Heading into 2020, we can expect tumult, challenge, failure and growth, because that’s just life. And life requires change. In the HR world, change can be chaotic. However, I’ve been an HR executive with Symantec, Cisco, Disney and others for decades, and experience leads me to distill three informed predictions from the chaos for the coming year.
Prediction No. 1: Businesses Will (Uncomfortably) Embrace AI
In 2020, businesses will continue to pursue productivity through automation. One of the principal ways they’ll do this is via artificial intelligence (AI). Economic signs and political tumult point to a possible recession starting within the next one to two years. Downturns inevitably force businesses to focus on financial efficiency, which leads to automation. AI allows businesses to automate repetitive, data-focused tasks at a speed and scale that humans cannot match.
Because of this efficiency optimization, HR departments can expect to spend more on AI-based productivity tools in 2020, even while they may spend less on staff. Automation removes costs faster during downturns because there’s more pressing need to bolster bottom lines. AI can also aggregate data at near-real-time speeds, which also drives better and faster decision-making.
People ask if this sort of automation is a “good” thing. That misses the point. Whether or not you like automation, and regardless of any moral/ethical sentiments about it, these tools are here to stay, and they’re propagating at an exponential pace. It falls to us in HR to prepare for and adapt to an AI-centric world. That means finding ways to realize great returns from automation efficiencies while deepening the quality of human activities and interactions. HR must promote letting humans do better at what they normally do best.
Look for ways in which the company can leverage data from an HR perspective. Think about retention metrics and attrition. Let AI play a role in talent acquisition, both in filtering through candidates as well as attracting the best candidates. Use AI to help understand company and employee performance, perhaps taking out the subjectivity to better calibrate employee contributions, performance and productivity.
Prediction No. 2: The New Workforce Will Demolish Old Work Habits
Generation X, and more so millennials/Generation Y and Generation Z, grew up on technology. They live with anytime, anywhere connectivity and constant access to their social networks, which increasingly blur the line between private and professional. My parents owned their business, so they were always on and always available. In contrast, young workers today often expect to work from 10:00 to 3:00, maybe take a little personal time, then get back online and work odd hours into the night. Expectations around how tasks get done and how employees engage are shifting.
These shifts require management and IT to provide workers with flexible, effective productivity tools, but they also place a burden on corporate culture and cohesion. The notion of “everyone needs to be in the same space because people work better together” is under systemic pressure, possibly leading to those old models’ eventual extinction. But that still leaves the question: How does a business create and maintain a performance culture when there’s no requirement for physical proximity?
The answer may lie in technology tools that foster remote collaboration and give management more insight into employee behavior. Workers sometimes perceive this as invasive, but all generations must face reality: Employment is a two-way street, a scale that needs to be balanced. With increased freedom comes a need — and it’s important for management to explain why this is needed — for increased oversight. The business must be absolutely clear about its strategy and the kind of culture it is working to promote.
Prediction No. 3: Diversity Will Still Need Help
Despite years of progress, we have a long way to go. As revealed in the New York Times, among the Fortune 500, there are fewer CEOs who are women than men named James. However, men are increasingly taking on roles in promoting corporate diversity, which is a great way to make sure that a level playing field develops.
But creating diversity according to gender, race and other common factors may not be enough. Companies are already trying to grapple with shifting genders and blended racial identifications. Sometimes, diversity also needs to mean people who think differently, act differently and come from wildly different backgrounds. It’s not only what we are but who we are. This is what will truly enhance and deepen a workforce’s perspectives and potential.
Simultaneously, managers shouldn’t expect to hire people with 100% position suitability. Perhaps they’re only a 70% or 80% fit but bring with them a richness of background, potential and ability that merits management working to train that suitability up to 100%. Putting policies and programs in place that facilitate this workforce elevation will break open the narrow talent pipelines we create when looking to hire “in our image” and will pay immeasurable dividends in the years to follow.
Date: 9th January 2020