No, the robots aren’t coming – but we should definitely embrace technology’s potential to make our work more human-centric, writes Barry Flack
If you ask me, there is just far too much overthinking going on in HR circles. In what should be a period of opportunity – in a developing world of people-centric culture requirements, enabled by the vision of HR technology vendors – I’m seeing us revert too often to either:
- A cyclical debate about the robots taking our jobs in the future, or
- A slavish defence of the illogical nonsense that has fuelled our old organisational HR rituals for far too long, creating the sort of evidence that backs up the arguments of those who see HR as an ongoing irrelevance
Firstly, let me put item number one to bed. The robots aren’t coming. There is no artificial intelligence (AI) in HR. And that’s not one of those funny motivation quotes for the wall – there just aren’t any real AI (ie free-thinking intelligence) HR solutions at this moment.
We are at a juncture in the outsourcing journey where the machines are now helping humans move repetitive tasks to a much better place, and for that we should be thankful. Machine learning at its core is about recognising patterns and sorting through these patterns in a simple ‘if this means x, then it might mean y’, kind of way. The data we are putting in will probably be biased (because it comes from biased humans) and machines will need training to eradicate such biases over time. Think of the machine as a new joiner who never sleeps, never gets moody on a Monday morning or indulges in small talk. It does, however, need to be trained – just like a new employee – and it will take a while to become productive and for its impact to be felt. And that’s ok, because we need to be sure that we are not codifying our own biases in its datasets.
So, we are not quite being chased down by the Terminator in the few remaining months before Christmas. But we might be coming into a time where we have a clear field to focus on tackling the stuff only a zombie would enjoy, as we move from an obsession with data extraction to freeing up our time to do brilliant, human-centric things. You know, the sort of stuff that whatever god you believe in put us on this planet to do.
And this capability is here and freely available now. The following is just a taster of how HR, recruitment and L&D roles could change and shed their moments of sheer mind-numbing job dissatisfaction thanks to technology.
Instead of spending three weeks hunting high and low for a Japanese-speaking data scientist with a knowledge of medical instruments, use one of the many machine learning-led products on the market to push a button and have a long list of candidates available to review before you’ve even made a cuppa. Use your new-found freedom and time to ramp up candidate experiences and engage with real people.
Sick of constantly repeating that same answer about holiday entitlement to every Tom, Dick and Harry in your organisation, especially at the end of the year? Fret no more; just get yourself a chatbot colleague who never tires of answering these mind-numbingly boring questions – morning, noon and night.
Fed up being the fall guy for the productivity-sapping annual appraisal you inflict on the organisation every year, because you need to slice and dice your pay bill spreadsheet with ratings that make little sense to anyone apart from you? Now you can have a digital framework that places the emphasis on employees pushing for meaningful discussions with their managers throughout the year, thanks to performance management software that has a simple user experience and automatic reminder notifications. Think of the joy you’ll bring to middle managers who are more used to wasting thousands of hours at year end conjuring up post-justified ratings of people who seem in a constant state of trauma.
Drop the classroom training sessions that nobody attends, and the compliance modules that everyone games. Instead, use your new technology stack to curate content and encourage collaboration when employees actually need it. Use technology to let them develop in a way that boosts productivity and self-actualisation, and feels epic.
In this new ecosystem of HR technology enablers, there is a growing supermarket of products aimed at allowing you to hand over to the machines the boring data extraction and rules-based nonsense of your job, at every stage of the HR lifecycle. So get informed, pull together that design workshop, run that hackathon, infuse that process with employee empathy, spend more time with those candidates and blow the living shit out of the legacy process nonsense we have created – once and for all.
Until next time. Learn to lose the crap tasks.
Barry Flack is an HR, recruitment and technology consultant who helps organisations of all sizes adapt to the changing world of work