AI, automation and disruption remains a focal point in C-suites across diverse industries. However, the anxiety felt throughout the industry towards AI in the HR sphere just two years ago has been transformed into decisive actions, ranging from strategic acquisitions to major organisational re-design. It is in this charged climate that a lively group of HR leaders gathered at a ChapmanCG Roundtable hosted by Experian’s Chua Chai Ping, HR Director/Site Leader in CyberJaya, Malaysia, to share their thoughts on Human Beings In The Age of Automation.

New collar jobs

Low Choy Huat, Partner of People Advisory Services, EY provoked lively discussion with his presentation on why focusing on being more human rather than on automation, is key to unlocking growth. The future of work is here, as evidenced in multiple examples, notably Amazon’s Go and Alibaba’s Hema AI and technology driven self-serve stores, and with it a real fear of unemployment, as a recent survey of fresh graduates reveals.

Yet, as the speed of change accelerates, the winners may be those who pause to take stock, to be thoughtful and purposeful about their own career journey. It pays to ask ourselves the following questions: What are the new skills and job categories for the new collar job? What will the impact be on organisational design and talent development in a gig economy and in networks? What strategies are CEOs and CHROs deploying in this transition?

EY’s global leadership forecast

In a 2018 DDI/EY Global Leadership Forecast, 64% of C-suite executives cited ‘developing the next-gen leadership’ as their top concern, followed closely by ‘failure to attract/retain top talent’ at 60%. Amidst the fast-paced move to the unknown, perhaps, there is much to be said for taking time to reflect? EY encapsulates it as ‘the need to inspire, learn and balance’ in order to prepare ourselves for the future, which is now.

What can leaders do?

Leaders must guide the development of their workforce skills-wise, but they must also instil new organisational values amidst rapid change. It was noted that this advice would apply beyond corporates to include leaders at governmental and institutional level. Many of the key points for this transition are outlined in a March 2018 RBC White Paper, aptly titled Humans Wanted: How Canadian Youth Can Thrive in The Age of Disruption, which was enthusiastically discussed at the roundtable. The key take-outs from the paper and the roundtable discussion were as follows:

Disruption is accelerating

It used to be that the threat of automation was only for routine, repetitive forms of work such as assembly lines. Now, algorithms are building legal cases, replacing administrative assistants and taking customer service calls for major corporations. We’ve dealt with technology replacing jobs before, but this time it’s different.

Flexibility is the future

Change is coming fast, making it hard to know what jobs will look like a decade from now. We need a new way of thinking about job requirements. Developing human skills — things like critical thinking, judgment, and decision making — will empower young people to pivot between careers and across sectors as job descriptions change.

Digital literacy is essential

Digital fluency will be essential to all new jobs. This does not mean we all need to code like a Silicon Valley programmer. It’s an understanding of technology, of how to interact with computers, smartphones and whatever comes next, that will be essential. Soon, we will come to think about digital literacy like we do regular literacy: a prerequisite for nearly every job.

We need to prepare for the future of work

Without the right people and the right skills, an economy won’t work. If we can get talent to tap into the essential skill foundations for the future, an economy will be ready for the skills transition.

The conclusion that human skills remain vital and will grow, set the stage for the next speaker, Angy Wong.

Interaction deficiency – do managers still know how to manage?

A well-known expert on talent, Angy Wong is a consultant with the OSK Group and a pioneering member of DDI Malaysia. She lamented the pervasive deficiency in interaction. Ironically, as social media and technology enable instant and mass connections, Angy reflected that we are losing the art of conversation, of listening for content, context, intent and emotions. Managers are competent in extracting facts and solving problems. But they also need to empathise, give recognition, show respect, and encourage people to be the best that they can be.

The antidote? Slow down, take time to visit an art gallery and wonder at the culture and discipline. Watch an orchestra and marvel at team work. Go fishing and learn patience. Volunteer to mentor an under-privileged child. Lie on a mat and look at the sky. Adopt a mobile detox day, go talk to someone. Angy’s heart-felt sharing aroused keen participation, with attendees sharing how their organisations are helping employees manage stress. One HR leader commented that a performance improvement plan (PIP) is not “punishment in progress”. Others discussed the value of returning to basics like conversations at work and a sense of humour.

The revamped onboarding experience – the humanity of the Welcome Pack 

Evelyn Ooi, Talent Manager at Experian, shared their revamped onboarding experience – a chance to put a truly human touch to a a person’s first day. The Experian onboarding message is not only important, but a fun way to start a journey, and not dilute the all-important employee value proposition by presenting the new recruit with a daunting and dull task list. On day one, humour and warmth greet a new joiner with an on-brand, on-message, welcome pack.

The welcome pack contains bottled water to signify the thirst for knowledge, nuts of informational overload, an a Kit Kat for when you need a break. Made in-house, it was effective, efficient and practical. These little touches were meant to reflect Experian’s CyberJaya kampong (kampong meaning: village) spirit.

The new recruit 30, 60 and 90-day programs continue with the same heart, warmth and close partnership between HR and the greater business. These ‘human touches’ serve to remind employees that whilst technology underpinned the recruitment process, human beings are still central at every stage.

The robots might be coming, but the humans are here to stay

The big take-away from the roundtable was that HR leaders need to step back and reflect why they are in the profession. The overarching message is clear: in the relentless march to greater automation and AI, we must not lose sight of our humanity and the universal need for the uniquely human touch that HR leaders bring to a business.

Read more on AI from past ChapmanCG HR leaders roundtable events here

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