As workforces and the demands on our people change, organisations are being challenged to deliver growth and opportunity, which means that HCM strategy needs to increasingly focus on social, ethical, and values-driven decisions.

AI, robotics, and other technologies are increasingly challenging how our people and teams work, the skills we’ll need, and the work they do. According to Gartner, AI deployments have tripled in the past year and 37% of organizations surveyed said they have implemented AI in some form. Moreover, the number of organizations implementing AI grew 270% in just four years.

Globally, the estimated share of existing jobs that could be automated by 2030 varies, but ranges from 22 per cent in Finland up to a staggering 44 per cent in Slovakia, according to research from PWC. In Australia, we are also set to feel the effects of automation and the potential of AI. Research from Frost & Sullivan points to more than 40 per cent of high-routine, low-skilled tasks being automated over the next decade.

While these stats may sound staggering, it’s hardly surprising. Even with a simplistic lens, organisations are looking for ways to replace manual effort with more efficient processes driven by automation, machine learning, and ultimately greater intelligence that is derived from AI.

What’s new, however, is that AI doesn’t stop at the commodity level but increasingly is moving further up the value chain as organisations see the potential beyond automation. As machines increasingly learn about process, people, behaviour, and trends, organisations are now looking at how to harness AI to improve how products and services are delivered to customers, as well as utilise the data within their business to remain competitive.

There’s little doubt that we have to anticipate a strategic shift in planning for our future organisations, skill diversity in our people, and how it will change how our people work.

And that poses an interesting and difficult challenge: in the future of work where we embrace these new technologies, what are the likely impacts on how we manage our people?

Change Will Surely Come … and Have Unintended Consequences

Just as we have in human nature, there remains a critical challenge that as yet hasn’t been ironed out of AI or machine learning, which is the tendency to have some degree of bias in its algorithms. That can be traced back to how AI-led technology is programmed, which assumptions and parameters were applied, and where, and that posits some challenging questions.

Do we have to reconsider the consequences of key decisions being made on the back of AI where bias will likely exist? At what point are the cultural, moral, or societal values of the organisation built into the recommendations that AI-enabled systems generate?

Clearly, a near-time imperative for organisations considering adoption of AI into their processes includes an HCM strategy that will manage the change impacts for their staff.

There is enough evidence from technological evolution for us to know that leaders can’t bury their heads in the proverbial sands about change impacts that will unnerve or disrupt their workforces and have unintended consequences.

Here’s a simple example: The automation of compliance reporting at a major bank resulted in a head-count reduction of 40 people. It doesn’t take much displacement within an organisation to ensure the word gets out that employers don’t value their staff and that any and every function that can be automated or digitise is a perceived threat.

A second example is the impact of robotics in surgical procedures and how junior doctors are being trained. The long-held norm for training surgeons in many hospitals around the world is to ‘see one, do one, teach one’, enabling young doctors to gain valuable practical experience in various surgeries, as well as the capacity to gain immediate insight from more experienced surgeons. As robotic surgery has become a reality, this traditional method of training has—in some cases—lead senior doctors to expand their knowledge and capabilities by embracing robotic surgery. However, the unintended consequence is that junior surgeons are increasingly not be getting the exposure to procedures they need to learn thus are resorting to ‘shadow learning’ via simulators or watching recorded surgeries on YouTube.

Both examples illustrate that the potential impacts in the workplace that are likely to come with automation, robotics, and AI: difficulty in attracting the right talent, the risk of losing important skills from within, and promoting a culture of uncertainty should displacement occur when technology seemingly subsumes human skill.

AI Success Relies on Strong Organisational Change Management

Here’s the thing: even in the age of AI, robots, and automation, organisations still need human input. In fact, the successful deployment of AI into workplaces requires pairing deployment with change management strategy.

Organisations that acknowledge the disruption that AI tech is going to bring and start preparing their business to strategically upskill are those that understand the value of their people. Acknowledging the inevitable displacement of people is a starting point with the next step to build strategies that are designed to retain, upskill, or retire those directly impacted.

Having a clear and well-communicated policy on how an organisation will respond to the adoption of AI or automation must surely become a priority for HCM leaders. For an organisation to have continued success, it has to attract, retain, and sustain talent that has shared values, which means living their values front and centre is a must.

The magic in this statement is that the organisation has a set of stated, shared and understood values – these values form a platform to which staff and customers alike will bond with. This will attract gig workers to an organisation, and it is the value set that defines a community and an organisation; simply embracing diversity in ethnicity and gender, for example, will not create a sustainable and engaged culture.

Decision making within the organisation not only considers but prioritises decisions based on ensuring they are aligned and contribute to sustaining those values.

Knowing the Problems We Want to Solve

While AI is still a work in progress for most organisations, we need to ask where it starts, stops, and why. What may be algorithmically correct may not validate against the values of the company. It is unquestionable that the power of AI and machine learning is immense and furthermore that it will not be long before the insights we receive from this will outstrip our ability to validate – it is at this point we sit on a precipice.

Do we blindly trust the AI? Do we discount it because we can’t validate it? Do we play it against our values and make a judgment call? What if we discount AI’s outputs and it was right and we lose market position?

Ultimately it is these problems that our leaders must address in the organisation of the future when dealing with AI and its impacts upon the workplace.

Putting the right levels of governance and processes in place will ensure the organisation’s values remain front and centre through AI disruption. Those organisations that do not look at the AI revolution through a values prism run the risk of having their current values hollowed out.

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