Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

How to Leverage HR Strategies in an AI World

Andy Campbell
HCM Strategy Director at Oracle

Today's small-to-medium business (SMB) leaders are more focused than ever before on how they treat their employees. Media headlines around the world reflect challenges today's high-growth companies face. Gender-based pay gaps, sexual harassment, and lack of diversity are among the most significant concerns. SMB stakeholders and younger consumers are holding businesses accountable, which has led to damaged brand reputations, stalled growth, and ousted leaders at businesses with poor practices. The landscape is driving SMBs to rethink their human capital management (HCM) strategies. A strong HCM strategy can help ensure that organizations are addressing key areas of concern and turning transparency and a focus on their employees into a strong competitive advantage.

If there was ever a time when HR leaders needed to be more actively involved at the highest levels of their businesses, it's now. A great HR leader who shapes an SMB's human capital management strategy brings enormous value to a growing company. This role includes preventing loss of reputation, boosting worker engagement and productivity, and being the moral compass of an organization.

To do that effectively, small-to-medium business HR leaders need a deep understanding of the power of technology. It’s important to understand how it’s changing the workplace, reshaping human resources, and redefining HR’s role in the human capital management function.

Technology as a Workplace Driver

Technology is pervasive in everyday life, and that creates expectations on the part of employees that they will have the same convenience and flexibility with technology in the workplace. This isn't just about ease of use and mobility, either; they also expect to have a strong social component that lets them see, share, like, innovate, and engage across the organization, and across time and distance.

Much of the time, though, the technology in the workplace fails to measure up to what employees own and use themselves. When people find themselves using technology they find limiting, and which cuts off that constant social contact, it can lead to frustration and demands for SMB organizations to rethink their workplace technology.

Given the competition for the best employees, it's important for both retention and productivity for HR leaders to listen to those demands. After all, these technologies are challenging our established engagement norms, and are the key to making a workplace less hierarchical, more open, and more likely to be innovative. HR is the channel for that message to reach executives, along with strong counsel on how to meet those demands (and the consequences for not doing so).

At the same time, some of the cutting-edge technology that's becoming part of the small-to-medium business workplace also creates uncertainty and stress for employees. If you think about what's going on with artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, and how those technologies will change the workplace and people's jobs, you can see why employees may be concerned. They are asking themselves if there will be a place for them in that workplace, and how they should prepare for those changes.

Workers (and their managers) will expect HR to provide those answers through the human capital management strategies they create. That means SMBs need a solid understanding of the implications of this technology and the ability to provide information and guidance to their employees.


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Technology as a Value Tool

It's just as important for HR to have the technology it needs to provide the data and insights that will help leaders understand what's happening with the workforce and how to increase performance.

It's no longer enough to have a gut feel about how things are going—just like other parts of the organization, HR needs to be data led. There are opportunities to gain insights from internal company data as well as by mining other types of data, like social media posts, using Oracle Human Capital Management (HCM) Cloud. We apply our long-time expertise in technology and work with partners to develop specific tools to help develop, sustain, and measure the productivity of great employees.

Because HR is becoming a data-driven function, HR directors need to build great relationships with people in their organizations who know technology, and with outside experts as well. They need to have conversations with their peers in IT and operations, so decisions about technology across the organization are made in ways that ensure HR's needs are included. In short, the skills an HR director needs are changing, and if you don't understand data, you're in the wrong job.

There's another powerful reason for HR leaders to build those relationships and have those conversations, especially with their peers in marketing. Why? Because marketing is in the business of listening to customers—and using data to do it. The people building your growing company's human capital management strategy likewise need to be in the business of listening to employees and learn how to use data for the purpose—and be as innovative and challenging in what they offer to employees as marketing is for customers.

Maintaining the Moral Compass

Beyond its role in recruitment, retention, and engagement—or, perhaps more accurately, because of this role—HR is the natural provider of the moral compass at the board level.

HR leaders are in a position (and have the obligation) to speak truth to power, and always to be conscious of, consider, and raise issues of ethical behavior. Again, this requires a deep understanding of and ability to articulate the impact of technology on an SMB—and particularly its people—and asking hard questions about what data growing companies are capturing and how they’re using it.

Technology can enable growing companies to monitor productivity with incredible precision, tracking activities to the second. Just because that is possible, though, doesn't mean that it is either desirable or humane. Do we really want, for example, to be measuring how long people take for toilet breaks and then using that as part of measuring their productivity or value to the organization? While flexible work arrangements are good for the employee and their work-life balance, "zero-hour" or "on-call only" contracts are potentially exploitative—how do you provide ethical flexibility? As we put more robotic devices into place, how do we make sure that how and where we do so are not reinforcing unconscious bias?

Given the importance of human capital management to keep the organization running efficiently and effectively, HR leaders are now some of the most vital people in the C-suites of today's small-to-medium business organizations. With a deeper understanding of data, HR leaders can make huge contributions to creating and maintaining a productive and ethical SMB workplace.

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Comments ( 1 )
  • Cindy Long Tuesday, September 10, 2019
    Interesting thoughts. Can you envision SMB's that put the needs of parents high on the priority list when considering an ethical workplace? What about welcoming children into the workplace?
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