Our ongoing series of global HR leaders roundtable sessions continued with a compelling event hosted at one of IBM’s innovation centres in Amsterdam. The event saw HR leaders from companies including GE, Danahar, TomTom, Liberty Global, Unilever, P&G and Naspers come together to converse about artificial intelligence and the modern workforce.
How is AI being used currently?
Organisations are being forced outside of their comfort zone bringing the challenge of risk-taking in company culture, and to ensure they maintain their market positioning. This is especially true in larger and more established environments where the sense of urgency is not always there.
With the trend of AI currently being implemented and developed in organisations there is no doubt that this focus is on an upward trajectory. From chat bots and robots to predictive analysis there is varying use of AI from one company to the next. For a multitude of reasons, organisations are looking at innovation, employee engagement and deeper collaboration more than ever before.
Attendees discussed the benefits of taking small steps and by trialling certain AI scenarios the impact on a workforce could be tested and understood without the potential of large scale negative impacts. Sometimes, lessons learnt by smaller failures were critical in terms of future planning around the impact of AI and the subsequent workforce requirements.
Confusion exists with regards to the differences between machine learning and cognitive computing. Cognitive computing is typically used to describe AI systems that aim to simulate human thought, whereas machine learning is an application of AI that provides systems with the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience. Many different firms use chat bots and some are more developed than others. However, there are now machines that adapt, learn, read, understand and assess via video.
Although there was plenty of excitement in the room, there was also lots of scepticism around AI too.
Embedding the AI revolution
According to research from IBM, over the next couple of years, up to 120 million workers in the world’s 10 biggest economies will likely require retraining, or will need to learn entirely new skills due to the increase of AI and intelligent automation.
In November 2018, IBM announced the launch of their Talent and Transformation service aimed at helping companies to embrace the transition to artificial intelligence by empowering employees, transforming organisational culture and building a modern, skilled workforce of connected continuous learners. Services include the AI Skills Academy, Workforce Transformation Service and Cognitive Platforms.
The team also shared with us that the business has been looking to develop HR through AI for a while now. They have co-created a lot of systems, one being around performance management with multiple dimensions. There is no surprise that one important element has been continual feedback.
This particular part was designed, or co-created, by employees themselves. Similar to Netflix, the workforce can now receive recommendations on learning options and opportunities based on a specific scenario. The idea of co- creation with employees has resulted in huge support.
Another approach to doing business differently, and in view of starting from scratch as opposed to changing the direction of a big slow ship, is with companies investing in start-ups. Whilst it’s more difficult to integrate start-ups into a larger business, it can be seen as a more beneficial approach than forcing an established company culture into a start-up environment. IBM has reverse adapted and adopted parts of the start-up culture into their everyday business.
Driving a shift, the IBM culture has changed significantly in terms of its design thinking methodology and with roots in start-ups. With the underlying focus being on flexibility, adaptability and agility, the company has essentially developed more dynamic operating models.
AI and its role in HR
Cognitive technology can empower leaders to make the right decisions. More than ever, there are fewer strategic HR partners, with the majority being at the very experienced or senior level. In some cases, managers that are supported by technology have typically found it easier to take on elements of HR that would have been previously managed by a HR team.
Addie Van Rooij, Vice President People Operations at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), suggested that managers are able to use data and interpret it differently to a HR team, which has really added significant insights. This trend or movement is a progressive shift where business managers are also significantly developed.
HR teams at HPE now need to be diverse in their skillset, including analysis, technology implementations, project management and of course leadership.
Rob Veersma, Director of Training Development, at Gazprom commented: “Change is exponential and AI strategic work force planning takes on a new urgency, changing the complexion of the workforce.”
“AI is driving more flexible organisational structures and a Gartner report suggested AI is creating more jobs. Getting the right data is critical to ensuring the right outcomes.”
‘Preparing Your Workforce for the AI Revolution’: in summary
As we know, there is no one size fits all and every company is unique in terms of its culture, strengths and challenges. However, it could be concluded that we must have a plan, which includes design planning, encouraging deeper collaboration and taking planned actions. Step by step, involving the workforce and empowering them to co-create and be involved in decision making has to be part of preparing them for the partially existing but incoming AI revolution.
Essentially, we need to prepare people and organisations so a change management strategy will be crucial. Taking an experimental approach and testing various scenarios will support analysis and planning and often this can be too complicated, so keeping processes as simple and user friendly as possible is key. Be an early adapter, be brave, and take the jump.
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