Amy Lui Abel, Ph.D, MD, Human Capital, The Conference Board And Lyle Yorks, Ed.D., Professor, Columbia University
Current debates regarding the future of Artificial Intelligence (AI) often center around its impact on front-line workers and business operations. But companies should place more priority on the role AI will have on the C-Suite. Both now and even more so down the road, the implications of AI will warrant unprecedented collaboration between two key roles: the Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO). Essentially, the two roles are converging, transforming the fundamentals of how we do business.
Traditionally perceived as support functions, both IT and HR play a significant role in the strategic positioning and sustained performance of an organization. Collaboration between the two, along with other functions, is critical for enabling new strategic directions and stimulating new insights into future possibilities in an ecosystem marked by constant disruption and innovation.
In today’s world, business acumen, collaboration, effective change management, and conflict resolution are increasingly expected of the CIO. Key questions that CIOs should be thinking about include the following:
• What is the top threat that emerging technologies pose to our business model?
• What new competitors will likely enter our market space?
• Who is the most important customer in our customer/ stakeholder chain?
• What opportunities exist/or are potentially emerging for us that provide new services and products through technological innovations (including AI)?
• What are the implications of these innovations for our future talent needs?
• How will we effectively address these future talent needs through recruitment, continual development of employees, and focused retention of key employees?
The last three questions relate to the need for ongoing partnerships with CHROs to support necessary programs for talent development, retention of talent through career development opportunities using AI support, and collaborative succession planning.
As AI continues to develop, there is a growing demand for IT and HR functions to work in partnership
AI’s Evolving Application in Human Resources
In recent years, AI has made substantial progress in both being able to identify employees who are most likely to leave their company and finding open roles for internal talent. In addition, more companies across the globe are now “employing” chatbots—essentially, AI agents that use natural language and engage with customers and employees.
The technologies described above are being used in companies to augment initiatives in various parts of the talent management process to enhance the process in terms of scope and speed. And at the same time, these innovations are helping to reduce costs—a priority for nearly every company looking to maintain or gain an edge. Intel has a digital technology in place, which it named “Ivy,” to answer their employees’ questions regarding compensation, benefits, and various other topics in the HR domain. The program is designed to convincingly simulate how a human would respond to such questions. Moreover, one of the major aircraft manufacturing companies uses AI for sourcing and selecting potential applicants as a core part of the recruitment process. And an investment company uses AI predictive indexes to augment both on boarding new hires and promotion decisions.
One of the most intriguing talent management applications of AI is its emerging use in the leadership coaching process. While the use of AI in coaching is still in its early phases, coaching apps such as Butterfly, Giant Otter, Voice Vibes, and Orai are being used by an increasing number of companies. Analyzing data from 360 feedback surveys and employee surveys, performance reports, and listening to voice cues, apps diagnose the coaching needs of their users and provide advice along with recommendations for training to address their deficiencies. As just one example, a large global pharmaceutical company is currently implementing an AI coaching program targeted at lower level managers. The results of this AI program are signaling that more developmental support to more managers is needed, across the enterprise.
AI can also support leaders who currently have a human coach, working to target developmental needs in between live coaching conversations. In a world where more people are working remotely and over dispersed locations, AI can coach individuals who may have limited access to in-person mentoring and feedback. While for the foreseeable future experts do not see AI replacing human coaches, their roles will undoubtedly evolve as the technology continues to develop. (And we should add that future generations will have grown up interacting with and relying on technology).
As AI continues to develop, there is a growing demand for IT and HR functions to work in partnership. While developing more advanced AI applications has numerous benefits for organizational performance including cost savings, service enhancements, and new market opportunities, realizing these performance benefits requires effectively addressing and leveraging workforce impacts. These include the elimination of jobs, the redistribution of work within the organization, and the upgrading of roles and responsibilities along with the creation of new roles. Managing those changes will require close collaboration. Everyone agrees that changes are inevitable, although the business community as a whole lacks agreement about AI’s specific implications for the workforce, or the timing of its impacts. One thing they do agree on—the workplace of the future will look and operate fundamentally different from the way it does today. Using AI, with all of its technological advances, still requires human insights and the personal touch that is the essence of the HR function.