A survey of nearly 3,000 employees across eight nations revealed surprising statistics about employee perceptions of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace. Titled “Engaging Opportunity: Working Smarter with AI” and conducted by The Workforce Institute and Kronos Incorporated, the survey found that 58% of organizations have yet to discuss the potential impact of AI on their workforce with employees.

At the same time, 61% of respondents say they’d feel more comfortable if employers were more transparent about what the future may hold. The respondents, according to the research, “See significant opportunity for artificial intelligence (AI) to create a more engaging and empowering workplace experience, yet admit a lack of transparency from their employers is a primary driver of fear and concern.”

Gartner prediction: organizations will integrate AI

In related research, Gartner predicts that “by 2021, 70 percent of organizations will assist their employees’ productivity by integrating AI in the workplace. This development will prompt 10 percent of organizations to add a digital harassment policy to workplace regulation.”

According to Helen Poitevin, senior research director at Gartner, employees’ interactions with virtual assistants and conversational agents must be monitored to prevent bad behavior and abusive language towards those digital tools. 

The Gartner article states, “Recent experiments have also shown that people’s abusive behavior toward AI technologies can translate into how they treat the humans around them. Organizations should consider this when establishing VPAs (virtual personal assistants) in the workplace and train the assistants to respond appropriately to aggressive language.”

The role of the CHRO in AI adoption

To summarize, employees want more transparency on the impact of AI on the workplace, while interactions between employees and digital agents must be closely managed.

Sounds like an opportunity for the HR team — and in particular, the CHRO — to stake a leadership role.

In a post on IBM’s Smarter Workforce blog, IBM’s Mariana Saintive Sousa urges HR leaders to embrace the unknowns associated with AI. “When it comes to AI, we need to demystify the hype from the facts. It’s natural for us to mistrust what we don’t understand,” writes Saintive Sousa.

HR leaders can embrace AI and make decisions on its use without understanding everything happening under the hood. With Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS), CHRO’s don’t need to know how the software works, so long as they can attest to its benefits.

The first step a CHRO can take with AI is to embrace training and education. the Smarter Workforce post cites IBM research that finds that “More than 80 percent of operations executives say employees need training and encouragement to feel comfortable working with intelligent machines, but most have not taken steps to make this happen.”

For success with AI, HR leaders need to be knowledgeable about their organization, since AI applications work across functional areas to serve employees.

CHRO’s: take a leadership position with AI

In a blog post titled “How CHRO’s Can Be Pioneers In Using Artificial Intelligence,” Jeanne Meister, Founding Partner of Future Workplace, urges CHRO’s to develop and lead strategies on how AI can enhance the employee experience.

It’s not a solo act, however, as Meister recommends that CHRO’s collaborate with leaders in IT, customer experience, corporate communications and employer branding. Meister notes that the CHRO must work with stakeholders to develop a shared vision on how to deliver business results using AI.

According to Meister, “CHROs have an opportunity to assume a leadership position by being creative and strategic in using artificial intelligence across the employee life cycle from sourcing new hires to on-boarding, career development, and coaching.”

CHRO’s must identify the business problems to be solved with AI, then create urgency. According to Meister, standing still is not an option.

Think like a CIO

In a blog post on the SHRM Executive Network, three co-authors from Korn Ferry argue that to find success, the CHRO must think like a CIO. The CHRO helps the CIO understand how people are the underpinnings that usher an organization to the next level.

According to the authors, “Beyond owning the people strategy, CHROs must not be simply order takers, but help implement new trends and business strategies that will ultimately determine the organizational design and the people strategy.”

The authors share research from Korn Ferry that identifies five competencies that correlate to growth in gross profit margins:

  1. Discipline and focus
  2. Connectivity
  3. Openness and transparency
  4. Empowerment and alignment
  5. Agility

The role of the CHRO is to assess the abundance or lack of these competencies within the organization. The ability for an organization to exhibit these competencies is derived from the aggregate competencies that reside in the workforce.

To usher in the era of AI in the workplace, these same principles apply: the CHRO must think like a CIO and assess the five competencies in relation to AI systems and tools.

AI use case: employee development and upskilling

For the CHRO, a particularly relevant use case of AI is in learning systems. The challenge with most learning systems is not knowing where to start, given the vast universe of content. You don’t know where to go next or what to do if you get stuck.

In an interview on IBM’s Smarter Workforce blog, HR expert Josh Bersin explains: “What AI can do is it can give individuals and the organization direct information on the skills and exact experiences that are going to be the most relevant in that job amongst people that have performed well.”

According to Bersin, AI tools can recommend learning modules based on the type of learner you are and the role that you’re in.

In an interview on the Merryck & Co. blog, IBM’s CHRO, Diane Gherson, described a new learning system the company deployed to get employees ready for the future. According to Gherson, “We threw out our old learning system and created a really consumable experience by creating a Netflix-like experience.”

The Netflix-like features include different channels, as well as tracking of content you’ve consumed. The new system enables users to set goals, then recommends content based on the learning paths of people who achieved similar goals.

According to Gherson, “You want people to have a track record of reinventing themselves.” AI-powered learning systems are a step in the right direction.