Mythbusters Series Part 2: AI in HR

This is the second part of a three-part series debunking common HR and workforce-related myths. Read part one here

Myth: AI is going to eliminate the need for HR professionals.

Bust: The role of HR has expanded significantly in recent years from predominantly administrative work (think: payroll, benefits, and compliance) to strategic work (continuous performance management, manager effectiveness, and company culture). In fact, 83% of HR leaders say they’re expected to do more now compared to just three years ago, according to research from Gartner. Yet, while expectations and responsibilities have increased, capacity and budgets have not.

This shift has coincided with AI making its way more deeply into HR’s daily work. While many fear AI will eliminate the need for HR professionals, I believe it’s the opposite—we need AI to take on some of the administrative, tedious work so humans can tackle the more strategic business we’re being asked to manage. That means taking advantage of automating tasks that don’t require human touch to free up time for thoughtful decision-making and strategic action. 

Integrating AI 

Before we get into some practical applications of AI, I want to emphasize the importance of listening to employee concerns and making them part of the process of bringing AI into the business. Bringing your team along in integrating AI makes it less intimidating and potentially threatening for those who fear their jobs are at stake. We discussed this at 15Five’s Thrive conference in the fall of 2023, where Stephanie Smith, SVP of People and Culture at TagBoard, emphasized how familiarity helps reduce fear. 

Smith said of AI, “You see people stepping to the side because they’re either scared that their job will be taken or they’re scared of what information is being scrubbed from them…. We have a duty as people operations practitioners to close that gap and create opportunities for exposure, and we also have the duty of listening to those fears.” 

It is crucial to communicate transparently about how the department will use AI and be receptive to the team’s concerns and feedback. Given how heavily they influence engagement, the role managers play in this cannot be overstated. Managers can help ensure an AI strategy supports team and company-wide goals, as explained in this Harvard Business Review piece, Research: What Companies Don’t Know About How Workers Use AI

Practical Applications of AI 

A few applications where I’ve seen AI deliver value by complimenting – not replacing – the work of humans include:

Drafting Performance Reviews – AI can transform the performance review process by eliminating bias, saving valuable time, and enhancing fairness. It has the power to develop a first draft of a performance review in mere seconds, combing through a wide range of text, data, and other inputs so managers can spend their time personalizing and refining. The traditional process of writing a separate review for each employee from scratch subjects the reviewee to a range of human biases, including gender bias, recency bias, and idiosyncratic rater bias (this is where the feedback is more reflective of the rater/manager than the person being reviewed). 

Through continuous performance management, AI also plays a role beyond the once-yearly review cycle. It provides a more complete picture of performance with ongoing feedback through things like digital recognition tools and weekly check-ins. This further helps reduce bias by incorporating perspectives from beyond the manager and feeding more continuous insights into the draft performance review instead of counting on the manager to recall events from the entire year. In this case, the combination of AI and humans is so powerful.

Analyzing Data – Another main benefit of AI for HR is its ability to synthesize large data sets like employee sentiment data. AI can comb through years worth of data to reveal trends and distill key points from things like employee surveys, online check-ins, and other means of collecting feedback. This time-intensive, cumbersome process would take a human days or weeks to meaningfully extract key insights, whereas a machine learning algorithm can do the same work in moments or even seconds. 

Developing Content – GenAI can also help with an initial draft of things like meeting agendas, blog posts, and brainstorming documents. It can also help HR teams develop training and educational content, onboarding materials, and more. Again, having human consideration and detail woven into each of these assets is essential, but having support on a first pass is not only a time saver, it can also expand the breadth of creativity by pulling in insights and ideas from a broader set of resources than you may have considered on your own.

In each of these examples, AI assists the HR professional in getting a job done rather than doing the job entirely. This streamlines otherwise time-intensive tasks so team members can focus on strategic work that delivers business impact.

There’s still much to be seen for how the embrace of AI in HR plays out, but my experience is that the benefits are tangible and empowering for HR leaders. We can strike the balance of embracing AI while keeping the “human” front and center in HR. 

About The Author

Adam Weber is the former Chief Evangelist at 15Five, the performance management platform that drives business results. He also hosts the popular HR Superstars podcast.

Previously, he co-founded Emplify (an employee engagement measurement platform) & Bluebridge Digital (a mobile app platform) and sold the companies in 2020 & 2016 respectively. He is the author of the Amazon best-selling book on leadership and culture, Lead Like a Human. In 2020, Adam was named to Business Insider’s list of Rising Stars in HR.

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