Our latest guest article featured originally on LinkedIn and is by Nathan Williams, Coach and Change Manager.
Artificial Intelligence is becoming a more and more prominent co-worker. Many organisations, CEOs, and CIOs are understandably excited and nervous about its impact on their workplace. But a perceived threat, can also be a marked opportunity.
We’re definitely not in the realms of perfect AI solutions yet, but we are in the phase of AI-enhanced productivity. However, the further ahead we look, the more nervous we make not only ourselves, but those around us – stakeholders, customers, etc.
Here’s how our new co-worker can help improve wellbeing and general colleague experience in the workplace, throughout each stage of the colleague journey.
Stage 1: Recruitment
With the job market becoming more competitive than ever, the emphasis is on recruiters to have screening and candidate assessment that are both efficient, user-friendly, and that guard against unconscious bias. Ideal provides a solution which provides automated screening, administration, chatting with potential candidates and re-screening. For example, if a candidate in a recruiter’s database doesn’t fit a particular role, the tool can match them to a potentially more suitable role.
Pymetrics, a solution used in the legal sector matches applicant’s performance against that of existing employees who have succeeded in the roles that the applicant is applying for. By using performance as the key indicator, candidates are selected for interview with demographic biases being disregarded entirely, by assessing cognitive and emotional intelligence of the candidate. It also adds another feature – that of re-screening of a candidate if they are not determined for a suitable role for example, they can be matched to a more suitable role.
Hirevue has in turn, incorporated a solution which, at the interview stage, analyses the language and facial expressions of candidates as they are videoed answering identical questions. Whilst being trialled by companies such as Vodafone, Hilton and Urban Outfitters, there are concerns about the degree to which it reinforces inequality, and that recruiters could miss out on talent that comes in unconventional forms. For example, this author’s experience of Google and Yandex image searches reveal that more often than not, a ‘professor’, ‘entrepreneur’ or ‘successful manager’ bring back images of mainly middle-aged, white males.
After all, AI is fed data relating to candidates, and sometimes stereotypes of candidates that have been successful in the past. AI is therefore the product of the unconscious inequalities and biases in the society which bears and utilises it.
Therefore, it is preferable that objective solutions which automate the workflow of the recruitment process, i.e, scheduling and screening are a better fit in organisations which promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and therefore are likely to provide colleagues with the optimal working experience.
Stage 2: Onboarding
Remember the mountains of Word and Powerpoint-based checklists and induction material you had to read and check off during your induction??
Well, the days of this manner of induction, particularly in FTSE 100 and S&P 500 companies are well and truly numbered. It is becoming more and more normal for automated chatbots to help new hires on their induction journey. Ask Archie is a tool used by RBS to answer a large variety of HR-related queries, not simply relating to onboarding, in plain human language. Unilever has taken this one step further, with their Unibot solution, which uses NLP (Natural Language Processing) to answer questions from employees, ranging from where they can catch a shuttle bus to the office, to complex payroll and management issues.
There is an argument however, to say that employee experience could be optimised by having an augmented being, i.e, a digital human to make the onboarding experience more personable. IPSoft’s digital human ‘Amelia’ could well be adapted for this purpose. However, the need to incorporate diversity and inclusion into a solution could well do with the enhancement, of a digital human being able to adapt depending on the background and ethnic origin of a colleague, in order that rapport can be built with the avatar.
The industry is a long way off that point as of now. However, the machines are designed to facilitate and better the humans, when put into practice in this context. And it is the organisations who best learn to cooperate with the machines that will gain the competitive advantage.
Stage 3: Learning & Development
The impact of AI for new colleagues doesn’t stop with onboarding though. It also provides value regarding the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next, on-the job training, capturing the experience of work (as engineering mogul Honeywell has done, with the aid of Virtual Reality), or, in the case of General Electric, using background algorithms to provide their employees with a fully personalised learning journey, mapped accurately to a colleague’s personality, ambitions, and skillset.
Personalising learning journeys is one way to not only improve colleague experience, but by inference, to increase the level of workplace engagement. A recent survey done by a Gallup State of the Workplace report, illustrated that 85% of employees are either not engaged at all or actively disengaged at work, the prime reasons being the increased amount of job-hopping, rapid upheaval of industries (sometimes due to technological enhancements), and in the case of millennials, the access to professional career growth, or lack thereof.
By implementing personable and intelligent solutions with regards to colleague’s learning journeys, business leaders will be able to analyse successful career paths within a company (as shown by the work of two start-ups, Fuel50 and Gloat) that benefits the colleague and the business, which in turn enables retention of top talent, and increased collaboration between company and colleague on professional development. The importance this has on a company’s colleague experience and therefore performance, cannot be overstated.
Stage 4: Performance and Recognition
Let’s face it. We all like to be recognised for a job well done. We like to be seen and heard, and feel that we are valued, that we’re part of something, that what we do matters.
The OC Tanner’s 2018 Global Culture Report indicates that workers who feel that they’re part of an inclusive company will be up to 3.2x more productive, and those who feel as though they belong, can be up to 5.3x more productive.
This is where AI has a big part to play in optimising leadership cultures within business. Communication and transparency of elements such as promotions procedures, performance assessment and recognition thresholds allow trust and rapport to be built between that leadership team and their colleague base.
