The Power of People Skills In the Age of AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) has quickly become a billion dollar industry and its impact can already be seen in today’s workplace. In fact, 54% of human resources (HR) executives believe these technological advancements will affect key roles in the HR organization. AI and machine learning-based technologies are now enabling HR departments by assisting with the hiring process, streamlining onboarding and monitoring employee performance. However, it’s also important for organizations to identify the intersection between data driven by technology and human empathy. Whether it’s helping organizations to hire more diverse candidates, or promoting efficiency to supplement creativity and decision making, it takes both man-power and machine learning to achieve a sustainable, successful HR function.

With digitalization paving the way to the future of work, here’s what you need to know about the rise of the machine while keeping the human in human resources.

Automation enables productivity

According to McKinsey, up to 45% of all HR activities could be automated today. Machine learning capabilities have provided organizations with the tools to automate redundant tasks, detect and analyze hidden patterns in data and uncover new insights that lead to more informed decisions. This provides employees with more time for valuable tasks that require human thinking and creativity. And most importantly: machines can’t replace human empathy.

While companies may not be doing this intentionally, unconscious bias is directly affecting the types of candidates who apply for jobs across industries. Machine learning enables organizations to analyze job postings for gender-biased language including certain words or phrases like “ninja” which typically skew towards male stereotypes and can may discourage some applicants. It can also offer suggestions to help future postings be more gender neutral, increasing the number of female applicants who get past the initial screenings. Additionally, resumes and job profiles can be reviewed without the recruiter inadvertently favoring the candidate who studied at the same university, has a dog, or shares other preferences with the recruiter that have nothing to do with the job requirements.

This kind of unconscious bias is a general human weakness that we all have in common, but by starting with the screening process, companies will take the initial step toward greater equality. Technology offers a way to remove unconscious bias from hiring so that hiring managers are selecting employees based on their skills, regardless of race, gender, or ability, making it more objective.

The power of people skills

HR is the key enabler to ensure the company has the right talent to operate in the best way possible. One of the most debated topics when it comes to the workplace of the future is anticipating skill sets. The World Economic Forum’s January 2016 “Future of Jobs” report predicts that by 2020, more than a third of the desired skills will consist of those not considered crucial for our jobs today. The study also concluded that while technical skills are highly sought after, they need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills. Therefore, social skills, including emotional intelligence, will be in higher demand than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation.

While AI may continue to change jobs, machines won’t replace our judgment and empathy. It’s still us, the human beings, holding the power to determine who fits best in what roles and what position based on in-person interaction. Rather than responding to standard requests, the HR department can focus on individual employees, working on tailor-made top talent and team development or spending more time with those facing a specific challenge.

At the end of the day, human touch and social skills help organizations outperform business goals. While artificial intelligence brings data together, human beings still have and are enabled to

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With technology, companies have to bring their employees at work to where they already are in their private lives: mobile, easy-to-use, delivering positive and fun experiences. The mission for today’s HR professionals remains clear: acquire, retain and develop the best talent. Technology is not only a great enabler, offering opportunity to enhance the whole organization. It is a pre-requisite for businesses to stay relevant to new and current talent. Technology also facilitates learning so that people can re-skill themselves and be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow. With new technologies, people have more time for creative work while the machines can automate the processes leading to more productivity as a whole. This makes it crystal clear: AI and humanity is not a contradiction. In fact, AI is bringing in more humanity to businesses around the globe. To help the business outperform for its customers and be an attractive employer, HR needs to beat the forefront of intelligent data and mobile environments.

As AI continues to evolve and spread across organizations, it’s imperative for businesses to keep up with it, while having people at the center of everything they do. AI may be the next wave of innovation, but unique human skills such as flexibility, creativity, empathy and emotional intelligence will always be necessary to help companies achieve a sustainable, successful future.

Stefan Ries

Stefan Ries, Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and Labor Relations Director, is a member of the Executive Board of SAP SE with global responsibility for Human Resources. He was appointed to the Executive Board of SAP SE in April 2016. He started his career as HR Manager at Microsoft, overseeing HR duties in Austria, Switzerland, and East European countries. Stefan first joined SAP in 2002 and by 2010, he was responsible for various HR functions, heading up the HR business partner organization and overseeing all HR functions on an operational level. To support innovation, Stefan attaches great importance to a diverse working culture. He is convinced that appreciating the differences among people, their unique backgrounds and personalities is a key success factor for SAP.