UNLEASH World 2023 kicked off with a bang, as Josh Bersin delivered the keynote opening to a packed-out room, setting the tone for the rest of the two-day event.
Throughout this opening address, Bersin touched on numerous issues that are top of mind for HR leaders at the tail end of 2023, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the overall future of work.
Speaking to UNLEASH afterwards, Bersin expounded on the underlying reasons why so many organizations are facing headwinds around issues like employee engagement, productivity and retention.
The Josh Bersin Company’s SVP of research, Kathi Enderes, explained that the underlying reason here is that around one in three organizations are ‘non-dynamic’ – those that “designed for change”, actively anticipate and adapt to external change, and have embraced continuous transformation.
In essence, this is a “skills-based meritocracy” where culture and technology are key to advancing dynamism in the workplace, Enderes told UNLEASH, as is adopting a different perspective on enduring challenges like talent acquisition and retention.
Of course, technology also featured heavily throughout other sessions over the course of this year’s UNLEASH World experience, and UNLEASH caught up with four bellwethers of the HR community to investigate what AI means for the future of HR.
Airbus CHRO Thierry Baril, Ubisoft CHRO Anika Grant, Jobs for Humanity founder and CEO Roy Baladi, and AI expert and chair for the Future of Work at Singularity University, Gary Bolles shared their perspectives on the topic with UNLEASH
One of the overriding messages from this group of experts was that while there is huge potential for AI to change HR for the better, it is vital that AI innovation must be at the service of the people it aims to help and those that have created it, not the creation itself.
As Gary Bolles explained: “People who lead in HR are the ones who are defining how AI will impact human work, and how it can enhance human work.”
When business and HR leaders are looking for an edge in 2024, it’s a safe assumption that AI is going to be one of the first many call at. The hype around generative AI and ChatGPT dominated the HR technology landscape throughout this year, but many will still be learning the fundamentals of what this tech is even capable of.
Speaking on the UNLEASH podcast series, UNLEASHcast, SAP SuccessFactor’s chief revenue officer Maryann Abbajay, delved into this topic in more detail.
Abbajay advocated that laying the right foundation before attempting to add the “bells and whistles” that many in the technology world promote when it comes to AI, with data forming the vital foundation of this work.
Following this, educating the HR function on this crucial to help address the anxiety that advancements in AI causes among many employees, who fear that they will lose their job or find their skills are no longer necessary in a more automated workplace.
Also speaking on the UNLEASHcast live in Paris, Amazon Web Services (AWS) HR director Jake Shannon urged his peers not to panic on this front and, in line with Abbajay’s comments, to ensure that the most important element in approaching gen AI is to “figure out the education piece in this”.
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While Shannon’s advice to “just get started” with gen AI may only be plausible for some, embedding that learning attitude into overall company culture allows it to filter down from the leadership to all levels; a key element to securing buy-in from those that may be most impacted by the implementation of such technology.
As many have come to realize and focus on, any AI system is only as good as the data it is based on and Shannon highlights the importance of continuous data iteration – repeated reviews and test of the data the system produces – to ensure success.
Data is also the crucial element in other technology systems that are driving business strategy and improvement. UNLEASH heard from Standard Bank’s CPO Sharon Taylor and COO Jaco van Vuuren about how the African banking group is approaching both customer and employee experience through its technology partnership with Visier.
Like many of its peers in the banking world, Standard has numerous legacy technology issues to grapple with, but has taken the view that creativity is a necessity when it comes to moving forward. At the core of this lies data analytics, which enables them to have a single view of the group’s 50,000-strong workforce.
Having adopted Visier’s people analytics platform – no mean feat says Van Vuuren – the bank is now able to drill down into detailed stats about skills, diversity and inclusion, and other facets of its employees, as well as confidently plan for future strategies beyond the HR spectrum.
As Taylor states, it allows true understanding of a company’s people:
“The decisions you make about the environment you create for them are going to be lead indicators of your ability to transform client experience, execute with excellence and drive sustainable growth and value.”
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John Brazier is an experienced and award-winning B2B journalist and editor. Prior to joining UNLEASH, John both led and wrote for a number of global and domestic financial services publications, covering markets such as asset management, trading, insurance, fintech and personal finance.