just trying out so many things and some of it will work and some of it won’t.
What will be the benefits of freeing up time? Is there any experiential evidence that the increase of technology into people’s work lives is actually improving outcomes and general engagement?
Jackie Tullett: Explicit in that statement is that they will have more time, and personally I don’t think so. It may well be that some people end up with more time because they have skills that have become redundant, and for various reasons they don’t have the capacity to learn new skills. But a bunch of other people could end up working harder and harder.
Tracy Noble: Certainly in distribution, if we have more automated picking and packing, we have less manual handling, so it can drive performance and keep people safe.
Annette Capper: Then there’s the blurring of work and down time that I’m sure we are all familiar with and increasingly employers are safeguarding against burn out, like no emails sent from the servers after 5.30pm, but it’s a difficult culture to change because technology makes work so accessible.
Claire Douglas: Again, it’s down to individual differences – some people are natural integrators in terms of home and work life and others are not. Certainly, putting measures in place, such as digital detox are positive measures that could lead to improvements.
Stephanie Indusogie: At every meeting, our managers discuss the people element, almost like a health check, how people are working, so really keeping a check on attitude towards their work.
Claire Douglas: There’s not enough research yet to know what the effects of ‘always on’ are. But we know there are problems resulting from overuse of digital technology, and this needs further investigation for sure.
Annette Capper: We’re simply not switching off anymore though, most people now ‘relax’ watching TV, while working on laptops or smartphones. You see people walking in the street, most have their phone in their hand.
Daniel Kasmir: The area that I’m familiar with is roles that involve processing. So, technology and financial services companies, anything that involves processing is just sped up and, frankly, we haven’t even thought about it, where we would have deployed 50 people into roles we now have ten. What do we do now? On the plus side, and there are many in prospect, there will be a greater need for people who have creativity and the ability to innovate and, in process-based businesses, we will still need people who can be creative with software and technology innovation.
I was in an airport in India and there was an advertisement for a medical centre with robots performing surgery. There are things that machines can do now that ten years ago we would have said, “That’s socially unacceptable”, but now it is, because it’s cheaper and it speeds things up. I don’t think there are any particular taboos left now.
Despite the investment and greater awareness of work-related stress, numbers are rising inexorably. All the signs suggest that our overinteraction with technology is at least partly to blame.
Stephanie Indusogie: We’ve been challenged with high levels of stress and anxiety. That, unfortunately, has been a trend and I think it’s a combination of things, technology obviously has a part to play to a degree, but it’s not wholly to blame. I think in general it’s an area where the expectation and the demand affects the human emotion. The awareness is raised around mostly emotive issues, depression, anxiety and stress, we raise awareness and that cascades across all the teams so they can speak up.
Vanessa Birchall-Scott: On the whole our interaction with technology has made us sedentary, and we have all seen the results of that with obesity and the musculoskeletal impacts – the rise in hotdesking – you know how long it takes to adjust your chair! Both mental health and back and neck problems are up there in the top three reasons for illness and absence and we must take these into account in design.
Mark Jones: We need to have a balanced view to move forward. I feel better connected because of technology – I’ve a team of 12 business development managers up and down the country and I can speak to all of them individually or as a group in seconds from my desk at home. We meet physically once a month and it’s a scheduled way of operating that suits everybody. Culturally, if the business actually expects you to answer emails at night, that is obviously bad. But moving forward is about being understanding and pragmatic.
Claire Douglas: The point about resilience has been discussed today and we need to help people to build their resilience, keep an open mind, be adaptable and take breaks, be self-aware and take some responsibility for yourself.
Tracy Noble: It’s for us as leaders to be able to promote that as being the correct culture and lead by example. I absolutely agree that we should all be masters of our own destiny, we’re not all wired the same way.
Matthew Collington: Contexts may change, but the psychology doesn’t. The underlying foundation for a good team is psychological safety, and that’s engendered by the leader of that team – that doesn’t mean you’ll have a job for life, but it does mean that you can be confident enough to bring yourself to work.
Annette Capper: It’s how we communicate what we mean by health and wellbeing. One of the things that we’ve done at Veolia is set up a quite high-level project team that has defined that we’re not just looking at ‘mental health’, we’re looking at ‘physical health’, we’re looking at ‘financial health’, and we’re looking at ‘social and cultural issues’. We’re also recruiting and training ‘mental health first aiders’.
As hierarchies increasingly erode, what are the key changes in the role of leaders to support the workplace of the future and what does a flatter framework and horizontal leadership look like?
