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Is artificial intelligence (AI) compatible with HR?

by uma


By Chris Underwood, Managing Director at executive search and leadership development specialists, Adastrum Consulting, 

Lauded as the next decade’s biggest digital deliverer, AI has the capability to scale business operations, boost productivity and improve user experience. The technology’s ability to manage data and identify patterns and trends outstrips that of humans, which means it can be used in different organisational departments to inform key business decisions. It can also help to improve user experience and scale up the number of customers organisations can serve.  

AI affects organisations’ people management function in two ways, it challenges HR teams to recruit and train the workforce to manage the incoming technology and it can automate day-to-day tasks such as responding to general enquiries.

So how will technology change this human-centric department?

AI and the workforce

Lack of investment in digital skills development means the labour force is not equipped to keep up with the rate of technological advancement. Therefore, it is no surprise that over a third of UK employers have identified an AI skills gap (Microsoft 2020). As more organisations invest in AI and wider digital transformation, the real challenge is ensuring the workforce is able to land it. There is no point in investing in technology versus without investing in people to implement and operate it effectively.

Yet, 61% of managers prioritise the technology they implement, compared to the 39% of those who focus on the people responsible for its operation (Microsoft, 2020). This calls for a U-turn in priorities.

AI’s output is only valuable if it has the right data input, which relies on good data management, skilled teams to interpret the insight and leaders to act upon it. 

Technology is constantly improving and evolving, so it is unfeasible to simply equip managers with the technical skills to use specific software and overlook softer digital leadership skills. Technical skills will only serve the short-term before retraining is required for ‘the next big thing’. 

A longer-term strategy to support digital transformation would be hiring and developing a workforce with soft skills including communication, adaptability and digital intelligence (DQ) – which enables individuals to view new technology from a commercial perspective and understand the pros and cons it brings to the business. These soft skills will prepare the workforce for future technical innovation and assure the organisation’s viability for years to come. 

Will AI replace HR professionals?

With the ability to take on time-consuming recruitment tasks, such as CV screening, in theory, the technology can free HR managers to focus their attention on more strategic areas of the job. Furthermore, automating certain processes could also eliminate bias, human preconceptions and emotional judgement.

AI can certainly improve some administrative tasks, such as developing automated responses to notify applicants where they are in the hiring process, shortlisting candidates for entry level roles or mapping skills gaps and training needs across the company. However, current technology is simply not sophisticated enough to be manage the nuanced human interactions required for effectively engaging with candidates and getting the best out of them. 

Take automated interviewing, for example. Without the ability to go ‘off script’ as one would in a human conversation, AI will fail to value real-life candidate experiences that don’t fit the prescribed profile. Its box-ticking approach against a predetermined set of qualities will overlook less quantifiable, yet still valuable, assets like personality traits or the soft skills essential for leadership positions. Furthermore, AI might become a barrier to HR leaders really getting to know future employees and their potential. The sheer frustration of a clumsy and impersonal user experience might even repel talent from the business altogether. 

HR leaders must ask whether using past data to build a future talent pipeline could limit opportunities to hire from diverse backgrounds. Amazon, for example, quickly abandoned its AI-powered talent acquisition. The retail giant soon found its AI algorithm discriminated against female applicants, as it was wired to scan for candidate qualities determined by data from the previous ten-year period, which was male dominated. Ultimately, AI was fuelling the organisation to perpetually hire in its existing image and actively counteracting its D&I agenda.

The key takeaway…

HR leaders need not worry about their jobs being replaced. In fact, thoughts of artificial workforces can be left to science fiction for the time being. History has shown us that new technology does not replace human labour, but creates new, different jobs for them to fill. AI uses logic to make decisions, which means it can make cold, inhuman and potentially self-destructive choices. Leaders and HR professionals know that complex circumstances require a more measured and emotional response, something with technology is far from mastering. At the moment, AI can improve decision making and help organisations do more with fewer resources and its capability will develop as technology advances. To unlock the true potential of AI, HR professionals must continually review how the technology can improve tasks and establish where machines can take over and humans should step in. 

About Adastrum Consulting 

Adastrum Consulting is a new breed of executive search and leadership advisory business that is revolutionizing the industry and setting new standards. Founded in 2009 by Chris Underwood, it uses an integrated talent management approach to support business transformation. 

Businesses from FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 organizations to venture capital backed start-ups trust Adastrum Consulting to assess, define and shape their senior talent management and attraction strategies allowing them to identify, attract, validate and appoint leaders who will deliver business excellence. 

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