Last week, our New York City hosts MetLife, Tapestry, and Credit Suisse welcomed two of ChapmanCG’s Americas team, Alan Mait and Andrew Trac for a series of HR leadership roundtable sessions. The discussions centered around global HR trends for 2018 and proactive approaches to diversity and inclusion. Alan Mait facilitated an insightful discussion with a number of key HR Senior Executives in attendance from organizations that included Bank of America Merill Lynch, BNY Mellon, Blackstone, Estee Lauder, Ferrari, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, TEVA, , Tiffany & Co., Wipro, U.S. Steel and others.

Artificial Intelligence in HR

Although not heavily utilized at this time, there are some elements of AI that have been used successfully, like for assessing potential employee attrition, simulating HR responses to common inquiries, and for sourcing, identifying and selecting ideal candidate profiles based on a matching set of selection criteria.

Organizations have a vendor to employ such technologies (Stella.ai, Aspire, Hirevue) or, in some cases, use internal capabilities to develop proprietary algorithms that are used with an existing platform (SAP HANA). In all cases, the feedback has been fairly positive, whether in the experimental stage or full roll-out.

Despite AI’s success, executives were not convinced that it was not the sole solution for solving HR challenges. During the discussion of its use for Talent Acquisition applications, some executives found that while AI may be used in conjunction with other sourcing and assessment methods, it ultimately boils down to how an organization assesses a holistic “person-to-organization” fit. Experienced talent acquisition attendees found it to be more of an art than a science, and that person-to-person interviews will still remain an integral part of the process. AI should be used to enhance, and not replace, existing processes.

Questions still remain on the broader efficacy of AI within HR. Some leaders were less keen to be part of the first wave for adopting new AI technologies and preferred to wait and see what can be learned from others that are leading the charge. Others have expressed concern that leaders are optimistically looking at AI as a tool to solve a question that may not be thoroughly defined. Amongst the differences was a consensus that AI is here to stay and will be an increasingly important tool at the disposal of HR and business leaders.

Evolution of HR and the Ulrich model

Roles have become less defined and more hybrid and fluid to support flexibility and change in the business. For example, HR Business Partners are combining with Centre of Excellence roles, and Talent Acquisition and Talent Management roles are merging with strategic Generalist responsibilities.

A common challenge that was shared among the HR leadership community was the difficulty in finding truly “business-first” HR Business Partner professionals. Executives agreed that, yes, the HR model has been evolving into one more flexible and capable of meeting the needs of the business, but a large part of HR’s continued success has been due to its training and development efforts. Rotational programs between generalist and specialist roles within the Centres of Excellence were important to ensure HR remained relevant and increase its capabilities in environments that are changing much faster than we have ever seen before. As a result, HR Business Partners in organizations with high-functioning HR naturally had a hybrid of specialist and generalist skillsets, which added more value to the business.

The Ulrich model is known for its three-pillars, and this model has served businesses well. But now, the looming question is around its continued relevance in such rapidly changing global and technologically underpinned environments. Some have cited limitations in this three-pillar model in a global business context. One of the common issues is ensuring a close dynamic between all three pillars and the business in HQ and out in the regions when we’re talking about a global marketplace. While the structure appears easier to manage at corporate level or in regions from which it emanated, it might be difficult to get the same collaboration and buy-in when rolled out enterprise wide, especially when attempting to take into account regional nuances.

Diversity and Inclusion

Everyone in attendance agreed the necessity to drive diversity and inclusion initiatives. What differed were the approaches each organization took when implementing practical solutions in this area.

One of the hosts, Tapestry, gave a strong presentation on how inclusion is embedded in one of its three organizational values, which was interesting given Tapestry operates in an industry known for the “exclusivity” of its highly marketable brands and products. The organization cited this as an overarching value to the company’s ethos, in which it supports its overall mission and decisions within its business operating model.

Other organizations have opted to define diversity and inclusion as a series of specified “targets” that were measured and tracked for progress. In order not to attach any negative connotation to these initiatives and support a “tick box” mentality, some executives instead reframed them as “aspirations” or “goals”. However, there was an admission that these metrics were useful, and played a major part in the diversity and inclusion discussion.

There was also a very philosophical discussion on the difference between diversity and inclusion, and how these terms interchange. The consensus is that diversity is more involved with bringing talent from different identifiable backgrounds in to an organization, while inclusion ensures that all diverse talent is equally valued and accounted as part of the operations.

Other insightful remarks came from executives who informed the group of their organization’s preference for putting inclusion before diversity, and the polarizing concept of “cultural fit” as an antiquated and logically inconsistent remark for achieving diversity and inclusion within organizations today.

One HR leader remarked that we tend to hire for similarities and fire for differences. If this is the case, then are we really embracing change and diversity or just paying it lip service?

Unconscious bias exists in all of us. When we do not address this head on, it becomes part of the culture of an organization. What is clear and very pleasing to hear is that we are more than ever confronting our perspectives and taking steps to a more inclusive and enlightened employee experience.

With changes driven by AI and the dynamic business climate, HR is truly showing its strategic relevance in 2018, and this was highlighted in our discussions on diversity and inclusion. As the world seeks to stand more united against its differences, organizations will continue to innovate and lead by example on its diversity and inclusion agenda, or risk being perceived as an antiquated brand to a diverse talent pool.