Part 3: … And What You Need to Do About It
This is the third installment of my blog series. We’ve looked at how changes in the workforce are changing HR and we’ve also explored how a constellation of technologies will change the future of work and the very nature of labor itself. Next, we are going to get specific…what should you do about it?
As an applied futurist, it’s my job to not only envision the possible and probable future but to also work with organizations to figure out what they should do. How can you not only take steps to prepare for what’s coming, but how can you actually shape it?
My intention is to make it simple and easy to apply what you’ve learned. Essentially, here’s what you can do on Monday to prepare for the future.
Monday Focus: The Machines
Machines really aren’t that complicated for HR. Technology does not get to decide it’s future. Humans and organizations get to decide how it is implemented. All work is about humans. Everything we do as professionals is about people. As anyone in HR knows, all business is people business. So, let’s start with people.
As we imagine a future where we have autonomous technologies, what do we need to do to make sure we are keeping humans at the center? We always need to keep humans at the center of what we do. We have seen through time that any time we stray from keeping humans at the center of our decision-making, we get ourselves in trouble.
Autonomous technologies are going to afford us incredible efficiencies. They will streamline our work and they will also do away with many roles the people are actually doing today.
This is where I tell you that if a machine can take your job, then your job probably sucked. Really! If a machine can do your job, then it means that your job was turning you into a machine. The real opportunity for machines transforming the workforce is that they will free us up to be more human. We let the machines do what the machines are good at and we as humans engage with other humans. This is how we future proof the future of work. Be human.
As we bring in more autonomous technologies into the workplace, we must make sure that we are keeping humans at the center. This doesn’t mean that people have to do everything. However, we do have to ask ourselves WHY. Why are we doing this? Why are we automating this system or task? And WHAT do we hope to get out of it?
To be more specific, if you are going to implement an AI or autonomous technology in your business there are some pretty simple questions you should ask IT professionals, engineers, or vendors about when it comes to the use of these new technologies in the workplace. You don’t have to be a technology expert; you need to be a people expert.
Your To-Do List:
- Ask: What are you optimizing for?
All algorithms optimize. You can’t consider all of the data all of the time. When you write an algorithm you have to limit the data that you are feeding into it. In short, you have to make choices. You have to ask yourself what are you optimizing for? What is the work that you are trying to do?
- Ask: What is the bias?
All data has bias. Algorithms have bias as well. At the highest-level bias is the prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Recently there have been well-documented cases of data and algorithmic bias in law enforcement, healthcare and the courts. It is important to understand how your organization is choosing the data they will be using. Urge your organization to get to know the data and also the bias of the algorithms.
In recent years, the high tech industry is coming to grips with the reality of bias to the point that the IEEE computer society is making recommendations for how to deal with it. This conversation will make sure that you are keeping a human perspective in these systems and having a healthy discussion on any blended team of technologies and HR professionals.
- Ask: Who is your outlier?
Always look for the outlier. In every system and in every algorithm, there is no way to completely understand all the data sets and all the people. When you have a system that is set up, it is always a good exercise to ask yourself, “Who are we not serving?”
“Whether your AI solution drives an internal system for HR or a customer-facing system that impacts your brand it’s important you constantly look for the outlier,” Renny Gleeson, Managing Director of Business Innovation Group for Wieden + Kennedy, explained in his upcoming report “Artificial Intelligence and the Home.” Wieden + Kennedy is a global, independent agency that creates strong and provocative relationships between good companies and their customers. “Who is the system not serving?”, Gleeson continued. “To train your AI you need as much historical data as possible. How do you prevent your exciting new AI from trapping your organization in the status quo it’s been trained in rather than the future you seek? This search, this constant questioning, allows your organization and your brand to have a better chance of serving better – and finding the error before the error finds you.”
The constant interrogation of the autonomous system that we are using is important. Using these systems to gain efficiencies is great and they will give us incredible gains in productivity, but we have to remain vigilant. We have to keep people at the center. We must constantly interrogate the algorithms and the system to determine who are we not including. Who is the outlier?
