HomeFuture of WorkHR EffectivenessThe AI-empowered HR leader

The AI-empowered HR leader

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The future of work will be inextricably linked with the advancement of AI. As leaders, we have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to shape how this technology is implemented in our organizations.

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The rise of algorithmic management

Nell Watson

Algorithmic management is already becoming prevalent in the workplace, with AI systems setting people’s hours, contributing to interview and performance evaluation processes, and even hiring and firing outright. Onboarding processes can be revolutionized with personalized AI assistants guiding new employees through their initial days and weeks. AI can analyze performance data, learning patterns, and career aspirations to create highly personalized development plans, recommending specific training modules, mentorship opportunities, or stretch assignments based on an individual’s unique skills and goals.

While these systems can increase efficiency, they also risk dehumanizing the workplace and making errors that can have devastating consequences for employees. The potential pitfalls of unchecked algorithmic management are starkly illustrated by the Horizon Post Office scandal in the UK. This tragic example highlights the need for transparency, the right to challenge algorithmic decisions, and the importance of understanding the limitations of AI systems. Leaders must be aware of these risks and take steps to mitigate them. This includes ensuring that AI systems are explainable and interpretable, maintaining clear mechanisms for employees to appeal decisions, and regularly auditing AI systems for bias and errors.

Working with agentic AI ‘Concierges’ as team members

As AI technology advances, we’re seeing the emergence of increasingly sophisticated agentic AI systems capable of handling complex tasks, from managing schedules and coordinating projects to providing data analysis and even contributing to strategic decision-making. These virtual team members can work tirelessly, process vast amounts of information, and often provide insights that humans might overlook.

However, integrating these AI problem-solvers into existing team structures presents unique cultural challenges. There’s the potential for human team members to feel threatened or devalued, particularly if the AI demonstrates capabilities that overlap with their own roles. Trust can be a significant issue, as employees may be (quite reasonably) hesitant to rely on an AI for critical tasks or decisions, especially in risky use cases.

There’s also the risk of over-dependence, if teams might lean too heavily on the AI, leading human creativity and problem-solving skills to atrophy. This can lead to acquiescence, as human workers give up trying to understand the AI solutions, which mostly work most of the time, yet which can harbor deeply unfair biases within.

Leaders must navigate these challenges carefully. Clear guidelines should be established for AI-human collaboration, delineating which tasks are appropriate for AI handling and which require human judgment. Regular training and open dialogue about working alongside AI can help ease the transition and build a culture of human-AI synergy. Moreover, leaders should foster an environment where employees feel empowered to question or challenge AI recommendations when necessary, maintaining a healthy balance between leveraging AI capabilities and preserving human agency in decision-making processes.

Developing the right mindset and capabilities

To fully leverage AI in the workplace while avoiding its pitfalls, leaders must cultivate several key mindsets and capabilities. Ethical stewardship is paramount as we deploy AI systems that can significantly impact people’s careers and lives. Leaders need to learn to be champions of responsible AI use, ensuring transparency, fairness, and accountability in our systems. That takes training to build awareness in a broad range of subjects, including technology, psychology, and law.

Data literacy and continuous learning are crucial. Leaders must develop a strong understanding of data analytics and AI concepts, enabling them to ask the right questions, interpret results accurately, and make informed decisions about AI implementation. To keep up with AI advancements, we must adopt a voracious appetite for knowledge, dedicating time to reading industry publications, attending webinars, or experimenting with new AI tools.

Leaders need to develop their ability to see the big picture, aligning AI initiatives with overall business goals and anticipating future workforce needs. This involves not just understanding the technology itself, but also its broader implications for organizational structure, workforce planning, and competitive strategy. Leaders must then learn to excel at navigating continuous changes, communicating effectively with all stakeholders, and addressing concerns about job displacement or privacy. This involves not only technical knowledge but also emotional intelligence and the ability to guide people through periods of uncertainty and transformation.

A human-centric focus remains vital even as AI takes over more tasks. Collaboration across departments becomes increasingly important as AI becomes more integrated into various business functions. Leaders will need to work closely with IT, legal, and other departments to ensure smooth implementation and compliance with relevant regulations. Building strong cross-functional relationships will therefore be crucial for success in an AI-driven workplace.

Navigating challenges and opportunities

The potential for AI to exacerbate existing inequalities is a critical concern. Without careful oversight, AI systems could perpetuate biases in hiring, promotion, or compensation decisions. Leaders must be vigilant in auditing these systems and ensuring they promote fairness and inclusivity.

Job displacement due to AI automation is also a reality we must confront head-on. As leaders, we have a responsibility to help our workforce navigate this transition, focusing on reskilling and upskilling initiatives to prepare employees for the jobs of the future.

Despite these challenges, the opportunities presented by AI are truly exciting. By automating routine tasks, AI can free up professionals to focus on more strategic, high-value activities. We can provide more personalized employee experiences, make data-driven decisions, and contribute more directly to business outcomes.

The future of work will be inextricably linked with the advancement of AI. As leaders, we have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to shape how this technology is implemented in our organizations. The key lies in striking the right balance: leveraging AI’s capabilities while preserving the human elements that are central to our work.

It’s important to remember that the AI revolution in the workplace is not just something happening to us — it’s something we have the power to shape. Let’s embrace this opportunity with open minds, ethical considerations, and a commitment to continuous learning and growth, always mindful of the potential pitfalls of petty bureaucratic tyrants. By doing so, we can create a future of work that is both technologically advanced and deeply humane.

Nell Watson is an AI expert, ethicist and author of Taming the Machine: Ethically harness the power of AI.

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