Jane Williams: There’s a lot of pressure on leaders to change. If you look at what’s happening at the top of organisations where you have this big push for gender equal boards. This will cause a spiral of change through organisations as different lines of talent gravitate towards the top. Riding fast on the back of this initiative is also the fact that boards should really be representative of society. Also, you have to consider that in breaking down the roles and the skills, what are the absolute essentials, what is desirable and then how do you manage these complex environments?” The whole issue of developing talent pipelines at Board level is going to become much more complex, because of the emerging different trends which we have to manage. Our view of society as a result will be much more complex.
That exemplifies the point – the approach to identifying and developing leaders has to change.
Daniel Kasmir: Yes, the cycle time in business is much quicker now. Previously leaders were expected to deliver a vision. “Where are we going? Five years’ time what’s going to happen”? I think it’s pretty difficult in most organisations now to plan more than about 90 days. It’s quarter by quarter, so it’s very nice to have a big lofty idea, but actually leadership is much more about shirt sleeves rolled up, doing, delivering and making things happen. So, again, different type of leaders. Pontification is not going to work now, it’s not what we need.
Mark Jones: As someone who’s an archetypical middle manager, we’re a traditional business going through transformation and every month is slightly different. It’s like being a 50-year-old toddler dealing with new things every day – but I think that the flatter framework will help with areas such as knowledge sharing.
Victoria Gentry: What is proving to be empowering is making sure people are given the freedom to make decisions and for leaders to lead, not control, as employees become more autonomous.
Matt Collington: It’s that move to servant-based leadership, and within a complex workplace, you can’t be the one that’s spinning all the plates.
Stephanie Indusogie: We’re looking at who is a leader and looking at leadership on the hierarchy. So, from the CEO down to the front line. We’re giving everyone that individual responsibility as a leader and this is linking into the culture of the organisation, and saying, everyone has that individual responsibility to deliver and perform as a leader, irrespective of the pace at which this technology is coming upon us. I think in terms of the role of that leadership, in terms of what can we do differently to change, it’s the mindset, it’s the culture, but it’s also constantly promoting the employee to see themselves as a leader in their capacity to align themselves to the vision of the business, but also across the attitude to work, ways of working, but being self-aware as well.
Jackie Tullett: For me, there is still a place for senior leadership, the corporate strategic leadership, which is to do with generating the environment in which people and the organisation flourishes. It’s about inspiration. So, to me this is over and above the leadership that everybody is expected to demonstrate.
HR has long prophesied its demise at the hands of technology. How must hr itself change to remain relevant to the future?
Annette Capper: I think we need to be careful that we don’t take the human out of human resources. Claire Douglas: I would say, adapt to embrace the technology and use it for everyone’s benefit.
Vanessa Birchall-Scott: Ditto, embrace technology! And make sure that we are examples of a profession that is using technology for added value and making sure it is appropriately used in our firms, from a business and people perspective.
Jan Hawkes: Find a way to take people with you. Jackie Tullett: Analytics could become much better to help with decision making. But equally we have to be better at partnering, enabling and bringing people along.
Martin Kirke: HR is no different to any other profession being impacted by digital technology. The jobs that will have the greatest longevity will be the ones that involve creativity or counselling and coaching. It is these skills which will be hardest for AI to emulate.
Stephanie Indusogie: I think HR professionals have a big role to play in keeping it up on the agenda, around the people element.
Tracy Noble: For me, it’s going to be important that we keep ahead of the game, that we’re not following, we are leading this, because if this technology is coming full flow, we need to be there to help the business to transition.
Jane Williams: Technology is always, for me, an opportunity. We have to make sure your organisations have the capabilities to harness it. Also let’s not forget too, HR is always prophesying its own demise!
Matthew Collington: Embody, mirror and enable the organisation.
Victoria Gentry: I think we need to be more critical, not just adopting things just because they’re there, and making sure they do add value.
Daniel Kasmir: To quote REM, ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it,” which I think it is.
And… automatic for the people?
Daniel Kasmir: Indeed, and I think we have to stop thinking of technology as a problem, it’s not, it’s reality. We’ve got to embrace technology and make it work for us, and not forget that we represent people so aligning values and capabilities is key. Mark Jones: The businesses that will own the future are the ones with the philosophy that says: “We’re not going to fight it, we’re going to invent it”! At the end of the day, humans are humans, and technology is our invention, to make with it what we will.
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