Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and cognitive computing are slinking into every nook, cranny and call center of the workplace. But this is not a dystopian future where man is pitted against the evil machine. Instead, the future is much more likely to look like man and machine working in harmony—combining complementary strengths to transform business for the better.
Yes, it would make a lousy sci-fi movie. But if done right, it will make for a great work environment.
In some ways, the future is already here. From Siri and Alexa to self-driving cars, there is technology already capable of mimicking human behavior. Businesses have received the message loud and clear that it's time to integrate with technology: The Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2017 report revealed that 38 percent of companies will fully implement robotics and automation in the next five years.
What can HR do to prepare their workforce for the imminent arrival of tomorrow's technology?
Create a Liquid Workforce
There are no jobs for life in the digital age, so workers constantly need to reinvent their skills to keep up with business needs. With the pace of change ever quickening, companies need what Accenture calls a "liquid workforce" of employees—agile enough to perform a range of tasks, who can grow and adapt with the company rather than perform one fixed task.
Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, talks about the rise of the Hollywood model or a network of teams approach, where people band together for a specific project and then move on when it's complete (similar to a film crew and actors work on a movie and then move to a new production).
This should be a good thing for employees, offering them the chance to grow and learn and ultimately do more interesting and varied jobs. It should also keep boredom at bay, which is great for engagement.
If that's the future, the role of HR and the rest of the senior team is to identify key areas where AI will have the biggest impact and start putting programs in place to help people learn new skills or widen their learning. It also means HR must hit home the importance of life-long learning, and provide opportunities for employees to constantly upgrade their skills and experiences.
Foster Soft Skills
The ironic consequence of more automation is that our unique human qualities are becoming more important. Soft skills are more in demand than ever: A 2015 LinkedIn survey found that 59 percent of hiring managers found it difficult to hire staff with the soft skills they required.
While machines are better than humans at repetitive tasks, people are good with uncertainty. For the most part, we excel at empathy and dealing productively with other people. HR needs to both recognize and nurture talented employees in these areas, while helping others improve the soft skills they lack.
These people skills will be particularly important in the Bersin work model, where people are continually being asked to join new teams and work with different people across departments.
Prioritize Right-Brain Thinking
HR needs to hire and inspire their workers to do more strategic thinking, aided by technology. Alongside soft skills, creativity is becoming a prized quality in the age of AI and automation. Lateral thinking and the ability to analyze and interpret the cold, hard data that machines provide and turn that into useful insight is a key skill. It's the perfect melding of machine and human intelligence.
That means that HR needs to think about hiring people who have creative flair, rather than just a checklist of qualifications. There are many ways HR can identify these people, but a simple way at interview stage is to ask them competency-based questions about how they used creative thinking in previous roles.
The robots are coming, but it isn't a threat. It's an opportunity for humans to be more creative and productive at work.
Photo: Creative Commons