The Future Workforce – ‘Bots & Brains’

Cheryl Allen, HR Director Transformation, Atos, provides 3 steps to create a Future Workforce. Cheryl is speaking at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition on day two, 9.30, as part of the session D3 Will automation and artificial intelligence help or hinder good people management?

All HR functions are transforming; trying to deliver more value, become more strategic whilst dealing with the dichotomy of reducing budgets. As a result, HR professionals are turning to automation and robotics as the answer but are all the stories we hear of ‘the bots are coming to steal our jobs’ really true?

Having recently introduced a robot (called FREDA) into HR, I would like to suggest that there is room in HR for both – ‘Bots & Brains’, and indeed if we are to be successful as a HR function, I would argue that the two together are critical – the ‘Bots’ drive the efficiency whilst the ‘Brains’ add the true value.

Here are my top 3 suggestions for how to create this Future Workforce:

1. Engage your people

With all of the stories we hear right now about the ‘Bots’ people are scared. A natural reaction to change and uncertainty is fear and resistance; our fight or flight instincts kick in. The best way of addressing that is to involve them in helping to shape this future workforce – Where could we use robots?, What tasks could they do?, What would that free us up to be able to do?, What value activity work could we do tomorrow that we can’t do today due to capacity? Once you start to think of those things, you actually start to drive a real excitement & enthusiasm for the future.

2. Assess your processes

Take a look at all of the processes you regularly undertake in HR (there will be far more than you think!). Ask yourself:

Is the process repeatable?

How long is it taking?

How often is it run?

What value is it bringing?

If we jump back to the first point above, the best way to do this assessment is through involving the people that do these processes – they know these far better than anyone & if engaged properly will enable you to make a really good assessment of current state & art of the possible in terms of where a robot could be used.

3. Re-design your roles

Roles in their entirety can rarely be automated or completed by a robot. Processes & therefore parts of roles are what can be. This is where job re-design comes in to play. Once you have your robots in place, attention needs to be given on the human workforce, the ‘Brains’ and what their new roles look like.

Time needs to be spent on re-designing the ‘Brains’ roles to ensure a) the incumbents know what is expected of them in the new world b) they are delivering value add activity (which I am guessing will be one of the drivers behind you introducing a robot).

An important note to add, introducing robots may also give you the opportunity to think wider than the individual roles themselves & also think about your overall operating model and if that needs adjusting to support the future workforce of ‘Bots & Brains’ to function effectively. ‘Bots’ also require new skills from ‘Brains’…we need people to train & develop the ‘Bots’!

So in summary I know the ‘Bots’ are coming but am I worried? Absolutely not! I am excited by the opportunities that they present us as HR in terms of our move to a new future workforce.

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