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Strategies for dealing with AI and other disruptive tech in HR


There is a lot of hype around AI in HR. While it sometimes seems that vendors are simply using the term “AI” to sow confusion, you only have to see AI’s ability to translate languages or have human-like conversations (e.g. Google Duplex) to be stunned by the possibilities.

The challenge that we face is that it’s hard to know what impact these technologies will have, when that impact will be felt, and how to prepare for that impact. I wanted to share three general strategies for coping with the impact of AI.

Rule 1: Focus on decisions with long term impact

AI will have an enormous impact over a ten-year period, it’s impact won’t be so large year to year. The HR decisions you need to worry about are ones that have long term implications. For example, if you are in an environment with high turnover you don’t need to worry too much about how changes in technology will affect the employees since they won’t be around that long. On the other hand, if you have low turnover and it’s hard to lay off staff, then decisions you make today may haunt you when AI revolutionizes how things are done.

If you hire a 25-year-old teacher in the public sector today, then you are making a bet on what the school system will need 40 years from now. You should not make that decision without a sense of what could happen with AI in education over those 40 years. In fact, the only smart choice is to, wherever possible, avoid decisions that lock you in for a period more than 6 or 7 years.

Make a list of decisions that have a long-term impact, think about how AI might change things over 5-10 years, then act to mitigate the risk.

Rule 2: Spend more time scanning the horizon

I recently spoke to a professional at a large American organization and he had been horrified to find that the HR department saw no reason at all to move their on-premise system to the cloud. It’s true that some years ago the cloud, or more properly SaaS, was a strange and scary concept. Now, in 2018, it’s almost always the best solution. How could the HR team not know this? Presumably, they were so heads down in their daily work that they had no idea how much the world of HR technology had changed. They had no capability for scanning the environment to keep up to date on what was happening in the world.

The changes we are seeing in technology are bigger, faster and less predictable than anything we’ve lived through to date. You can’t begin to adapt to the changes if you’re not aware of them. There is an endless amount of information about new technologies on-line. Spend more time keeping your eye on what’s out there. Use your commute time to keep up to date. Insist the HR department have quarterly meetings to discuss the latest advances in AI and other technologies.

Rule 3: Start with the impact on your business and industry

The important impact of disruptive technology on the HR department in the grocery industry isn’t that it may speed up hiring cashiers; the important impact is that on-line grocery shopping (Amazon) or employee-less stores (see the Tutudaojia in Yiwu, China) will disrupt the existing business model. If Amazon eats up the grocery industry the way it has other parts of retail you won’t be worried about speeding up hiring, although technology to speed up layoffs may help.

The lesson is that changes to the business will set the context for everything that goes on in HR. Make sure you know how AI and other new technologies are affecting your business before you zoom in on how technology affects HR.

The best way to learn about how technology will affect the business in the next 5-10 years is to talk to your business leaders about what changes they are expecting. If they don’t have a good idea, then bring them this article and get them to identify decisions with long-term impact and create a process for scanning the horizon to become aware of what might happen.

Summing up

The potential of AI and other disruptive technologies is so profound that it can lead to paralysis. You need a strategy for constant adaptation while still getting your day to day work done. The three tactics discussed in this article will get you pointed in the right direction.


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