Human + Machine: A Partnership for Modern Business

Zoë Harte, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Talent Innovation, Upwork
Zoë Harte, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Talent Innovation, Upwork

Zoë Harte, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Talent Innovation, Upwork

The field of HR is in the midst of a dramatic transformation, driven in large part by technological advances. Data science now helps identify trends and match potential candidates with positions. Artificial intelligence (AI) implemented through applicant tracking systems (ATS) is used to screen resumes and applicants. Software is applied to reduce bias in the hiring process--and much, much more. These are powerful tools without question, but as adoption increases and technology becomes more pervasive in HR processes, many are wondering what will happen to the actual human practitioners in human resources?

With the advent of every major technological progression there has been a healthy dose of fear and skepticism. The TV replaced radio, Netflix ended Blockbuster, the iPhone modernized communication and the Blackberry disappeared. When applying this logic to the evolution taking place in HR however, it is important to recognize that what is happening is not technology rising up to replace an actual person; it is technology replacing the systems and processes people use, which are ripe for disruption. This does not spell the end of HR practitioners--far from it. It actually makes them even more valuable.

  The addition of technologies like AI, is not about changing a company’s makeup by taking over the roles of workers. Rather, this is about adding options that make everyone better​  

Technology’s Impact

Moving systems to the cloud has been a pivotal step in the transformation of HR. It paved the way for HR departments to respond to modern business challenges by enabling authorized users to access forms, materials and software from any device, anywhere. This has been a game-changer as more and more team members work remotely. HR professionals now are able to share information and execute their jobs faster and easier than ever before. Although it took some time for the cloud to mature, according to a PwC Human Resources Technology Survey,75% of organizations have moved at least one HR process in the cloud, and they are reaping the benefits.

Similarly, data science and analytics have opened up a new range of possibilities. The insights these tools produce help spot trends and opportunities that can be leveraged by the current workforce or identify needs for the future. HR leaders apply these insights to make smarter decisions that move an organization forward. And thanks to AI and machine learning, HR professionals can rapidly discern the strongest candidate fits for positions based on far more data points than what’s contained in a resume. Once a candidate is hired, applications are also able to identify content that will help employees perform to their potential, pushing content related to leadership training or skills updates to meet workers wherever they are in their professional journey. And these are just a few examples. There are now worker engagement platforms, virtual assistants, internal talent marketplaces that allow for movement within a company and more.

The Importance of Being Human

With so many traditional HR tasks becoming automated, where do HR practitioners fit? They provide the what-- the reasoning behind these processes as well as the higher-order thinking required to make decisions that go beyond what appears on a screen. For example, if an organization is seeking a project manager, even if the company relies on a program to pull prospective candidates, someone has to tell the program what to look for. They have to know the intricacies of the business, its customers, goals, project details and a countless number of factors that it would be nearly impossible for a machine to decipher on its own. A live person can break down exactly what work needs to be performed in the open position as well as the best avenue for performing it-- and what the machine spits back is just a suggestion-- one deeply informed by data, but a suggestion nonetheless.

Simply put, HR practitioners are the ones who “make the call.” As smart as technology has become, it sees only in black and white. This will never be enough when working in a people-focused role. There are intangibles, experiences and other shades of gray that matter more but do not translate to an algorithm at the most basic level, humans will always be needed in HR because the functions involve people.

The Virtual Handshake

Moving forward, technology should be viewed as a partner to HR teams, automating more iterative HR tasks to free employees to focus on essential soft skills and complex processes. Rather than viewing technology as a threat, we should shake hands and celebrate a deal that will help our often overworked teams and open doors for them to contribute in new and innovative ways that we are only beginning to imagine.

Ultimately, the addition of technologies like AI, is not about changing a company’s makeup by taking over the roles of workers. Rather, this is about adding options that make everyone better. As technology continues to evolve, HR will evolve as well, driving strategy and creating an agile, effective framework for how talent is managed and acquired.

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