HR Leaders Report Readiness Gap When it comes to AI

A new study by Spencer Stuart shows that the arrival of artificial intelligence brings workplace anxiety over preparedness, budgets, people and bias issues. Yet, according to the report, AI also offers hope for an enhanced employee experience.

September 18, 2019 – Each day brings new headlines about artificial intelligence, from an AI system passing an eighth-grade science test to fears of the technology replacing human workers. According to Gartner, enterprise use of AI has grown by 270 percent over the last four years. Despite this acceleration toward AI, many HR leaders feel unprepared.

Spencer Stuart recently surveyed a sample of Fortune 500 CHROs to take their pulse on how far their organizations are in the AI journey, their biggest concerns and what they see as key opportunities. While many of these HR leaders anticipate that the technology will enable strides in the personalization of the employee experience, reallocation of resources to more value-adding projects and improvement in talent retention, the vast majority, 83 percent, believe their organizations face a readiness gap when it comes to AI.

For some, it’s financial. “Fifty-three percent 53 percent of our respondents reported that their organizations do not have a budget set aside for AI,” said Fleur Segal, author of the report and a member of Spencer Stuart’s human resources practice. “For others, it’s people: Almost half of the CHROs listed change management and employee experience/receptiveness as top concerns for AI integration. The good news is that HR leaders can greatly influence how the technology is applied in their organizations by focusing on a few key areas.”

Battling Bias

A few CHROs commented in the Spencer Stuart survey that they are worried that AI will reinforce bias. AI, for example, can be used to help identify candidates with attributes similar to executives who have been successful in the organization. But if these successful executives all have similar backgrounds, then the technology could potentially limit diversity.

Fleur Segal is a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s Boston office and a member of the firm’s HR practice. She brings nearly two decades of experience to her role, specializing in recruiting chief human resources officers, senior talent management and rewards leaders, as well as fulfilling HR generalist and specialist positions. Ms. Segal has placed senior HR leaders across a variety of industries, including the consumer, media, retail, financial services, manufacturing, industrial and healthcare sectors.

“Instead, HR leaders can help put safeguards in place to ensure AI works to eliminate bias by challenging assumptions with data (for example, that only candidates with experience in the organization’s specific industry can contribute meaningfully) and participating in the development of robust leadership assessment processes,” said Ms. Segal.

Protecting the Employee Experience

The impact on the employee experience emerged as a top issue in the Spencer Stuart survey. While it’s natural to be concerned about what this technology will do to the human element of work, AI can actually be used to enhance the employee experience and improve employee engagement.

“AI can make the onboarding process more tailored and create a sense of belonging for remote workers,” Ms. Segal said. “Additionally, it can free up time previously taken up by administrative tasks so that employees can focus on more strategic work and career growth opportunities.”

Honoring the Human Element

Workforce readiness and adoption — and the lack thereof — are also on the minds of CHROs. Resistance can often be the result of fear (for example, will AI replace my job?)

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“HR leaders can help ease these anxieties by clearly communicating how AI will directly affect employees, as well as helping to shape the overall cultural journey that often goes along with AI implementation,” said Ms. Segal. “We’ve seen organizations make shifts to more learning-oriented cultures in response to digital disruption; two-thirds of CHROs say they are most likely to use AI for learning and development purposes.”

Spencer Stuart said that in this environment CHROs should be asking: How do we enable learning? How do we ensure there is psychological safety for people to fail fast and learn?

“Ultimately, HR will be charged with understanding the people side of AI, from its role in the employee experience to the impact on the organizational culture,” Ms. Segal said. “And they need to be ready.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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