Will AI Take the “H” Out of HR? Not if Done Well | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Most people talk about how AI will transform both the transactional and strategic HR functions across recruiting, performance management, career guidance, and operations. Technology vendors such as Belong.co, Glider.ai, Hirevue, MontageTalent, and Talla, are often quoted as transforming the HR functions across different facets.

So the burning question here is, will AI technologies eventually transform the HR function for good? Or will it dehumanize it? Let’s look at some fundamental issues.

HR Works within the Enterprise’s Constraints

Focuses on creating individual-centric training, incentives, performance management, and career development plans are noble. However, HR may well not have the budget, and the organization’s processes may well not allow these in reality. Most organizations have a fixed number of roles (bands) and employees are fit into them. And there is a fixed L&D budget, which is treated as a cost that prevents meaningful investment in programs for individual employees.

HR Hardly Understands Technology

Most of today’s enterprises are looking to hire “digital HR” specialists who understand the confluence of technologies and HR. Because very few exist, the businesses themselves need to teach and handhold non-digital HR people about the value of AI principles in their mundane tasks, such as CV/resume shortlisting, as well as in their creative work, such as performance management and employee engagement.

Senior Leadership’s Flawed Perception of HR

While every enterprise claims that their employees are their greatest asset, they don’t always perceive HR to be a strategic function. Many senior executives view HR as a department they need to deal with when team members are joining or leaving the organization, and that everything in between is transactional. This perception does not allow meaningful investments in HR technologies, much less AI-based services. As AI systems are comparatively expensive, they require senior leadership’s full support for business case and execution, and HR will likely not be on the radar screen.

HR’s Flawed Perception of Itself

Most HR departments consider themselves to be recruitment, training, and performance management engines. They fail to strategically think about their role as a crucial enabler of a digital business. Because most HR executives don’t perceive themselves to be C-level material, their view becomes self-fulfilling. Many HR executives also silently fear, that their relevance in the organization will be eliminated if seemingly rote activities are automated by AI.

I believe that AI systems provide tremendous opportunities for HR transformation – if the HR function is willing to transform. It needs to make a strong business case for adopting AI based on hard facts, such as delay in employee hiring, number of potential candidates missed due to timelines constraints, poor retention because of gaps in performance management, inferior employee engagement due to limited visibility into what they really want, and compliance issues.

However, there is a tightrope to be walked here. As HR is fundamentally about humans, AI should be assisting the function, not driving it. A chatbot, which may become the face of HR operations, is just a chatbot. AI should be leveraged to automate rote transactional activities and mundane HR operations, and help enhance the HR organization.

Unfortunately, many enterprises myopically and dangerously believe that AI should lead HR. Because HR is not about AI, those that do are bound to dehumanize HR and drive their own demise.

HR’s broader organizational mandate will have to change for AI adoption to truly succeed without dehumanizing the function and its purposes. Doing so will not be easy. Various enterprises may take a shortcut, such as deploying chatbots for simple HR operations, to appease their desire for a transformational moniker. But in today’s digital age, these organizations will be short lived. Enterprises that weave AI into their HR functions – akin to ambient technology – to fundamentally enhance employee experience, engagement, and creativity, will succeed.

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