Benefits For Bots And Other HR Conundrums

Can bots be promoted? Or fired? Or retired? Increasingly, human resource (HR) organizations will face such questions as companies augment their human workers with cognitive technologies like bots, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. It might be tempting to categorize this no-collar workforce as an information technology (IT) project, but an effective bot program requires involvement across the organization, particularly from HR.

While IT may be responsible for building, deploying and maintaining bots and other cognitive technologies, HR has an important role to play as well — redefining job descriptions, designing training and mentoring programs and setting new performance metrics. Additionally, much like their human counterparts, bots need onboarding, training, upskilling, management, performance reviews and even retirement strategies if they are to be productive members of the employee roster. For leading HR organizations, preparing for this hybrid work environment may already be a priority, but for many others, there are still unanswered questions to address.

When you begin to view intelligent machines through a talent lens, many of the same considerations that guide human recruiting and talent management emerge:

• Clearly define jobs for all workers — bot and human. To maximize the impact of a hybrid workforce model, consider redesigning the work to be done by bots and by their human co-workers as integrated efforts. Aim to build skill-specific botswith relevant governance and control capabilities baked in. Then, complement bot skills with human judgment, oversight and analysis.

• Use the onboarding process wisely. Introduce the bots to their human colleagues by focusing on the opportunities they bring to their new team. This is also the time to give bots names, security access, employee IDs and a spot on the org chart to define reporting relationships and audit requirements like you would for human employees.

• Assign the bots a human manager. The manager will train them, monitor their performance and assist them with exception cases, as well as evaluate their performance and help retrain them as the job requirements evolve.

• Provide bots with an exit strategy. You may discover that, like human employees, a bot may not be a good fit for the task at hand, particularly as the transaction or process develops and morphs over time. There should be a plan for reassigning the bot or updating its job responsibilities, as well as a willingness to retire or decommission the bot if it’s not contributing to the team, the larger organization and the bottom line.

Approaching talent this way represents a sea change in the operational status quo. Most likely, your company culture calls for your human employees to perform fixed roles within an established organizational chart, following well-entrenched processes. Workers may have certain expectations about their career progression and how management should support them in reaching their goals, but what will happen to this culture if you redefine their roles by assigning some tasks to bots? Are the human workers fully prepared for augmented roles? Faced with this possibility, workers often imagine the worst possible scenario — that the bots will replace them.

These fears may be alleviated if IT, HR and team leaders anticipate employee concerns and act to reassure them of their future alongside bots. For example, when NASA’s Shared Services Center introduced its bot program, it wisely took deliberate steps to engage its human workforce throughout the development and deployment process. The group demonstrated the benefits of bots to team leaders, who in turn introduced the advantages of robotic process automation (RPA) to team members. They actively sought to educate employees and solicit their feedback on all aspects of the bot program. In turn, employees embraced the bot concept and the opportunities it offered them.

The HR department’s role does not end with bot deployment, however. Continued integration of the hybrid workforce calls for new approaches to employee development and performance management. There may be a need, for example, to retrain employees for new positions or to upskill them for expanded job responsibilities, particularly if you reorganize teams in such a way that formerly separate functional areas become integrated departments. As job definitions change, so do performance expectations, in which case HR should work with IT and team leaders to set new metrics for both humans and the bots.

The future of work is an environment where humans and machines augment each other’s efforts in the no-collar workforce. This hybrid approach can make organizations more productive and humans more creative. When we free employees from outdated, rigid processes, we open up new opportunities for their performance and growth. This culture can thrive when management encourages collaboration and sets up talent — both human and machine — to succeed by redefining work, employee roles and performance.

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