How Artificial Intelligence (AI) is Transforming the Landscape of HR Operations

Published by Anoo P on

With the entry of AI and robotics into the daily life, be it smart cars, video games, virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, etc., there is a(n) (r)evolution or even disruption according to some experts, occurring in the society and economy across the globe.

So, on one hand, we have Stephen Hawking saying, “I fear that AI may replace humans altogether…We cannot predict what we might achieve when our minds are amplified by AI… It will bring great disruption to our economy. And in the future, AI could develop a will of its own – a will that will conflict ours. In short, the rise of powerful AI will either be the best or the worst thing to ever happen to humanity….”

On the other hand, we have Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, the current chairman, president, and CEO of IBM, saying, “Some people call this artificial intelligence, but the reality is this technology will enhance us. So instead of artificial intelligence, I think we’ll augment our intelligence.”

As the arms of AI reach out to ‘virtual’ly touch every aspect of our lives, our workplace is no exception.

Sarah, a 27-year-old candidate from Ohio dressed up appropriately according to the suggestions provided in the company website and sat down against a well-lit background to attend what a recruiter told her was, “just like an interview on Skype.” According to CNBC when her interview began, much to her surprise, there was no human involved in the interview process.

Instead, her interview was analyzed by “advanced machine learning, and her facial expressions and word choice evaluated by a series of algorithms.”

“It felt weird. I was kind of talking into the void,” Sarah, a marketing manager, stated later.

In its 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, from a research involving  10,400 respondents from 140 countries, Deloitte states, “56 percent of companies are redesigning their HR programs to leverage digital and mobile tools, and 33 percent are already using some form of artificial intelligence (AI) applications to deliver HR solutions.”

The report further states, “41 percent of respondents reported having fully implemented or having made significant progress in adopting cognitive and AI technologies within their workforce.“

AI is redefining, reshaping, (r)revolutionizing and to some extent even perhaps disrupting as some experts would have it, the way companies manage their workforce and create HR plans.

As the (r)evolution/disruption progresses, questions are being asked and debates raged about:

    • What does this portend for the future of the ‘human’ in human resource?
    • Will AI completely replace humans?
    • Does this mean job losses?
    • Will HR become obsolete?
    • What in HR should and should not be automated?

Frankenstein no longer seems to be residing within the pages of his creator Mary Shelley’s book but has stepped out of it as a living and fully functioning entity into our everyday workspace.

In this article, though we will not enter into the debate of “To Frankenstein or not to Frankenstein”, or to be more apt, “To AI or not to AI” the HR.

Rather, we will take the Buddha’s balanced middle path.

In simpler words, we will see how Artificial Intelligence can be used in partnership with the human resources to completely transform and reinvent the HR sector through:

1. ‘Re-humanising’ the De-humanising Talent Screening Process

When people are forced to perform repetitive low-value tasks day after day they become de-humanised or machine-like. In HR this can translate to a daily grind of parsing and screening resumes, identifying potential candidates, tracking the performance, onboarding, deciding on the compensation and benefits and so on.

In fact, talent acquisition employees spend 55 percent of their time in sorting out and matching resumes to job descriptions.

The routine robotic monotony can lead to stress and anxiety and finally even disengagement from work.

AI can help completely eliminate the repetitive tasks and accelerate the search for potential candidates. The algorithms involved in AI simulates human behaviour and work experiences and draws inferences that could take a lot of time and manpower if done manually.

By leveraging AI, to automate this process, your organization can swiftly eliminate 75 percent of the candidates from the initial recruiting process by evaluating, scanning, and reading the resumes.

Currently, AI and automation are being used in five major domains across talent acquisition. They are:

    • Job descriptions: By performing a sentiment analysis AI can help HR personnel create job descriptions that appeal to a wide diversity of candidates.
    • Resume analyzing: Candidates are automatically shortlisted based on their experience, qualifications and skill sets.  
    • Candidate sourcing: Automated sourcing finds the best possible candidates who fit the requirements for the roles in your organization, by scouring the web during a general search or by looking through resume databases.
    • Screening past candidates pool: AI can check your existing database of past applicants and shortlist candidates who fit into a currently open job role.
    • Reaching out to candidates: Akin to Siri and Alexa, a chatbot interacts with possible candidates to collect information and schedule interviews. This process is then followed up by a human recruiter.

AI can handle these tedious tasks efficiently by identifying the best possible candidates which in turn ‘re-humanizes’ the HR staff in your company.  
They are now left with more time and energy in their hands to interact with the potential employees, make them feel valued, and improve their experience with your organization. By automating the process of talent acquisition your organization stands to:

    • increase the quality of hiring decisions
    • save the time and efforts of the HR professionals for more important tasks
    • save on the cost of poor hiring decisions

Doing Away with Human Bias

A plus point of AI is that it reduces partiality at work by disregarding a candidate’s racial background, age, gender etc., during the initial screening and sourcing stage.

The AI can design questions that completely disregards a person’s background and instead focuses on their skillsets and competency for a particular job role.  

