The “pandemic age” has accelerated the “automation age,” and the way we work is fundamentally changing. These two forces have collided to form the perfect storm of workplace disruption. As in any storm, you need to prepare. Go to the store, and buy up all the toilet paper and bread you can find. Except, business doesn’t need toilet paper to weather this storm; it needs a road map to navigate workforce transformation.
That is where you come in. We need HR to plot a course for employee growth and development in the artificial intelligence (AI) economy. We call this a human road map.
HR as Human Road Map Architects
The goal of any automation is to reduce human involvement in a business process. If we can reduce human intervention in rote processes, humans can devote more time and energy to improving results. Business and tech leaders must work together to determine what can be automated, how people will work with machines, and how human employees’ roles will evolve. A company’s technology road map and human road map become inextricably linked.
What is a human road map? A map tells you where you are, where you’re going, and how to get there. A human road map tells you what skills your people have right now, which skills they will need in the future, and how you will get from point A to point B.
Remember KPMG’s critical HR functions that can’t be automated: change management, organizational effectiveness, HR and business strategy, and “people performance whole system architecture.” Crafting a human road map combines all of these. You are shaping your workforce for future success. Once employees are being supported by digital assistants, how will they reach their full human potential and amplify the organization’s purpose? What types of learning and innovation should be prioritized?
These are complex questions. When tech and HR professionals work alongside each other to develop complementing technology and human road maps, they envision how the company will operate in the Human + Machine future.
Here is a plan for making that plan:
1. Communicate Early and Often
Building a shared vision is always important but especially now. Like I said, automation isn’t just another IT project. Automation is a mindset that fundamentally changes the nature of work—an anxiety-wrought prospect. If you let news of impending automation trickle out in rumors and rumbles, employees will jump into a “Robots are coming for our jobs!” panic. Do not be forced into reactive mode. The C-suite needs to initiate and guide the companywide automation conversation. Chief Human Resources officers (CHROs) are integral to ensuring communication flows both ways.
Engage employees early on with direct, transparent communication. Explain why you are automating, what the technology can and cannot do, and how it will empower employees. Always keep company purpose at the forefront of the discussion.
My company, Mind Over Machines, has developed a framework for harnessing technology to help fulfill human potential. We call it Workforce Ascension & Enhancement (WAE). When we show clients the WAE, we often start with an exercise: identifying your core competency, the one thing your organization does better than anyone else. You never want to automate your core competency, but everything employees do should ultimately be in service to it. Consistently communicate how automation frees people to focus on individual and organizational purpose.
2. Deconstruct All the Work
Once you’re clear on company purpose, the first step to developing both your automation and human road maps is identifying the skills your business runs on. Break each job title down into its work responsibilities. From there, further deconstruct the work into individual processes. Which skills are needed for each process? You are building a skills inventory for the entire operation. Tech people will appreciate this exercise because it’s a great way to find processes ripe for automation. Automation-ready processes are high volume, stable, rules-based, and digital and don’t require much skill at all.
3. Perform Companywide Skills Assessment
Now that you know which skills your business requires, determine who has them. Matching people to critical skills is a quintessential HR task. Running staff through a series of standardized assessments may lead to pleasant surprises; you might find citizen developers in your business units. Do you have the right people overseeing the right processes? If you uncover misalignments, view them as opportunities. This is your chance to recalibrate personnel. Make sure you play to employees’ strengths, helping people develop their potential.
Pay special attention to people at the helm of processes identified for automation. How can you help them make the mental shifts necessary to work with a digital assistant? Often, this requires migrating to an exception-based model of work whereby they get to focus on more complicated outliers. Post-automation, an employee may interact with fewer customers, but the quality of that interaction increases. The person can devote more time to understanding tough cases and addressing more complex asks. If planned automations will leave certain employees underemployed, do they possess skills applicable to a different or an expanded role?
4. Encourage Creativity and Growth
That’s why you got into HR, right? To help people achieve their potential. AI is prompting us to develop uniquely human skill sets like empathizing, collaborating, and problem-solving. If employees learn to see digital assistants as partners rather than threats, they can delegate mundane aspects of their work to bots and grow what they love. These reimagined jobs are more personally fulfilling and more valuable in the marketplace.
As the pandemic and automation ages rage on, HR will play a critical role in helping businesses weather these storms by plotting their human road maps. While news of technological wonders seems to be appearing daily, never forget that the sole purpose of all this technology is to enable humans to generate more value. Get ready to lead people to their full human potential in the AI economy!
Tim Kulp is the Chief Innovation Officer at Mind Over Machines, a 30-year-old data and software consultancy with a human-centric approach to solving complex business technology issues. He is also a member of the Forbes Technology Council. To contact the author, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.mindovermachines.com.