Organisations must act now to shape use of AI

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A panel at the launch of Roffey Park's Management Agenda 2018 report discussed the challenge of managing remote workers and the importance of cognitive diversity

Organisations must act now to embrace technology and shape it in a way that works for them, agreed a panel speaking at the launch of this year’s Management Agenda report from Roffey Park.

A key focus of this year’s report was AI and the fourth industrial revolution. Surveying nearly 700 managers, it found that only 17% believe their organisation has the leadership and people skills to take advantage of AI, and only 38% that their organisation is investing in reskilling employees to keep pace with technology.

It also found that 21% of managers don’t think their organisation has the technical skills and expertise to take advantage of AI.

Speaking on the panel, Siân Harrington, founder of The People Space and former publisher of HR magazine, commented that she was actually surprised that the 38% figure was so high. She urged organisations to turn their attention to automation and AI before it is too late.

“It’s not going to not come; it’s going to be there so we need to all work together and collaborate and work out what’s going to be best for society,” she said.

“We need to be taking control of it, but at the moment it feels like a few people have got control who are going to make a lot of money; those are the suppliers. But HR needs to think: ‘how can we use this to do a good job and create a better world of work?’” Harrington added.

She urged organisations to follow in the footsteps of some firms she’d encountered who hold days where staff “can go and play around with technology”. “It’s breaking down that barrier,” she said.

“One of my fears is that workplaces aren’t talking about AI enough and it’s suddenly going to hit us in the face,” said head of research at Roffey Park Dan Lucy, presenting before the panel discussion.

“We should be doing more to prepare people for the future,” he added, saying that although “we don’t know what the future will look like and the skills we’ll need, we do know human skills will be more important, so we can equip people with those qualities.”

Speaking on the panel, global head of talent management at Jaguar Land Rover Gill Morris commented that AI and automation is “big business” at her company, and that it is currently investing millions of pounds here, including in retraining some of its traditional engineers to become software engineers.

The Management Agenda 2018 report also explored the changing nature of work and workplaces, as more people work in non-traditional, remote ways. It found that 49% of managers see gaps in capability to manage virtual teams, a challenge the panel articulated as one of growing significance.

Lucy advised that trust and authenticity become even more important where leaders are managing people virtually. “Almost traditional things, like doing what you said you were going to do, become very important,” he said.

Also speaking on the panel, CEO at Action on Hearing Loss Paul Breckell described the gap that could be left for many socially, and the significance of this at societal level.

“There’s this whole piece around the human experience,” he said. “We have got to make some decisions as leadership and HR professionals about how much of this is our responsibility.

“As human beings where do we get that experience of the tribe? Where do we get that multi-generational experience [when working remotely]?” he said in relation to the growth of the gig economy. “Because if we’re not doing it in workplaces I think there’s a big issue; we’re just doing it in our bubble on social media. We end up going to places where there’s not much cognitive diversity.”

Other panellists pointed out, however, that in the interests of bringing greater cognitive diversity into the workplace, managers and HR must realise that not every worker wants to interact in the same, face-to-face ways.

“We might think people want collaboration and social interaction but there are some who don’t want that,” said Morris, citing the example of employees on the autistic spectrum.

The Management Agenda 2018 also explored this issue of cognitive diversity, finding that only 14% of managers said their organisations actively sought to recruit people who may not fit.

Morris pointed out the importance of HR creating the right kinds of cultures that embrace diverse thinking. “When you recruit for difference you have to make sure the scaffolding is in place so that they can land,” she said.

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