So how can HR sell the benefits?
There is a strong argument that automation increases productivity and lowers costs. If the profits of an organisation increase due to those lower costs, then revenue and employment may subsequently grow in an automating firm according to Robert Atkinson, President of The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation who goes on to say that studies of thousands of companies in many different countries have shown that this growth happens in approximately half of businesses that experience productivity increases.
The Oxford University/Deloitte Study also points to the fact that many new jobs will be created as new industries and positions spring up, along with jobs requiring the skills that machines are unable to match. Yet it also states that making sure new jobs outnumber those being eliminated requires creating a workforce able to service the high-skilled positions that technology is unlikely to take over. This has important implications for HR and its Workforce Planning Agenda, encouraging HR to look at the design of jobs and roles, especially those that require good judgment, creativity and emotional intelligence skills that cannot be replicated by an automated machine.
But above all it will be the management of the artificial intelligence that will be a key development requirement for many employees.
A piece in Harvard Business Review last year raised the point ”we tend to focus on what robots can do, more than how we will work with them”. We will need to work alongside robots and, if you like, computers will be seen as team-mates. But this means re-defining work and our identity at work. It requires partnership skills and joint collaboration to maximise the benefits of a highly automated enterprise and will see HR working alongside managers to get used to this new dynamic in the workplace.
What’s more HR will need to access both its influencing toolbox and facilitation skills in ways that will be totally different from any used before. Tolerance, inclusion and embracing a new kind of diversity in the workplace will all take on fresh meaning as new policies, guidelines, values, behaviours and ways of working are re-defined.
But it’s clear that this could be the dawn of emotional intelligence working with artificial intelligence – the two working in tandem can have devastatingly powerful consequences to benefit us all and to make our everyday working lives more exciting and enhance our economic growth.
So what do HR professionals need for this ‘new world’?
It goes without saying they will need to be digitally savvy and possess strong organisational design skills or re-design skills! But above all they will need a forward-looking approach that embraces automation and realises the benefits it can bring. This, combined with an abundance of adaptability, flexibility and emotional agility will enable them to guide their managers and people through these massive changes.
Walt Disney once wrote: “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we are curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” So HR must programme itself with this zest for curiosity and if there is any fear of a robotics future, remember curiosity is the best way to deal with it!