Workplace diversity boosts employee morale and causes employees to work more effectively and efficiently, thereby increasing productivity.

According to a study done by Ellison, a senior lecturer in MIT’s Department of Economics, and Wallace P. Mullin, an economist at George Washington University, even an equal split along the gender lines can increase revenue for the organization by roughly 41 percent.

Experts also believe that a diverse workforce can bring in new skills, more creativity and uniqueness to work which can help create innovative processes and bring in a variety of solutions on how to achieve a common organizational goal.

According to a CNBC report, companies such as J.P. Morgan Chase, and Unilever, are using AI to especially target a more diverse candidate pool.

The report further states, “TalentSonar, a California-based start-up, seeks to eliminate bias from job descriptions by using A.I. to tweak the language so that it’s more appealing to women and minority applicants.”

The example of L’Oreal is a perfect case study of accelerating hiring efficiency by using AI.

L’Oreal has 89000 plus employees worldwide. They recruit approximately 15000 candidates annually. Since around 5 million candidates apply for jobs at their website the cost and time involved in sifting through and reviewing all the resumes was enormous.

Finally, L’Oreal partnered with Seedlink Technology to use AI for the for the initial screening process. L’Oréal was asked to design three questions related to the skill sets the company desires most in potential candidates. One example of a question is: “Tell us about a time when you failed or made a mistake. What happened? What did you learn from the experience?”. Others questions revolved around other areas of work behaviour.

The team members with whom the potential applicants would work were also asked the same questions.

A model was developed based on the inputs received. The model fed the algorithms with details of the company’s expectations of a candidate and the candidate’s expectations from the future employer. The entire model was designed with the fact in mind that the technology would play the role of the enabler and the ultimate choice would be of a human recruiter.

The technology was designed “to think and make decisions like a human – but without human bias.” Therefore it was purely the candidate’s skill sets and potential that would win not the gender, race, or the university they studied at.
L’Oreal’s ‘efficiency and relevance rating’ has drastically increased since they started using AI as the ‘job offer ratio for interviewed candidates is up to 82 percent.’

2. Aiding Employee Onboarding & Adaptation

First impressions matter more than we realize. It is during the first few weeks that the new employees look out for signs on how an organization functions.

According to a study done by Talya Bauer, Ph.D., author of Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, part of the SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series, “Research and conventional wisdom both suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. The faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.”

Therefore, the first 90 days of the new employee in an organization forms the foundation of the employee’s motivation and dedication towards performance at work and organizational goals.

The onboarding process within those 90 days can not only mold the first impression of the organization in the minds of the new employees but can also affect their retention in the organization in the long run.

An SHRM report states that new employees who attend well-defined and structured onboarding processes were 69 percent more likely to remain in the company for a period of three years or more.

Well-defined onboarding leads to:

    • greater employee commitment
    • higher job satisfaction
    • great performance levels
    • low stress
    • low employee turnovers

Thus, the first 90 days define how engaged or disengaged an employee will be with your organization.

According to SHRM’s Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success there are four C’s that can which are the “building blocks” of an exceptional onboarding experience:

    • Connection – related to relationships with colleagues
    • Culture-related to organizational values
    • Clarification – queries related to roles and responsibilities
    • Compliance – related to rules and regulations

New employees have a lot of queries related to all these areas and need a certain amount of hand-holding, and guidance.

It is impossible for an HR team to give equal attention and time to every new employee.

Enter AI, which can provide customized onboarding procedures according to the job role of every candidate. Though not everything can be automated, besides it is not advisable because the new employees also require the “human touch” to feel the bonding with the organization.

AI can, however, take up the tasks of:

    • Creating the offer
    • Sending the offer and related paperwork
    • Answering questions related to company policies since new employees have a lot of queries (chatbots can be of immense help here)
    • Provide instructions on how to:
        • Set up the password
        • Set up the printer
        • Request access to any tool or software required
        • Getting a list of the colleagues the employee will work with
        • Getting the time on a calendar to meet any executive

AI thus frees up the time of the HR personnel in your organization for more complex matters.

Some companies that use AI for onboarding new employees and helping them adapt are IBM, Amazon, Microsoft.

According to U.K. based Juniper Research  AI could save businesses $8 billion annually worldwide by 2022, up from $20 million in 2017 with new age platforms such as employee engagement & feedback software
The age-old adage that says, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”, holds true even to this day.

Therefore, give it a thought what kind of impression you would want your organization to make with the new hires, because at the end of the day their presence, engagement, performance, and productivity is what makes up your organization.

3. Employee Performance Tracking

It is easy to monitor the performance and productivity of every employee using AI tools. Using these tools HR managers can set concrete measurable goals and then conduct automated reviews periodically for each employee against the set goals in your organization.

AI can provide valuable and systematic insights into the behavioural pattern of performance of the employee by:

    • tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
    • marking areas that need improvement
    • enabling alerts in case of any disparity between the target values aimed at and the actual performance

Therefore, AI can not only serve to increase productivity but also track team members who are underperforming or are disengaged.

