Is this the CHRO’s greatest ever talent challenge?

11 Jan 2021

Is this the CHRO’s greatest ever talent challenge?

As our 2020 AI report explains, the enormous impact of artificial intelligence on every aspect of an organisation requires a fundamental rework and rethink of talent planning.

The challenges for the CHRO if AI is to be fully embraced are considerable. A number of completely new role profiles will need to be defined and filled, there’s the challenge of recruiting in an ultra-tight market and how to undertake a comprehensive reskilling programme. In brief, these are the top-line tasks, but not the only ones.

The CHRO’s leading role in all of this is just one of the subjects we consider in our report, Artificial Intelligence for Boards - Gearing up for the Future of Business.  The report describes how AI will impact company boards (management and supervisory), role by role, individually and collectively. There is also guidance on managing this massive opportunity.

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Artificial Intelligence for Boards - Gearing up for the Future of Business

How CHROs and Boards can prepare for the coming AI revolution.

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New, rare tech skills required

First, there will be an urgent need for technical skills.  Data scientists or machine learning engineers will be top of the must-have list.

The CHRO, working with all the business managers will need to define new role profiles (or the extension of existing ones) that have the relevant AI capabilities. The new capabilities and skills must be built into a comprehensive HR strategy that dovetails with the technology plan.

The question will be: which of these skilled individuals can I recruit from outside and which can I develop internally? And importantly, how can I ensure this red-hot talent is retained?

Already, the EU is lagging behind the US and China on available adequately-qualified AI talent, as a recent report by the Bruegel economics think-tank reveals. As just one local indicator of the need for long-term talent planning, in 2019, German firms spent an average of six months hunting to fill each tech position.

"When you are facing the demands of new skills for a transformative technology, especially in a tight labour market, thinking long-term about your talent pipeline is fundamental for success.", says Markus Trost, Partner and Head of the Technology Practice at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

“Our talent pipeline services provide boards and executive teams with the tools to develop a robust and diverse talent pipeline of internal and external candidates.”

Current employees will also be affected by AI. The questions here are as follows: How do you create reskilling and learning opportunities with clear progression paths whilst still maintaining productivity? And even before you do that, how do you assess those who have the capability and potential to make that step-change?

Communication will be key to AI adoption

Clearly, like any transformation, the robustness of corporate culture will be severely tested.

The CHRO needs to address fears, eliminate misconceptions, motivate people, and in general manage the cultural transformation and change process.

Accurate and unbiased facts about AI is central to this. Relevant and easy-to-understand information is an important first step in the cultural transformation towards a new human-and-machine reality.

Alexander Eckert, Global SVP HR Gerresheimer AG, puts this well, “CHROs are in a pivotal position for the adoption of Artificial Intelligence. The combination of hype and fear out there is not helpful to drive an engaged, productive adoption of this important technology in companies. Therefore, a lot of energy and dialogue is required to guide employees through the transition.”

Apart from the formal communication, training programs, and structural changes in the workplace, other less formal opportunities for interacting with AI need to be created.

One way is to create several touchpoints throughout the value chain. This experience of ‘normalisation’ can reduce the resistance towards AI in general, and the AI transformation within the company, driving acceptance of the new technology in everyone’s working lives.

Scarce AI talents, and their cultural demands

Not only are AI talents scarce, but they will require adjustment with potentially a specific set of incentives and a less conventional working culture.

It is the CHRO’s responsibility to enable the working conditions to attract talents with different expectations.

A conservative bank competing with a relaxed start-up would face obvious challenges attracting young, ambitious AI talent, for example.

"Of course, any culture and change management programme will challenge all board members to both imagine and manage the transition towards a human-and-machine business world. Here, the CHRO will have an important role as simultaneously board member, educator and change leader.", says Silvia Eggenweiler, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany and member of the Technology Practice.

HR is the leading team in change

Clearly, it is crucial for the CHRO to critically assess his or her own team and ensure the appropriate upskilling or hiring.

When it comes to AI-powered HR processes, there are both plusses and minuses to be aware of. The first red flag is the persistence of bias with respect to gender, skin color and more, in many AI programmes. The negative effect can be very subtle, buried in the direct and indirect connotations of thousands of words.

At the same time, AI can be incredibly effective in driving HR processes. The promise is of a more effective, systematic, scalable, and ‘reviewable’ processes via the use of AI.

To discuss your talent plans or personal career in the light of our report, and your adoption of AI, please get in touch. We will be happy to discuss how we can help.