Changing HR’s role in the world of AI

The age of artificial intelligence is unfolding fast. Businesses are automating functions, from ordering parts and processing insurance claims, to maintaining machines and serving customers. They’re seeing the chance to become more efficient and offer better service than the competition. For the board, it’s a world of potentially rising revenues and bigger profits.

But what about the people?

HR need to shape this new world. And they need to make it one that people want to inhabit and grow in. Here are three ways they can play that role.


Help create the vision

The digital future might still be in the mind’s eye of a few board members. HR’s job is to help define what that future will look like. They’re the facilitator between the business case of spreadsheets and people data – and a workforce that’s going to be doing sometimes radically different things, in different ways. And they have to help leaders shape a vision people see themselves being part of.

Plan for a fast-changing future

We can’t know for sure what all the jobs in an organisation will be in five years’ time. But we can start to define what capabilities it might need. And HR can do that defining. They can then shape the workforce plans that make clear where the organisation already has what it needs, and where its capability gaps are. For instance, an organisation might need data mining skills, and also need people capable of combining technology in innovative ways, able to trial and test their ideas. Those capabilities might be there already, but the specific skills might need developing.

By planning ahead like this, businesses are less likely to be caught short of vital skills when they need them, and more likely to be able to plan for costs like learning and development or recruitment.

Reshape people’s idea of ‘career’

For many of us, careers are linear and predictable – a path we can foresee fairly accurately for years, and perhaps decades, to come. Fast-changing technology disrupts many things, and one of them is our idea of how we’ll progress through our working lives. We probably won’t have the control over that progress that we have now. Stepping stones on our route to the role we see as our ultimate destination might disappear. As might the destination itself.

HR have to help people readjust so they see change as a chance to grow, not something to fear. They must act as a coach to support them in developing the new skills they need to change track. Someone used to the administrative side of customer service, for instance, might find their role under threat. HR’s job is to help them understand that instead, they could be working in a more advisory role, using data to answer customers’ sometimes complex questions. But they have to want that change. And to adjust, they’ll need analytical skills. HR have to see this need coming and get the business and its people ready to meet it.

As AI plays a bigger role in our businesses, HR will play a crucial part in leading the workforce through change – part visionary, part coach.

Katharine Henley, people and talent expert at PA Consulting Group

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