Is human resources (HR) in trouble? Will technology replace people in HR? Will artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation change how it functions — from hiring to managing people? At a time when a Tesla Roadster is hurtling through space, it is difficult to predict the effect of technology. But there are indications that workplace will fast-forward to a future where HR will cease to be what it is.
The transformation of HR is at a nascent stage now. But organisations will soon be forced to adapt and those who do not will lose favour with potential employees. More than a dozen of India’s top HR practitioners that ET Magazine spoke to say technology is making inroads but HR is not obsolete yet.
Michael Bazigos, MD & global leader for talent and organisational analytics, Accenture Strategy, says: “There is a need for HR to change faster than it did in the past. Many HR leaders are cognizant of this. With technology and big data coming into play, the whole focus is on using experience-based moments that matter for employees, rather than having a very functional, policy-driven view.”
There are a few indications of how HR is changing. Employees in their 40s perceive HR as just a department they have to deal with at the time of joining or leaving an organisation. It lays out processes for performance appraisal, leave policies, internal job openings and celebrations at workplace. There isn’t a constant engagement; the connect is more transactional. Over the past few years, this part of transactional HR has been disrupted.
At Mphasis, a Bengaluru-based IT services company, an app called Ask Dexter is key to managing its 22,000-plus employees. The internal, cloud-based chatbot, developed two years back, is doing many HR functions: it resolves employee queries related to leave and company policies. It fields technical support queries and provides simple ways of employee appreciation across all levels of corporate hierarchy. That’s not all. It specialises in giving an overview of openings, and jobs that be created in the future along with the preferred skills for each.
According to Elango R, president, HP Business Unit, Mphasis, this has resulted in an enhanced user experience and improved productivity at the employees’ end.
A dynamic chatbot is one of the basic changes happening in how companies practice HR. This is set to accelerate.
Dear AI, I Am Looking for Opportunities…
HR consultancy PeopleStrong explains it in numbers. Almost 80% of help desk, 55-60% of traditional recruiter’s job and almost 20% of HR compliance work has been impacted due to automation. Almost 50% of HR compliance work will be automated if the government continues with its focus on digital agenda, says cofounder Pankaj Bansal. Not many HR practitioners admit to this, but technology is fast replacing humans in several areas, including hiring. Many see this as an opportunity for HR to reinvent itself as a function critical to business, a role it is ideally perceived to play, but has not been known to very often.
Explains Chandrasekhar Sripada, professor, organisational behaviour and strategic human capital, Indian School of Business (ISB): “All HR functions have two aspects: transactional and transformational. The ‘transformational’ parts of HR will definitely survive; while we find a new slave in robots to do the transactional work — albeit more intelligently.”
Take recruitment. AI can help in parsing and screening CVs far better than humans. Similarly, all parts of HR — compensation and benefits, performance management, talent identification, leadership development, employee relations — now include machine learning and automation.
A host of new-age companies are using AI in hiring and creating successful business models out of this. A threeyear-old startup, Belong.co, shows how. It uses AI to cherry-pick potential candidates for companies. Called outbound hiring, this helps in hiring passive candidates.
Its cofounder Rishabh Kaul cites the example of IT services companies that are taking on new projects. “Their usual talent pool is not useful for such businesses. Plus, they are trying to stop losing talent to startups. It’s a big opportunity for us.” Belong.co helps in hiring for mid-to-senior levels. Belong.co claims it regularly hires for posts with annual pay packages of Rs 1 crore-plus and has clients across sectors, especially those getting disrupted. The highest salary, including ESOPs, has been to the north of $1 million (Rs 6.5 crore), says Kaul.
He says technology plays a critical role in finding the right talent in early stages. Once the person is excited about the role, companies can have their HR come in to negotiate. “Technology is an aid, which can be personalised by companies to hire. It hasn’t replaced the people part completely,” he says. At least not yet. Belong.co has over 100 companies scouting for talent on its platform.
It is among a bunch of firms changing traditional recruitment practices. Experts say that companies are bound to use these advanced methods to hire, and startups such as Belong. co will work in tandem with talent acquisition departments at companies. This will result in leaner hiring departments that are focused more on cultural fit, values and other softer yet critical aspects of talent.
The back-end at search firms is automated and highly tech-driven, according to Navnit Singh, India chairman of leading global search firm Korn/Ferry International. “There is a lot of disruption in the hiring market. The mass scale of hiring is driven by artificial intelligence up until middle level,” he says.
Beyond that, automation has begun to impact CEO hiring as well, which is otherwise driven by one-on-one interaction.
HR Goes Bespoke Something extraordinary happened when Yale University opened registrations for its course in happiness in January. In a matter of days, it became the most popular course with nearly one-fourth of Yale graduate students enrolled for it, the New York Times reported. The course teaches students meditation and gratitude, and how to be happy. An unexpected choice for 20-somethings? Perhaps not.
