Technology: The Catalyst to Change

Charles Ashworth, Chief People Officer, Copper
Charles Ashworth, Chief People Officer, Copper

Charles Ashworth, Chief People Officer, Copper

Recent technology developments and transformations in the HR Tech space have made their impacts on the business environment in a big way. With so many technology solutions being introduced, the question of the function of the HR professional is a frequent one. Sitting at a recent dinner among a group of key leaders, the conversation led to this exact topic of late, the ongoing transformation of the HR profession. As I asked a few probing questions, I kept reaching the same conclusion, the recipe for change seems apparent. Take emerging technologies, mix in a completely different employee who seeks “experiences” and you have the recipe that demands the change of today's HR professional.

New cloud based systems technology, focused on the employee experience now finds us needing to have HR professionals who think in experiences, and are themselves tech savvy. As industry analyst Josh Bersin states, “such high expectations have arrived at work: if employees don’t find the work experience compelling, they complain, gripe, post something online, or just quit. We have to upgrade all of HR (software and practices) so it’s useful, productive, and meaningful.”

The dinner conversation turned to a resident historian as we debated about transformation over our meals. As she described it, technology and the worker has always been the catalyst by which the HR profession has evolved, and will continue to evolve. During the post world war phase, technology began to expand substantially, and the idea of a corporate culture began to emerge. It goes without saying that a progressive HR transformation had already begun. Fast forward to the mid to late 1990’s, where we saw another surge in HR transformation. These were the times when information technology dominated the workplace. Human resource management began to be taken seriously by corporations and went on to become an integral part of every organization globally.

As the dinner topic continued, we unanimously agreed that HR professionals find themselves at the dawn of yet another transformation.  The role of the HR professional  has become centered on helping the organization evolve, grow, and shape the future. We’ve now seen the advent of analytics, big data, automation, AI and machine learning.  We are experiencing a new type of employee dominating the workplace. One who is tech savvy—who not only looks at their employer and work differently, but expects technology to be available to them to perform their jobs—whose work extends past the traditional 9-5 workday. All of this makes up the catalyst in the rewrite of the role of the HR professional.

 HR professionals know how to transform when people and technology create the need to change.  Many have a lot of work to do in order to become the tech savvy business strategist needed for the future  

While there are a wide range of technologies emerging, some of the most interesting - and disruptive - examples are powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Thinking back on that dinner, there was either great fear or great excitement in the HR professional community over AI. Some were convinced it was only a matter of time before AI replaced their roles.  Interestingly enough, in Gartner’s 2018 Global CEO Outlook study however, 62 percent of CEOs believe AI will create more jobs than it eliminates. So maybe it’s more about how the HR role needs to transform, as it always has, to accommodate these technologies than the technology itself.

Specifically, we’ve seen AI and machine learning emerge in a big way through talent acquisition technology.  It seems every recruiting tool out there is adopting AI and ML into its offering. With the advent of AI, recruiters now have the ability to screen candidates at lightning speed and reduce biases in ways a typical recruiter could not. However, the HR role now shifts to analyzing the data being provided through AI  - and monitoring this data will be critical to its success. 

AI and machine learning technology has been known to teach itself biases. As an example, in 2018, Amazon.com’s machine-learning specialists uncovered a big problem: their new recruiting AI technology did not like women. The team had been leveraging AI technology in recruiting  since 2014 to review applicants resumes with the aim of automating their search for top talent.  But by 2015, the company realized its new system was not rating candidates for technical jobs  in a gender-neutral way.  Amazon’s computer models were trained to vet applicants by observing patterns in resumes submitted to the company over a 10-year period. Most came from men, so the technology embedded the male into its screening.  The HR professional will now need to become a tech savvy expert to stay on top of these new, and indeed exciting, technologies.

In a recent 2019 survey performed by KPMG of more than 1200 HR executives across the globe, it was found that 2/3rds of HR leaders agree that HR is undergoing a digital transformation. 70% of those HR leaders recognized the need for workforce transformation using technology as the catalyst, which is great!----But here’s the problem, we simply aren’t moving fast enough—that same survey reveals that only  40% of HR leaders say they have a digital plan in place. Probably more alarming is that of those surveyed, only 37% felt confident about HR’s actual ability to transform and move them forward via key technologies.    The reasons for this are still under review, but I’d suggest it’s based on fear. Fear of change, fear of jobs being obsolete, and fear of losing control. One thing is clear, HR professionals know how to transform when people and technology create the need to change.  Many have a lot of work to do in order to become the tech savvy business strategist needed for the future.  Time is running short, and we need to move faster, and embrace this transformation as we have in decades past.

 

 

 

 

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