Ok, that’s the machine part of this.
Millennials (and Gen Z)
We need to stop acting like they are not in the room. They are here and we need to involve them in the process. More importantly, we need to make sure they are helping us to make our organizations more attractive for the next generation after.
Your To-Do List:
- Stop talking about millennials. Start talking about purpose.
They are in the room. They are in your company. Understand that they are the key to your success. Millennials and Gen Z are more purpose-driven than any other generation in the workforce. Not only does the work you do matter but WHY as an organization are you doing this work? What is your higher purpose beyond just making money? Because it matters.
For some, these conversations might feel foreign but they are necessary because talent has choices. As the largest percentage of the labor force, millennials and Gen Z can choose where they want to put their time. Good talent always has a choice of what organization to work for. Give them a reason to work for you.
- Empower millennials.
How are you empowering the next generation to make your organization successful? As the boom generation, they will have mass and be the ones to take the reins. What are you doing to ensure that they are benefiting from your experience? Are you giving them the freedom to make a new environment?
Are you creating physical and digital places for employees of all generations to mingle and collaborate? From co-working spaces to couches and long tables, where are the spaces in your organization that encourage people to gather. These are the spaces where relationships are built and innovation springs forward. They are communities inside of communities. Once you’ve discovered the nature of these physical spaces for your group, search outside their digital equivalent.
- Curate your culture and make millennials mentors.
As HR professionals you understand your organization. Fostering a positive and inclusive culture is extremely important. But, also as important is making sure that when you do bring in these new workers, they are a good fit to the true culture of your workplace. Because purpose matters so much, make sure that your organization’s purpose is in sync with the possible employee’s purpose as well.
Millennials are mentors. It’s time for them to not only take over the workforce, but empower up and down inside the organization. This not only means mentoring Gen Z but also “mentoring up.” I’ve also been asked the following by senior level leaders that are baby boomers or Gen Z: What can they do to prepare their organizations for the future? My response is get a millennial mentor. They are the future workforce. Let them help you be as successful as possible. Remember the future involves all of us.
Come see me at ACE 2018 to learn more about what machines and millennials are doing to HR. Check out my entire blog series, starting at Part 1.
Do you want to learn more about AI and HR? Check out Achievers’ webinar recording “Engagement: How AI Helps HR to be More Human, Not Less.”
Do you have any thoughts on this article? Share your comments below.
About the Author
The future is Brian David Johnson’s business. As a futurist he works with organizations to develop an actionable 10 -15 year vision and what it will feel like to live in the future. His work is called futurecasting, using ethnographic field studies, technology research, cultural history, trend data, global interviews and even science fiction to provide a pragmatic road map of the future. As an applied futurist Johnson has worked with governments, trade organizations, start-ups and multinational corporations to not only help envision their future but specify the steps needed to get there. Johnson is currently the futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, a professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Director of the ASU Threatcasting Lab. He is also a Futurist and Fellow at Frost and Sullivan.
Johnson speaks and writes extensively in ongoing columns for IEEE Computer Magazine and Successful Farming where he is the “Farm Futurist”. He has contributed articles to publications like The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and Wired Magazine. Johnson holds over 40 patents and is the best-selling author of both science fiction and fact books (WAR: Wizards and Robots, Humanity in the Machine, 21st Century Robot and Science Fiction Prototyping). He was appointed first futurist ever at the Intel Corporation in 2009 where he worked for over a decade helping to design over 2 billion microprocessors. Johnson appears regularly on Bloomberg TV, PBS, FOX News, and the Discovery Channel and has been featured in Scientific American, The Technology Review, Forbes, INC, and Popular Science. He has directed two feature films and is an illustrator and commissioned painter. In 2016 Samuel Goldwyn released “Vintage Tomorrows” a documentary based upon Johnson’s book of the same name.