How AI is changing the landscape of human resources

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva kicking off the 2018 Career Development Roundtable in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by: Career Development Roundtable

Digitization and artificial intelligence were the buzzwords at the 15th annual Career Development Roundtable in Lisbon, Portugal, in December 2018. Hundreds of human resource leaders gathered to discuss how AI is changing the landscape of human resources and the challenges this might present, among other topics.

The introduction of artificial intelligence in human resources has received a mixed reception. While such tools could drastically improve efficiency when it comes to high-volume tasks such as candidate vetting, there were also concerns that it could exacerbate biases in the recruitment process. However, while the capabilities of AI continue to amaze, it cannot replace people; human capital and the ability to attract and retain talent remains key to an organization’s success.

Here are three takeaways from the conference for anyone working in talent.

AI can help HR work more efficiently

“AI is not out to take over the world. It is just a tool which can solve our problems for us.”

— Vivienne Ming, neuroscientist, entrepreneur, and founder of Socos Lab

The field is undergoing a significant transformation as artificial intelligence continues to come up with fast and effective solutions to change how some of the core tasks and processes of HR are carried out.

It’s no longer a question of when but rather how AI can impact and improve human resources. “AI is not out to take over the world,” said Vivienne Ming, neuroscientist, entrepreneur, and founder of Socos Lab. “It is just a tool which can solve our problems for us,” she continued, adding that it can actually help us maximize human potential.

AI is here whether you want it to be or not, agreed Charlotte Lodahl, search director of SRI Executive. It really can help strengthen HR departments, she explained, by allowing the sector’s practitioners to focus less on administrative duties and more on tasks around workforce planning, compensation, and professional development. Particularly with recruitment processes, AI can help with precision and volume.

However, there will still need to be coordination between humans and technology, and those critical, complex, and creative tasks will still require humans to take the lead, Lodahl said.

We need to be aware of biases before AI can help us tackle them

The main concern surrounding the use of AI in HR, particularly for recruitment processes, is that it could replicate biases.

Bias shows up in absolutely everything we do, said Pamela Fuller, global client partner at FranklinCovey — and this also applies to information technology and AI because they are fueled and programed by humans.

“It’s really important if we are going to interact with AI and IT to solve our bias challenges, to be able to state what our biases are.”

— Pamela Fuller, global client partner at FranklinCovey

“People alone and tech alone are imperfect,” said Fuller. “But if we can come together, we can really find solutions to mitigate bias.” For this to work, however, training is required to ensure we truly understand the process by which we form unconscious biases.

“It’s really important if we are going to interact with AI and IT to solve our bias challenges, to be able to state what our biases are,” said Fuller, and “to understand what is going into the programming of an AI solution.”

It can be overwhelming for HR professionals to work with firms and platforms that provide AI solutions as they require knowledge of a more technical type of language. Fuller recommended that, as organizations are exploring AI solutions, they should be asking how the software makes decisions. Is it through a dataset or through an algorithm where it is self-taught? How can that dataset then be tested for bias? It can also be helpful to do a SWOT-type analysis of where bias is currently showing up in an organization, said Fuller, because it is only with the awareness that it can be tested.

AI can support organizations by generating insights based on the data it has access to, but it is then up to humans to interpret and act on these, she concluded.  

Time for a more agile approach

 “How on earth is human resources going to enable our organizations if we just keep doing the same old. We’re actually going to be doing our organizations, potentially, a fatal disservice.”

David Bearfield, director of the office of human resources at UNDP

A new approach is needed for HR to truly enable organizations to attract top talent and deliver results. The role of HR needs to go beyond transactions, strategies, and policies, and instead be seen as a key player in the organizational design, explained David Bearfield, director of the office of human resources at UNDP.

“Its function should be to maximize the effectiveness of an organization, chiefly, but not exclusively, through the people that work in it,” he said.

In the public sector, the people that you have — the quality of their knowledge, their skills, their motivation, and their sense of purpose — are more or less your only asset, he added.

As the dynamics of global development continue to change, the role of HR, which hasn’t always been perceived as an “enabling function,” should also be listening to practitioners in the field and understanding the challenges they face to then help them achieve results.

Increasing competition for talent in the coming years will also force HR departments and organizations to adapt their approach to talent management. Current systems tend not to be designed to attract millennials who have very different expectations to the workforce than previous generations. Rewards packages and incentives that are built around pension funds are not of interest to this new generation, explained Bearfield.

“We need to be more nimble, more agile,” he continued. “How on earth is human resources going to enable our organizations if we just keep doing the same old. We’re actually going to be doing our organizations, potentially, a fatal disservice.”

About the author

  • Emma smith

    Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Senior Careers Reporter at Devex, based in Barcelona. She focuses on bringing the latest career and hiring trends, tips, and insights to our global development community. Emma has a background in journalism and, in addition to writing for news publications, has worked with organizations focusing on child rights and women’s rights in sustainable development.