The work styles, morale and personalities of colleagues, and how their performance correlates to each, or a work anniversary on a project, all give management and executive committees the ability to have serious conversations as to how to genuinely recognise their colleagues more effectively, as is being tested by the solutions devised by Kangogift, Kanjoya and Humu.
Where these same management and leadership colleagues wish to track morale, concepts are being developed by Vibe and Keen that ascertain from emails, instant messenger services, etc, the general emotional trands of colleagues, which again, is a conversation enabler re improving engagement and colleague experience.
In short, the AI capability of an organisation is, and can be an effective enabler in allowing executives and managers to learn more about those who work for them, and improve their experience accordingly so that their talent can be retained.
The potential downside to this technology is that the encroachment of AI into the workplace on this scale, is likely to leave many colleagues, managers and executives alike, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Whilst this data can be used to track employee wellbeing, as in the case of Blizzard Activision (who recently offered incentives to staff to allow the company access to their health data via Fitbit devices, etc), and to prevent bullying or harassment, to many, the level of intrusion outweighs the potential benefits.
Whilst there are certainly challenges in the sphere of data protection, the technology is there to allow meaningful conversations to happen amongst key decision makers. What is then required is the correct human intervention once the insights provided by the technology have been provided.
Stage 5: Maximising use of time
Maximising wellbeing and engagement of colleagues is achieved in part, by providing an environment where colleagues can make the best use of their day. In this context, Robotic process automation (RPA) is proving a key component in how many (particularly operational) areas of larger businesses utilise technology to improve efficiency.
The word ‘robot’ also stirs up feelings of discomfort. It is understandable that some may feel that a robot is a being that will take our job, not help us do it better. This is why the words ‘augmentation’ and ‘automation’ need to be contextualised.
For example, PEGA provides a tool that can improve the efficiency of a team’s, or business areas’s workflow. Such tools, along with those provided by Betterworks for example, are designed to make intelligent suggestions to humans about how things could be done more effectively or efficiently. They can recognise where humans are having difficulty, or spending too long on a particular task, where they can either step in, or suggest where human help can be found.
This is particularly relevant where complex customer needs must be ascertained and then acted upon quickly. An Intelligent Customer Relationship Management solution, that can utilise data from the internet and internal systems can in theory, reduce the time spent manually researching and deducing customer needs by a factor of 50% if not more. This in turn, enables the human advisor to spend more time with their customers, increasing rapport whilst using technology to more intelligently ascertain and predict the needs of all manner of customer.
These examples brings into focus the concept that robots and artificially intelligent entities are here to assist humans, not replace us. By taking over the more mundane aspects of our role, they can free time for humans to do what humans do best, tasks which require creativity, and engagement with other humans, the emotional aspect of our work which cannot be easily replaced by technology. After all, colleagues want authentic messages from other colleagues, as well as an efficient and streamlined workplace experience.
Stage 6: The consolidated view
Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, stated at the 2018 HR Technology conference: “There’s going to be a holy war to create the next-generation employee portal”.
Oracle, SAP and major firms in the Financial Service industry are looking to ‘consumerise’ their HR portal. For the purposes of managing information, pay, rewards, benefits, learning, and even recording exit interviews, a consolidated digital HR portal that can be accessed on personal mobile devices, is essential.
Most of the pressure to create this entity comes from employees. Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, and author of The Future Workplace experience, is quoted as saying: “I want answers to my questions when I’m asking them, in the middle of the night, and I definitely don’t want to speak to anybody.” This workplace, which could perhaps incorporate learning solutions, Intelligent Customer Relationship Management tools and time-logging facilities for example, should be digitalised, personalised, and have an AI chatbot or an augmented digital human such as Amelia, for example, to be available on all types of devices, to all colleagues, to address all HR needs.
The key concept here is that the employee experience will eventually have come full circle, i.e, beginning and ending on their phones or tablets. 86% of job applicants, according to Kelton, start their journey as a colleague on their smartphone. There is no reason therefore, why it should not end on their smartphone. Convenience, streamlining and efficiency will determine the effectiveness of such a proposition. Even the advent of exit interviews conducted by an augmented digital human, will allow this solution to track and record all data, which for employees in the Gig Economy, would be helpful for potential recall, and more importantly, for management and executive teams to assimilate and apply lessons learned to make their colleague experience even sweeter.
The entire colleague journey, from prospect to exit, is subject to the influence of Artificial Intelligence. However, it must be pointed out that the technology is to be programmed and utilised for the benefit of, and utilisation by humans. The technology will not, ultimately replace humans, due to the complications of furnishing artificially intelligent beings with intuition, self-awareness, and the risks such a venture would pose.
Yet AI is only as good as those who program it. It is vital that objectivity in its use be overseen by appropriate regulators, data protection and governance bodies, and equality committees for example, to eliminate the unconscious bias and inherent prejudices that exist within the societies that will give birth to various versions of this technology.
It is the beginning of new colleague journeys. And their future looks bright.
Nathan Williams: Author Biography
After originally studying to become an academic historian, Nathan found a new calling in first, the world of theatre, and then in banking. Nathan was a finalist in the 2018 Chartered Banker Institute’s Young Banker of the Year competition, where his passion for disruptive technology was ignited. He is currently implementing initiatives such as a Digitally Intelligent Workplace, predictive analytics and Robotic Process Automation within the Banking industry.