There’s no question that the world is at a tipping point with automation. In fact, AI-powered automation has gone from an idea that will change how we function in the future, to a force dramatically altering how organisations work today. The interest, excitement, and apprehension around automation was clear at our quarterly Talent Leadership in Action (TLIA) event held in early October at The Shard in London.
You’re already familiar with automation’s benefits; Collaborative automation—automation that works beside and supports humans—is improving efficiency, productivity, and accuracy through countless unique applications in companies around the world. According to the Harvard Business Review, “An investment in business automation is one of the fastest ways to improve efficiency and productivity across every department ...”
But how is automation specifically impacting workforce strategies? That was the focus of our event and our panel members offered three unique viewpoints.
Keynote speaker and panel member Atul Jagnale, CTO at Tata Consultancy Services, brought a technology focus; Christine Ng, head of talent and people at Quantum Motion, offered a business and HR perspective; and our own Tim Pröhm, VP digital transformation at KellyOCG, presented automation through a market lens.
The HR and procurement leaders at TLIA were highly engaged and hungry for information. They shared that their organisations have not yet fully determined how AI and automation will impact them. There was also underlying uncertainty about the potential negative effects automation could bring as it revolutionises the workplace.
The world is evolving to automation.
We began by addressing how the world has already evolved to automation—primarily in the areas of talent attraction and in relieving the burden of repetitive tasks in production and technical applications.
Christine shared that Quantum Motion has used automation to promote employer branding and messaging, build their talent pool, attract top talent, and nurture communities. While it was helping to streamline and enhance the recruiting process, they’ve found there is a limit. When they took a deep look into hiring, they discovered that automation benefits could only go so far. Candidates dropped out of the process when they felt things were depersonalised or that they were not able to truly get to know the company due to too much automation. In the end, Christine cautioned not to, “Underestimate the need for a human being to guide the talent journey.”
Of course, this risk of losing the human touch is most likely higher when recruiting for roles such as marketing or sales, and less of an issue for technical talent more accustomed to operating in an autonomous environment.
Atul added that while there is still apprehension, at Tata Consultancy Services they are seeing strong adoption of automation in industries with high-volume repetitive tasks such as manufacturing, logistics, supply chain and certain parts of engineering. However, he agreed that in roles requiring more of a human element, there are limitations to what you should automate.
Tim mentioned that KellyOCG is helping our clients embrace automation as well as using automation tools to handle repetitive and monotonous tasks ourselves. Tim cited Kelly Fusion, our suite of people-first automated work solutions and Kelly Arc, an automation-specific jobs platform where specialised talent meets employers hiring for automation roles.
The overall message was that automation has moved forward exponentially and is hard at work across businesses and industries. However, as more and more processes are inevitably automated, we need to be cognisant of the importance our end users put on human interaction. As Atul somewhat humorously summed it up, “No, you can’t go on holiday for six months and have a robot do your job.”
The user experience should be a priority.
Speaking to user experience, Christine said that her company uses automation to nurture a candidate from the first application to the final stage—whether that results in an offer or not. She got everyone thinking as she clarified that automation should go a long way to promote your employer brand with new hires, but also with those you don’t hire. Automation tools present a great opportunity to ensure that unsuccessful candidates—a potentially valuable future resource—still walk away with a positive experience and impression of your organisation.
From a CTO perspective, Atul underscored the importance of fully integrating automation within your technology environment. You don’t want your automated systems and processes to break down and—despite your best efforts—result in an unintended negative impact on the end user. Anyone who has been caught in a never-ending loop in a phone tree understands the frustration of poorly integrated automation!
Balancing AI and human impact.
When it comes to balancing AI-powered automation and human impact, Christine noted that while her company effectively relies on automation for much of the initial hiring process, once a candidate is identified, they are very hands on in their approach, not only through remote interaction, but ideally engaging in face-to-face meetings when possible. As Atul assured us all, “Robots will not be taking away our jobs any time soon.”
Can AI overcome our prejudices?
One potential danger of relying on AI-powered automation tools was raised during TLIA. Since AI works by learning and predicting what step should come next in a process—and since it’s learning from human patterns—there’s a very real danger of it learning and replicating human shortcomings like unconscious bias. Those present wondered, could this have a negative impact on DEI efforts?
Atul explained that while this is most definitely a potential risk, technology can be set up to make sure you are attracting a diverse, balanced candidate pool and hiring to meet your DEI goals. In other words, AI can be designed to overcome our unconscious bias and help control our human prejudices.
Education eases fears and helps leverage potential.
Currently, many forward-thinking companies are leveraging automation specifically to manage the permanent and contingent talent attraction and hiring processes. While others are using it to increase productivity and efficiency in high-volume, mundane, and repetitive tasks. According to a Kelly Fusion report released earlier this year, 49% of business leaders agree that automation would strengthen the capability of their workforce. However, that same report found that only 21% of leaders say they’re planning to implement workforce automation. Clearly, we can and must do better, and education is a great place to start. Our TLIA audience left with valuable information on using automation tools to optimise current practises, along with a reality check about not allowing automation to replace human interaction or railroad strategy.
Turning our attention to the future and considering generative AI and other emerging technologies, there’s a natural fear of change, especially when it’s coming at such a rapid rate (Just a year ago ChatGPT didn’t even exist.) and it presents a fundamental shift in how the workforce operates. But communication, like the candid discussion at TLIA, can help overcome these fears and allow businesses to explore automation’s full potential.