How to be happy could be one of the top priorities for the younger generation that will soon enter the workforce. Ever since the millennials joined the workforce, organisations have been forced to change the way they function. Companies are taking cues from millennials on how to manage them, and are adjusting to expect the unexpected. Millennials live in the here and the now, and need instant feedback and gratification, says SV Nathan, chief talent officer, Deloitte.
New roles like tech detox managers will soon become a reality (**See Next Frontier). Plus, technology is enabling practices that were not possible earlier. For instance, tailor-made HR. With data and analytics, HR will have the ability to be granular, at the level of individual employee, says Richard Lobo, executive vice-president and HR head, Infosys. This could be the key to managing millennials.
At Infosys, many decisions, including on compensation, benefits, training and career movements, are being tailored for individual employees. The growing focus on technology means HR will shift its focus to areas like career counselling and creating and sustaining reskilling programmes, Lobo adds.
While daily, repetitive work will be taken over by machines, HR will have to evolve more than ever, towards an advisory function that maximises individual potential rather than bind them to performance frameworks and guidelines, says Anuranjita Kumar, MD-HR, International Hubs, Royal Bank of Scotland. Future workforce will need their own HR or career relationship managers akin to financial advisors, Kumar says (*See Personalised HR).
In this next phase, called the “second machine age”, many of the current HR roles need to be reinvented, says Sripada. One potential role is “workforce planner” who will plan the hiring and deployment of robots. The future HR manager will also learn to deal with free agents and gig workers as more and more skilled people will seek employment models founded on autonomy and flexibility.
“Millennials want self-service. They want everything on an app. It’s not making HR defunct but transform. The terminology is changing from HR personnel to employee experience officers,” says Bazigos
Evaluating in Real Time
In the last five years, many companies moved from annual performance appraisals to half-yearly or even quarterly assessment. At Cisco, which gave up bell curvebased appraisals in 2015, assessment happens on a weekly basis. Every Friday, a prompt goes out to managers to have a conversation with their reportees on how their week went by.
Not so long back, Cisco had an annual performance appraisal cycle. In the last three years, the company has moved to weekly appraisals. “Instead of having a marathon in the form of an annual appraisal cycle, we have divided this into 52 weeks, 52 sprints,” says Christian Barrios, director, human resource, Cisco India & SAARC.
While a younger generation has pushed organisations like Cisco to move to shorter cycles of appraisal, technology is making it easier for organisations to adapt. “A lot changes in our business in six months. The best time to manage performance is right now. When an employee knows what her team leader thinks about her work, it minimises surprises,” says Barrios
For its part, Deloitte has moved to periodic performance snapshots (assessment for a certain project or for a quarter), and relies on “weekly check-ins”. Says Nathan: “With the millennials as a majority, many of whom want feedback and coaching in the moment, appraisals will no longer be an annual event. It will be continuous assessment, and ‘touch points’ with managers, a way of seeking feedback.”
In the new system, an individual’s performance data will be available to him or her at all times, says Bansal of PeopleStrong. As gig economy becomes a norm, people will not be driven by promotion but by fair compensation and choice of work.
Will HR function become defunct? “It is not the function that is under threat but people performing repetitive and structured tasks who, unless they reskill, are under threat, says Hari TN, HR head, BigBasket. Nathan points out that HR will need fewer people in certain areas. “The number will come down in operations and routine matters. The number of HR professionals in all other areas will add greater value since they will not be bogged down by operational matters. The quality of jobs will incr ..
Some like Abhijit Bhaduri, former chief learning officer at WiproBSE 2.00 %, are optimistic. “People want feedback that helps them improve. Machines can provide real-time data. But a terrific manager can be an inspiration who can motivate people to realise their potential. Machines cannot do that.”
According to NS Rajan, group CHRO of IDFC Bank, HR¡¦s role is defined by the maturity of the company. It¦s a fallacy that human resources management is the responsibility of the HR department. It has to be driven by business leaders, and anything that HR does has to reflect the business needs.
Future HR practitioners will need to unlearn and learn. They need to embrace new technologies, and not fear them. They need to take advantage of tech disruption to save time and energy for newer and better purposes. The HR function could then be re-imagined to rise above what mere machines can do.
In the not-so-distant future, HR will become employee-specific rather than organisation-specific. When technology takes over basic functions across organisations, employees will constantly try to acquire portfolio of domain skills and management skills, to stay relevant at work. This will be done by career consultants and coaches. HR as a function will then become organisation-agnostic and individual-specific. “It will be an HR that understands my personal aspirations and needs, and accordingly navigates my current environment, keeping me future-ready through constant advice on growth and development,” says Anuranjita Kumar, MD, HR, Royal Bank of Scotland. Future workforce will need their own HR or career relationship mangers akin to financial advisors.
Dr Chandrasekhar Sripada, professor of Indian School of Business, predicts the emergence of a new HR role: Machine fatigue and tech detox manager. They will run deaddiction camps to free millennials from the menace of gadget/tech abuse or dependence. “We will see many new HR roles at the intersection of man and machine, demanding greater mindfulness, emotional intelligence and equanimity, he says