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HR teams must help workforces reinvent themselves

With new tech poised to disrupt, HR needs to reimagine its purpose and processes, said IBM’s Andy Britt at June event.

Organisations of the future will be “talent centric and AI-powered”, said Andy Britt, Vice President, Talent and Engagement Leader for Europe, at IBM Global Business Services, at ThisIsHR’s June event hosted by IBM.

 “They’ll be talent centric because, faced with business disruption – having to reinvent the products and services companies provide – you’re going to need your people to reinvent themselves,” he said. “Organisations today need to apply the Darwinian analogy that you’ve got to adapt to survive, and you have to adapt quickly to face off competitive threats. The way you do that is you get the entirety of your workforce to open their eyes to the threats they see in the world around them, and to readily reinvent themselves. That has to be a bottom-up process.” 

The application of artificial intelligence (AI) in HR “gives the potential for your average performers to become better or star performers,” Britt added. “We’re genuinely talking about human resources with AI becoming super human resources: that’s the potential.”

 There are four steps HR professionals need to be taking now to prepare and adapt for this future world of work, he said. “First, you have to reimagine the way that people work: they aren’t going to be tethered to their PC anymore. Secondly, you have to move from the subjective to the objective. HR has always wanted to make decisions based on data – now we can genuinely do that. We can make more accurate hiring decisions based on matching skills to available jobs, for example.

“Thirdly, you have to future-proof your talent strategy. Everything you do in HR will now have a digital and a cognitive [AI] element. You have to look at how your processes will embrace this new technology. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are so used to the consumer-grade experience in our personal lives that we expect the same in our work lives. Start not with the processes and technology but with the person, and design the whole experience around them.”

 Britt cited this ‘experience disruption’ as one of the three major causes of disruption that organisations are having to cope with at the moment, alongside ‘business disruption’ (with the emergence of apps such as Uber) and ‘technology disruption’ (the emergence of AI). 

“People entering the workplace today are expecting that their interactions with their employer – which is what HR looks after – [to be] as smooth and as seamless and as intuitive as using your iPhone. Why can’t consuming learning at work be like binging Netflix? Why can’t performance management be like mapping your run or ride on Strava? [That] consumer experience we’ve grown up with and we love and we find quite addictive, we [now] expect to see in workplace technology.”

Cognitive technologies can help HR teams deliver this consumer-style experience because of their ability to understand data, recommend next actions, interact with users and learn from previous experiences, said Britt, who briefly demonstrated IBM’s Watson candidate assistant – which recommends which vacancies candidates should apply for based on their skills – and the company’s in-house Appreciation Coaching and Evaluation (ACE) app, which enables team members to give each other real-time feedback.

Also on show at the event were four HR technology startups: Soma Analytics’ Kelaa app, which combines coaching and psychology inspired interventions to aid employees resilience; Sunlight, which enables workers to access any learning content, and HR teams to better understand employees’ motivations; Vault, which uses blockchain technology to enable workers to record and report instances of harassment anonymously and securely; and ThanksBox, a peer-to-peer reward and recognition tool that helps drive a better understand of employee behaviours and organisational culture. 

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Cathryn Newbery is content marketing editor at CIPHR, one of #ThisIsHR’s sponsors. CIPHR is a leading UK provider of cloud-based HR and recruitment systems for private, public and third-sector organisations. You can find Cathryn on Twitter @c_newbery.