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AI at the service of the employee

AI can contribute significantly in employee success. Find out how from Jim Stroud.

Employee success is at the core of business success. It’s high time organizations invest meaningfully in what’s actually useful to their people.

Written by Jim Stroud, edited by Sadhana Balaji.

A lot has changed in the workplace over the last 2-3 decades. Well, no shit, Sherlock. Even before the pandemic, businesses were going digital, online interactions were growing more common, outsourcing and global teams were mushrooming. But an organization’s relationship with its employees remained largely unmoved — 9-5, weekends off, conference room meetings, regular travel.

Until the pandemic. Now, nearly every industry has a good majority of its people working from home — and employees prefer that too because it allows them to weave work in between ‘life’ like cooking dinner or picking up kids from school. This has also opened up the world of employment for hitherto marginalized people, such as disabled people, those with care duties, those living at a distance from the industrial centers etc. Why, then, are businesses insisting that people come back to the office?

Remote or hybrid work is a Pandora’s box that no one knows how to shut. Fundamentally, there is the ‘out of sight is out of mind’ problem, where introverted/silent employees might be assumed to be shirking work. Without constant human monitoring, organizations worry about productivity losses. So, they put trackers on monitors and keyboards, leaving employees feeling distrusted. This has led to a lot of lingering resentment, which we’re seeing manifest as the Great Resignation.

That’s an absolute shame because as they say, marriage is grand, but divorce is 20 grand! It’s expensive to lose an employee — advertising for backfilling the role, efforts in the hiring process, training time, time lost in productivity, opportunity cost of hiring the wrong person, it all adds up! 

The best alternative available to any organization is to invest in employee success. 

Make no mistake, every organization claims to invest in employee success even today. All the perks, benefits, free-for-all cafeteria etc., are pegged as exactly that. While these are good-to-have, are these really good for the people? That’s a question everyone needs to answer for themselves.

To ensure employee success in the remote/hybrid, fast-paced world, here are three things organizations can and should do.

Invest in better management

Results Oriented Work Environments (ROWE) are the future. It's when organizations can tell their employees, “here's your assignment. I don't care if you do it at 3 am or 3 pm as long as it's done by my deadline. I'm looking at the results you get.”

Creating such workplaces requires not only a great deal of trust and transparency, but also a culture of collaboration. We can’t have someone not completing their assignment because their workday doesn’t overlap with their colleagues’. How do we ensure that? Train managers on:

  • Setting result-oriented goals and measures of success
  • Coaching teams to be self-managed
  • Running effective meetings
  • Knowledge sharing and learning management
  • Being transparent with information
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Resolving conflict

Invest in the people of your future

Like any revolutionary technology, AI is going to displace jobs. As experts are predicting, AI will also create jobs that need different skills. The best way to tackle the proliferation of AI is to get ahead of it. Carpe diem, right?

Embrace AI more openly. Enable your employees to take advantage of personal assistants, ChatGPT and other emerging AI tech. Encourage them to grow in their career — irrespective of whether that’s within your organization or not — using the latest AI technology.

More importantly, leverage AI for the organization. Introduce AI tools to automate workflows and processes within the organization. Create interactive experiences for onboarding, appraisals, reviews, feedback and so on. Build an AI-powered, judgement-free, time-unlimited space for employees to experiment.

Invest in adapting culture

The changes we’re seeing AI create in the workplace are just the tip of the iceberg. There is still a lot of work to be done in eliminating model biases and applying decision science to the real world. The best approach today is to use AI to explore the possibilities, but have humans make the decisions.

There will also be a dramatic change in how we think about work. For instance, when you have AI doing let’s say 20% of the work that someone was doing, it won’t be long before someone makes an argument that may be they should pay you 20% less. Or take on 20% more work! This would then affect work-life balance and eventually company culture itself. On the other hand, we’re already seeing employees use technology to do two full-time jobs. A lot more are moonlighting as freelancers. Decisions around these would be much harder to make.

As the old adage goes, you take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your customers. In the ‘digitally transformed’ world, this is truer than ever before. Employees want more than just a salary and job satisfaction. They seek transparency, trust, purpose, freedom, creativity and meaningful contribution. They also have dozens of other options, if they’re unhappy in their current workplace. 

To keep any semblance of competitive advantage, every organization needs to invest in setting their employees up for success. Offer them the tools they need to do their jobs better. Automate everything that can be automated effectively. Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy or busy work by making processes simpler. Make information easily accessible and show them you’re transparent. In short, never give them the runaround!

About Jim Stroud

With over a decade of experience in recruitment and sourcing, Jim Stroud has consulted for companies such as Microsoft, Google, Siemens, and a host of startup companies. During his tenure with Randstad Sourceright, he alleviated the sourcing and recruiting headaches of Randstad clients worldwide as its Global Head of Sourcing and Recruiting Strategy. Quite recently, he served as VP, Marketing for Proactive Talent – the most recognized and respected name in talent attraction, hiring, and retention. 

Presently, he produces “The Recruiting Life,” a comic strip and newsletter about the world of work while seeking out his next career adventure.

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