Is HR really ready for automation?
The HR tech marketing is increasingly shifting its focus from talk of big data and cloud-based solutions to bolder claims of automation of tasks and roles, primarily through the use of machine learning/AI. HR has a responsibility to understand the changing landscape of work and how it will impact organisations, but it also needs to turn its gaze inward.
Historically one of HR’s challenges has been playing the role of cobbler’s children, thinking about its own development only after supporting other areas of the organisation to reflect on theirs.
There is significant risk to the HR profession of being behind the curve in technology adoption - and specifically automation – because it may be the case over the coming years that core elements of the traditional HR role can be done more cost effectively by code.
HR has a poor track record when it comes to adopting technology – partly through organisations not being willing to invest, partly through the significant investment associate with the HR technology market over the years and partly through HR simply not being focused enough on this area of opportunity.
We deal with people – but people increasingly operate, deliver, communicate and collaborate through technology. If we want to support and enable people effectively we have to understand and harness technology.
The challenge for HR is to be proactive in its efforts to understand the emerging opportunities of automation to provide an improved, responsive, cost effective and more strategic service to the organisation.
For years HR professionals have been vocally demanding an opportunity to be more strategic – if we can automate volume operational tasks then there is a clear benefit to redirecting time and effort into that space.
HR need to be making a case for technology investment and for more flexible thinking from IT about what that technology may look like.
We need to partner effectively with IT to identify opportunities to improve efficiency and insight to enable the rest of our work to be done more effectively.
Where are the opportunities?
I’ve taken the opportunity of combining existent and emergent technology to describe a workplace less dependent on HR people resource.
- Payroll/Compensation and Benefits – Improving the employee self-service proposition exponentially through use of chatbots to improve the user experience and reduce the amount of keying (and associated errors). Regular interrogations of pay data to pick up trends, improve fairness of pay and monitor changes more effectively.
- Recruitment – More effective proactive search capability combined with a reduction in bias in the recruitment process through improved gender neutral advertising. Automated sifting and more detailed automated candidate feedback based on interview/selection information. More effective team analysis leading to improved fit of candidates and a reduced time to effectiveness in role.
- Induction – Improving the ‘onboarding process’ through the use of chatbots. Providing a more bespoke induction process that combines what the organisation wants the individual to know with what the individual actually wants/needs to know. Enabling key information that individuals need to orientate themselves to be available 24/7 without human intervention.
- Analysis and insight – Automatically combining data sets from across the organisation, both ‘business’ data and people data and flagging up key areas for attention or of interest for investigation. Correlation may not be causation - but spotting patterns in data for investigation is far easier to automate than to do manually. Automated Board, Regulatory and Compliance reporting.
- L&D – Automatically curating learning resources for individuals and monitoring their effectiveness for the individual and across the organisation. Enabling simple editing and production of in house media content showcasing learning and skills for colleagues. Automatically matching and introducing colleagues who would benefit from skill or perspective sharing.
- Employment law – Automatically producing accurate notes of conversations/investigations and potentially comparing them for points of variance and suggesting areas of enquiry. Automatically updating policy documents with legal changes.
If you have read the list above and feels like there is nothing left, then it is worth reflecting on where HR can really add value now and in the future.
The above changes would not only allow HR to free up time but also solidify its role in ensuring a positive environment that supports performance and wellbeing, giving the people who benefit from that support better working lives.
So what next?
HR faces the same challenges as other business areas and this is where thinking and action can combine.
There are key choices to be made that will impact people in HR and the broader organisation.
Every organisation needs to think about how they will approach this opportunity and HR can take the opportunity to reflect on its own dilemmas and opportunities
- There is a choice to be made as to whether the organisation takes the often appealing route of reducing costs or using funds freed up to invest in other opportunities. If HR is able to get slightly ahead of the curve by creating returns on investment to free up people to spend more time supporting and creating value for the organisation it is more likely to not be pushed as hard for costs. People tend to not like to lose services they are already benefitting from.
- Being really open with your HR team and planning phased changes of work or technology pilots. Rather than planning centrally think how you can involve all of your stakeholders in looking at opportunities for using technology to allow better use of people’s skills. As with most change in the workplace there is an opportunity to work with and through people rather than imposing change.
- Thinking long and hard over the potential loss of humanity in interaction and the impact that might have on people’s relationship with the organisation. There is something uniquely human about the way we interact and trust that could easily be lost through automation - including the sense of care and trust that HR can often represent to people within an organisation.
Finally HR has the same ethical decision to make about its own resource as it will have make about other areas.
- What is the true value of a human being and where do they fit in future of work?
- Are we using technology in our area as a springboard to release potential or will it simply displace and replace?
- Are we running organisations just for the sake of them or does a broader duty of care extend beyond our legal obligations?
- If people are being removed from work how can they be accommodated or retrained to enable them to continue making a contribution through being retrained or alternative roles found?
It is likely that HR isn’t yet ready for automation.
It isn’t likely that widespread automation will sweep into HR within the year. Over time there will be a move in that direction and now is the time to examine the opportunity, risk and obligation that comes with any decision around people.
Now is the time to think – before we are required to act.