Hitachi installed “robot bosses” in a few of its warehouses which gave instructions and work orders to the employees to increase their productivity. A Hitachi press release later stated that productivity had already increased after the installation by 8 percent. They further stated that they hope to expand “human and AI cooperation.”

4. Employee Training & Skills Enhancement

After Nokia was acquired by Microsoft, the Nokia CEO, Stephen Elop, during a press conference ended his speech by saying, “we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost”. Rahul Gupta in his article states, “Nokia has been a respectable company. They didn’t do anything wrong in their business, however, the world changed too fast…They missed out on learning, they missed out on changing, and thus they lost the opportunity at hand to make it big.”

Training or learning in any organization plays a crucial role in employee engagement and employee retention, apart from keeping up the organization’s productivity.

Employees like machines can become outdated if they do not keep enhancing their skills, which in the long run will make the organization itself rusty, not to speak of employee disengagement and attrition. Under skilled and outdated employees can make an organization defunct.

Steve Olenski in his article Why C-Levels Need To Think About eLearning And Artificial Intelligence states:

    • “Spending on corporate training has grown to over $70 billion in the United States.
    • 68% of workers say training and development is the most important workplace policy.
    • 84% of global executives ranked employee learning as important or very important.
    • 40% of employees who receive poor job training leave their positions within the first year.
    • Every dollar invested in online training results in a $30 increase in productivity.

    • Companies that use e-learning technology achieve an 18% boost in employee engagement.”

Many companies are using AI for training their employees and among them are Google, Amazon, and IBM.

AI can help your company redefine your training practices and the way your employees learn.

It can not only organize, coordinate, and schedule training successfully but can also create individualized learning experiences based on the candidate’s learning preferences and by determining the best time frame for new and advanced courses.

When an employee opts for a particular training programme the AI responds to the employee’s personal learning style.

For instance, AI recognizes if an employee learns better through visual and hands-on modes rather than traditional text or even auditory modes, and will proceed to engage the employee in the training by offering visual cues, and multiple interactive experiences, including providing gamified modules for maximum efficacy.

It recapitulates and offers tests, and quizzes, to measure the effectiveness of the training program. An added advantage is the employee can also learn at his/her own pace to retain the information better.
AI also suggests what are the other related advanced training the employee can take up to keep his/her knowledge parameters up-to-date.

The individualized experiences help to foster employee engagement, as the employees are seen as individuals instead of cogs in a machine.

At the end of the day, happy and skilled employees mean better productivity and happy customers for the organization. An all-around win-win situation for all and the organization too will always be at the top of its game.

As Pedro Domingos author of the bestseller “The Master Algorithm University of Washington” rightly says,  “A company without machine learning, can’t keep up with one that uses it.”

5. Employee Retention

Employee turnover can be a very costly problem and have a huge impact on revenue growth and organizational expansion.  57 percent of the organizations see employee retention as their biggest problem. 69% of Millennial would rather make $50K a year at a job they love than $75K a year at a job they think is boring.

“The toughest thing to do is to keep talent with the company longer than a year. Millennials expect you to digitalize and personalize your relations with them, so we must do just that,” says  Harry Na, Global Talent Acquisition Manager at DSM.

To simplify the overall work experience many companies use AI to gain insight into their employees’ experiences at work.

AI can spot patterns found in previous data and thereby identify risks and predict future behaviours.

For instance, the AI technology embedded in employee performance tracking tools and feedback tools, can keep a track of the employee behaviour pattern and predict which team members are dissatisfied and disengaged, which team members are likely to leave the company, and even predict the performance of each of the employees before that happens.

It can channel the concerns to HR team members with individual employee histories, apt recommendations on how to swiftly mitigate any risks of employee disengagement, and also the best ways to engage the concerned employees. Armed with this information the HR team can become proactive to address the issues even before they start to erupt.

They can swiftly act and engage the employees at a risk of disengagement in a productive discussion and also counsel if the situation requires it.

In conclusion, AI’s contribution to HR does not halt only with eliminating repetitive tasks and saving cost and time by accelerating the search for talent.  AI is transforming and redefining the HR landscape by:

    • reducing partiality in the workplace by increasing workforce diversity.
    • reducing stress and thus clearing the mental space of the HR personnel to creatively strategize employee engagement programmes.
    • improving employee engagement.
    • helping to increase productivity and thus directly impacting the company’s profits.
    • reducing employee attrition and thus reducing employee turnover costs.

Chances are there could be a different ending in store for this Frankenstein story. The prospects look promising for this creation of science to walk on the middle path hand-in-hand with HR and in doing so even restore the humane in Human Resources.

Speaking of AI and humans taking a balanced middle path hand-in-hand, Sebastian Thrun, innovator, entrepreneur educator, and computer scientist from Germany, CEO of the Kitty Hawk Corporation, chairman and co-founder of Udacity) puts it beautifully when he says, “Nobody phrases it this way, but I think that artificial intelligence is almost a humanities discipline. It’s really an attempt to understand human intelligence and human cognition.”