On the last day of the recent WorkHuman conference, 3,000 attendees were buzzing with excitement waiting for Brené Brown (https://brenebrown.com) to take the stage as the closing speaker. The WorkHuman conference attendance has swelled in recent years, and with speakers like Brown, it’s no surprise. The content for those charged with leading people functions at employers is superb. It’s a bucket list event if you’re in Human Resources.
Brené spoke of leadership and how future leaders need courage. To be courageous, she believes you need to be vulnerable. Whether she’s talking to Special Forces units, top global athletes or rooms full of school teachers, when she asks the question, “have you ever witnessed an act of courage without vulnerability?” the reply is always – No. The world is changing fast and we need to be vulnerable enough to say we haven’t got it all worked out.
It seemed that every speaker at WorkHuman talked about how change is accelerating, and that HR leaders, their businesses and their people are at the center of this storm. What will business look like in the future? What jobs will remain? Which jobs will be replaced or augmented, and what new jobs will emerge from this disruption? After all there was no such job as an App Developer until we had iPhones in our hands.
Part of being courageous is having honest, direct and forthright conversations. Some of these questions and conversations get uncomfortable; really fast. Some of these conversations don’t yet have answers. How will autonomous trucks affect truck drivers and delivery people? How and how fast will regulations change with these shifts in technology? Will people protest these “advancements”? How about Radiologists or recent law school grads whose tasks (not yet wholesale occupations) could be taken over through AI, machine learning and the internet of things? How or for what will these disrupted employees vote?
Humans have a hard time with the concept of exponential growth. Through millennia of evolution, our brains are hard wired to think in a linear fashion (Point A to Point B, 4 repeating seasons, how we age…). It is said that even Einstein once termed the greatest force in the universe, not gravity or relativity, but was compound interest. It’s the same exponential growth that many of us with 401ks hope will power retirement. A great example is how 30 compounded steps, or doubled in length for each next step, results in 26 trips around the world. Great whitepaper on technology and Future of Work ion this topic.
Technology has its own compounding theory in Moore’s Law which is bearing down on us with exponential speed. Many of the advancements, issues, and opportunities created by technology will effect organizations before employers are ready to plan for them much less address them. While some organizations are already looking to these next generation solutions, many are just at the starting line. But the return on investment has never been clearer.
For instance, at CNBC’s @Work conference in April, IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty, stated that AI will change 100% of jobs. Not eliminate 100% of jobs but change or augment these jobs. IBM took a nontraditional path by starting their implementation of AI, with HR. They saved $300M from an end to end AI implementation targeted on making HR completely employee centric. Rometty said, “You (IBM) don’t do things to people but for them, it’s consumer centric because of how we apply the AI and there’s productivity on the other side.”
This is a stunning example of the changes, benefits and hard conversations that AI will bring to business. IBM replaced routine HR work with more strategic work, and the new AI technology enabled them to reduce HR headcount by 30%, which obviously had a negative effect on the existing staff. However, the remaining HR staff saw increases in both their skills and compensation. The HR team at IBM had the courage to have honest conversations about challenges and opportunities facing their business and then took take decisive action.
Seems odd that a blog directed at HR folks would highlight these steps as success but IBM HR stood up and decided that while it affected staff in the short term, the augmented work through AI added incredible value with respect to their core mission of attracting and retaining vital talent in the long term. While the full details of their plans were not divulged, it appears that they, through AI, "flipped the script" on the Recruiting / Onboardong processes. Rather than having candidates search for jobs that match their skill set, resume and experience, AI takes that same skill set, resume and experience (along with available social media and online history) and matches it to jobs where they have found success with similar employees. Recruiting, retention and overall job success rates all go up! Sounds like a win to me.
You can check out the full CNBC interview with Ginni Rometty here and learn more details about how IBM CHRO, Diane Gherson implemented AI here
At WorkHuman, HR leaders were talking about strategic initiatives that will require Brene’ Brown’s type of courage. These leaders are focused on evolving culture and strategy, diversity & inclusion, pay equity, gender Issues, elevating the employee experience, and eliminating bureaucracy, plus all the usual suspects of recruiting, retention, development, compensation, rewards, succession and compliance. To many of us, these leading edge topics are uncomfortable - driving a natural instinct to shut them out, bury our heads in the sand and hope it all passes. But the train has left the station, and as Dr. Brown suggests we need to “embrace the suck”.
It’s an exciting time to be in HR as well as to help support HR and businesses through the rough seas. At times, it might suck but we’ll need to muster the courage to be vulnerable and brave and help create work of the future. There’s a lot riding on our efforts