A rising tide lifts all boats’ was a favourite expression of President Kennedy. It applies so very well to the desperate need organizations have today for a better way to engage and retain their employees, says Geoff Webb.
So many already feel disengaged and burned out, and yet HR teams are buried in the day-to-day minutia of answering questions and dealing with today’s fire drill. In a recent study, 41 percent of HR leaders said they are spending at least half of their time simply answering the same questions over and over.
Freeing up their time would enable them to focus on far more impactful, and needed, priorities. The question up to now has been, how?
Freeing HR teams from the tyranny of the day-to-day would enable them to focus on key areas around retaining the best talent, refining and tuning benefits, improving productivity, leadership training, and ultimately building a culture that creates and reinforces a far better employee experience.
Current human capital management (HCM) platforms are designed to help centralize employee information, and to automate as many tasks as possible, reducing workload for HR and enabling more employee self-service.
However, the rapidly developing capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI) now offer even greater opportunities to accelerate the growth of HR from an operational (if essential) function, to one that is a strategic advisor and shaper of a successful, productive and engaging culture.
There are fundamentally three areas in which AI is becoming prevalent, and effective, in HR technology, both today and likely to continue.
The first is in operational areas, where AI-assisted workflows can both improve speed and reduce errors. For example, running payroll can be a time-consuming business and often requires a lot of checking to remove (or at least minimize) errors and corrections. HCM platforms automate much of this process already, but AI technologies can add an extra layer of oversight, looking for unexpected or odd changes in the payroll and alerting HR staff so they can investigate further.
Such AI assistance, for example, means HR, payroll and benefits teams can focus on other areas and be confident that anything unusual will be detected and flagged. Such workflows might also include a more common function around pre-screening candidates applying for a job, looking for the right mix of experience and skills to best match the needs of the hiring manager. Again, the role of AI here is to assist in the work, not take over completely, so that the people-professionals involved can focus on more strategic goals that improve the workforce and not the tactical activities that often dominate their time and energy.
Employee experience will become more personalised
The second area where AI is becoming increasingly seen is in tuning the employee experience to become more personalized and focused on the specific needs of that employee today. Much in the same way, AI tunes our experience (on social media, streaming services, news feeds and so on) so AI tools can start to improve the employee experience for every individual, every time.
This would include identifying learning paths for that job that enables the employee to develop in their career, making content more finable for employees, and even helping tune the employee’s compensation and benefits to help ensure engagement and retention. One of the most significant aspects of AI that separates it from other technologies is its ability to learn over time. So tuning experiences is a perfect place for AI to be deployed, and that includes learning how to interact with employees, and spotting frequently asked questions to help improve training and onboarding – all with an eye toward bettering the workplace.
This brings us neatly to the third area where AI is popping up in the workplace and having an impact on HR and employee experience – the chatbot. Chatbots have been around for a while, often appearing on websites to offer additional help or guidance to find information. In the world of HR, chatbots are now playing a growing role in reducing the amount of time HR professionals have to spend answering those same repetitive questions. Employees looking for information on, say, company holidays or travel policy can be easily directed to an answer by a chatbot rather than sending an email to their HR partner. On a more personalized example, a chatbot can be used to respond to questions such as “How much PTO do I have left?” Pairing the chatbot with AI-assisted workflows would enable the conversation to go even further, with the chatbot not only answering a question but also offering to initiate a workflow such as booking a vacation day if the employee would like.
Such interactions are especially beneficial during phases like onboarding or starting a new role. Here the employee might have a lot of questions and having a chatbot available “who” can answer them at any time reduces the impact on the HR team but also makes the employee experience better.
Tools like ChatGPT combine the language capabilities of the chatbot with generative capabilities where new content is created based on materials the AI has been trained on. Such tools are a good example of bringing all these types of AI together, and we should expect to see the various types of HR-focused AI connected more and more through HCM platforms to improve communications and interaction (via chatbots), delivering a personalized interaction focused on that employee’s needs, and connecting to business process to improve responsiveness and reliability.
Such capabilities going to become more and more the norm over the next several years, and likely at a surprisingly accelerated pace. Thankfully, much like the AI capabilities we already carry around in our smartphones, the impact of these tools is likely less massive disruption and more a case of improving the workplace and the work experience overall. Each AI tool will contribute its own capabilities to, as JFK would put it, raise all our boats together.
Geoff Webb is VP of Solution Strategy at isolved.