Published in HR News on 17.01.19:
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a wonderful thing. Most of my clients work in the technological space so I am personally amazed at the everyday advancements that are being made. From the simplest of robots and what it is able to achieve, to a machine that can learn, react and implement activities close to how humans actually behave. It is unsurprising then that the HR press frequently raves about the progress of AI.
Although I cannot say I fully understand the complete scope and ramifications of it all, it seems that AI could soon take over some of the basic roles of the HR function. Like banks, employees can now have discussions with chat bots about benefit enrolment and other questions relating to their day to day employment.
I have not had the chance to experience chat bots in this context but am deeply impressed to see how quickly the environment we as HR professionals operate in is changing. Some of the robots I am working with though can automate the gathering and distribution of data, making my reporting to the board virtually error free. I can teach a robot how to perform both simple and complex tasks, which in turn means that I can spend more time making a difference by other means. When you think of it, only 20 years ago we were all up in arms at the concept of outsourcing our HR departments – now some of the most cutting edge and advanced firms are using bots to communicate and perform key HR tasks with their employees. Even to the point of having discussions around employees potentially wearing implants. Is this our future? I often wonder.
One thing I do know for sure, is that HR stands for Human Resources. The most important word here to note is the word HUMAN. Our humanity goes beyond simply having arms and legs and performing a service to the organisations we work for. What differentiates us from the standard machines as we know them ,is our ability to act creatively, to bring intuition, empathy and think outside of the box. This, to my knowledge, is not an ability that can be mirrored by AI. Moreover, I believe this is what allows a company to become more innovative and create that all important competitive edge.
Leaders nowadays are required to operate in increasingly ambiguous environments. Even us HR professionals cannot always define how culture has an impact on a business.
The role of HR is therefore changing. We are tasked not only with introducing these AI components to our organisations but more importantly to be the HUMAN resources function for our companies. To uphold everything that is human about us and the workforce we represent. To define and hone all of these skills and competencies that no machine can replicate.
An increasing number of companies are waking up to the fact that HR departments are required to have these super human skills: an understanding of how to motivate people, how to build resilience as well as how to look after employee well being and doing so on a corporate-wide level. Not to mention taking care of the workforce in such a way that it can compete with the rise of AI.
Leadership development is not about being able to work out a spreadsheet or knowing all of the answers – it is about bringing people together, getting the most out of employee engagement and having the resilience to be authentic. All qualities that differ us from a standard machine able to mirror or learn some basic human behaviours.
We are programmed to have a need to connect with each other. As with any other tool that has become available to us in recent decades, AI will enhance the way we work, making it more cutting edge and faster performing. Nevertheless, we as a race will require even more humanity in the workplace so that our work becomes more meaningful to how we live and connect with each other.