At the start of the lockdown, a colleague and I established a weekly series where we would get the team together to debate on topics from around the world. These could be themes ranging from HR to history to diets and everything in between. The aim was to bring together diverse perspectives on a wide ranging variety of topics that we may not have a chance to discuss during the regular course of work. The debates have been an outstanding success and have led to an ever-growing pile of ideas that we would want to experiments with over the next few years. In this post, I am going to present a few perspectives that came together during one such debate. I will not conclude the debate for you but let you pick which perspectives (or combination of) you want to embrace and which ones you will let slide.
Topic: If everything that can be automated is automated, what aspects of HR will remain? TL; DR Do HR jobs exist only because of a lack of automation / tech availability?
Perspective 1: In an ideal world if every human being behaved in accordance to the law of the land, a police force would be redundant. It is because good intentions are rarely enough that we employ a fairly large police force. Similarly, organizations would operate smoothly if every employee did their job well while behaving in accordance to the organizational policies. In an ideal world, where managers are perfect and employees are all role models, maybe we do not need an HR function. However, until the day the police force exists, we will likely need human resource professionals at work despite everything being automated. Discussions pointed out that this was a restrictive view of responsibilities than an HR professional has but holds true to a large extent.
Perspective 2: HR in an organization should think of themselves as co-founders. They need to be able to contribute significantly in running the organization and automation will help pave the path to get there. Responsibilities should include understanding the business well, identifying inefficiencies proactively and making decisions that may impact P&L. Only when HRs do so will they be able to make their role significant, exert influence and make a true different. Participants protested saying that while they may think of themselves as co-founders, the business will not. However, with strong HR professionals that balance is expected to change swiftly.
Perspective 3: When all that can be automated has been automated, what will remain is the people science function (R&D if you will). It will be the team responsible for discovering what makes people truly tick. Why do people do the things they do, what will make them do more of what we want and happily so. Which levers do we pull to keep the organization as a whole running? What dynamics work for teams vs individuals? What will work or what should work look like 10 years from now? What do we do now to ensure that the future we envisaged arrives? The team will likely be composed of behavioral scientists, psychologists, statisticians, software engineers and the like. The current set of “HR” skills will become redundant at a rapid pace. Ensuing discussion insisted that while it is likely trues, consultants and co-founders will still be needed.
Perspective 4: The last perspective follows the above perspective and implies that as long as managers exist, HR will. Managers and leaders need consultants and that is likely the way forward. The day we have effectively managed to remove managers from the equation, we will be one step closer to eliminating the HR function as we know today. What will likely remain are very thin audit teams that will take on auditing responsibility for hiring, compensation, regulations and so on.
The broad conclusion was that we needed to embrace that something will change and the sooner we start working towards preparing for the change, the more likely we are to keep our jobs. Now am not sure how pessimistic or optimistic that ending note is, but it is what it is.
What do you think HR will look like when everything is automated?