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AI in HR: why technology is not enough

By Dr Alex Linley, CEO of and co-founder, Capp

July 10 2019 - The use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) in HR does not always get a fair hearing. However, it is not always well implemented. AI is not a replacement for HR professionals. It does not have the wisdom and humanity that HR professional bring to their jobs. It is a tool, and a very useful one with much to offer. But it can only reach its potential if its capabilities are understood and used wisely. Here are five tips for using AI successfully.

AI is not just for data scientists

Recruitment and talent management are a mix of art and science. HR professionals use a combination of skills, from people-based specialisms such as psychology to more data driven expertise such as codifying the skills base.

HR professionals may prefer to recruit someone with the potential to do a role rather than years of experience of doing that role already, because they have more capacity to grow with a firm. For internal recruitment AI can provide behavioural talent data that feeds in to the mix, giving the HR professional fresh insights with which to identify and support the best talent.

AI does not provide definitive answers

Even so, there’s a danger that we provide information to an AI and expect it to sift through data and provide us with definitive, correct answers such as "these two people are perfect for our new role". But AI is not a calculator. Two plus two always equals four, but people are not numbers, and managing human talent is a much more complex and subtle matter than doing some maths. There is nothing wrong with questioning what an AI delivers - indeed it is arguable that the AI's output should always be questioned.

The human element is vital

If someone is under-performing, the HR professional will be inclined to work with them to learn if their motivation, personal circumstances or other non-work factors have a role to play, or if they really do find the work itself too much of a challenge. Assessments will be made about finding remedies, and human insights will come into play. AI can play its part, providing behavioural talent data to help HR make better decisions, perhaps revealing some factors that the HR team can't easily spot. But the AI is not the lead here – that's the job of the human HR professional.

AI does what it is told

AI looks at data and makes decisions on the basis of parameters it is given. So, suppose it is asked to scour CVs for a particular role, and use parameters around existing employees to help make suggestions. If it 'sees' that the vast majority of recruits to similar roles are men, it could discount applications from women, and vice versa. Gender is an obvious example of how bias can creep in to recruitment, but there are many others, some so far embedded they can be difficult or even impossible to surface. If there is a bias in an AI parameter, it will be applied. A key skill is to spot bias and root it out.

Don't abandon your wisdom

These points lead us to this final one. Wisdom is that spark of extra magic dust that HR professional bring to their jobs. It is based on psychology, on the intuition that comes through working with people, on the fact that we interpret and mediate the world. AI can't do that. It needs us to do it.

Used at its best, HR AI helps us address our unifocal view, broaden our perspectives, and eliminate our prejudices (both known and unknown). But it isn't all-knowing, and it shouldn't make our decisions for us. It's a helper, an assistant, and we are still its boss.

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