Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
September 13, 2019

CHROs: Our Organizations Are Not Ready Yet for AI

Each day brings new headlines about artificial intelligence (AI), from an AI system passing an eighth-grade science test to fears of the technology replacing human workers. According to Gartner, enterprise use of AI has grown by 270% over the last four years. Despite this acceleration toward AI, many HR leaders do not feel ready.

We recently surveyed a sample of Fortune 500 CHROs to take their pulse on how far their organizations are in the AI journey, their biggest concerns and what they see as key opportunities. While many of these HR leaders anticipate that the technology will enable strides in the personalization of the employee experience, reallocation of resources to more value-adding projects and improvement in talent retention, the vast majority — 83% — believe there is a readiness gap in their organizations when it comes to AI. 

What accounts for this gap? 
For some, it’s financial: 53% of our respondents reported that their organizations do not have a budget set aside for AI. For others, it’s people: Almost half of the CHROs listed change management and employee experience/receptiveness as top concerns for AI integration. The good news is that HR leaders can greatly influence how the technology is applied in their organizations by focusing on a few key areas.

Battling bias
A few CHROs commented that they are worried that AI will reinforce bias. For example, AI can be used to help identify candidates with attributes similar to executives who have been successful in the organization. But if these successful executives all have similar backgrounds, then the technology could potentially limit diversity. Instead, HR leaders can help put safeguards in place to ensure AI works to eliminate bias by challenging assumptions with data (e.g., that only candidates with experience in the organization’s specific industry can contribute meaningfully) and participating in the development of robust leadership assessment processes. 

Protecting the employee experience
The impact on the employee experience emerged as a top issue in our survey. While it’s natural to be concerned about what this technology will do to the human element of work, AI can actually be used to enhance the employee experience and improve employee engagement. It can make the onboarding process more tailored and create a sense of belonging for remote workers. Additionally, it can free up time previously taken up by administrative tasks so that employees can focus on more strategic work and career growth opportunities.

Honoring the human element
Workforce readiness and adoption — and the lack thereof — are also on the minds of CHROs. Resistance can often be the result of fear, e.g., will AI replace my job? HR leaders can help ease these anxieties by clearly communicating how AI will directly affect employees, as well as helping to shape the overall cultural journey that often goes along with AI implementation. We’ve seen organizations make shifts to more learning-oriented cultures in response to digital disruption; two-thirds of CHROs say they are most likely to use AI for learning and development purposes. In this environment, CHROs should be asking: How do we enable learning? How do we ensure there is psychological safety for people to fail fast and learn? 

Ultimately, HR will be charged with understanding the people side of AI, from its role in the employee experience to the impact on the organizational culture. And they need to be ready.


Fleur Segal is a member of Spencer Stuart's Human Resources Practice and specializes in recruiting chief human resources officers and senior talent and total rewards leaders. Reach her via email and follow her on LinkedIn.