CEO blog: HR in a world of robots

Twice a year, I step away from my day job at Ososim and work with London Business School professor, Lynda Gratton, on her HR Strategy in Transforming Organisations (HRST) programme for senior HR executives. No programme is ever the same. With participants from all over the world, one gets an insight into the key issues that these global executives are concerned about as they contemplate the future.

On this month’s programme, much of the discussion was about artificial intelligence and the replacement by robots of many jobs now performed by humans. It is generally assumed that as a result of AI, very human skills such as creativity, resilience and social skills will be the ones in demand rather than narrow technical ones. Where does HR fit into this? With fewer employees and many HR processes automated, will the role of HR be diminished?

In my opinion, the opposite will happen. Supporting a smaller number of highly valuable creative, innovative and intuitive employees will be a more important responsibility than managing larger numbers of employees doing “machine-like” jobs. This will start with the type of work environment created. Historically humans doing the jobs that will be performed by machines in the future were treated like machines, working in drab offices with uniform compensation packages. When people do the work that only humans can perform, then they will need to be treated as people, in human friendly environments, and be rewarded to suit them as individuals. Attracting, developing and retaining people, who may not even be employees in the way we think today, will require HR to develop all the capabilities of creative talent management agents, looking after a roster of skilled individuals, but with the added task of fostering collaboration within and beyond the organisation.

Of course, this human treatment for human employees will only be for those lucky to have jobs. A different HR role will be required to support those who are left behind by the world of AI!

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