By David Tobenkin; February 26, 2019
SHRM HR Magazine
Automation refers to the use of electric or mechanized processes to perform work without— or with reduced—intervention by humans. Examples include robots that flip hamburgers, computer algorithms that eliminate human employees in medical and legal offices, and driverless automobiles and aerial drones.
Automation drives advancement not by eliminating jobs but by eliminating particular job functions at which humans are inefficient, inconsistent or exposed to risk, according to Ravin Jesuthasan, a managing director at Willis Towers Watson and co-author of Reinventing Jobs: A Four-Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017).
As a practical matter, experts expect that automation will lead to a declining number of generalist employees responsible for mundane repetitive transactional tasks, including HR generalists.
At the same time, more HR staff will be performing analytical functions and getting more involved with other organizational activities.
A recent KPMG report found that virtually all HR functions can be fully or partially automated. Of 21 responsibilities, KPMG found only five to be relatively less susceptible to automation:
- People performance whole system architecture (building a high-performance work system).
- HR and business strategy.
- Organizational effectiveness.
- Change management.
- Employee relations.
Even lower-level HR practitioners will be required to increase their value by mastering technology. Improved connectivity and faster access to virtually stored information can give all employees access to the best ideas and solutions, enabling staff with lower qualifications to review organizational data and perform high-level HR reporting, Bolton says.
How can HR professionals best function in this new environment? "Make sure you have high business acumen, strong critical thinking skills, good data analysis skills and good judgment," says Lynne Smith, senior vice president of human resources at Menlo Park, Calif.-based HR consulting firm Robert Half.
"You must be a good business partner and able to cover so much more ground and analyze more data than in the past," Smith says. "HR professionals will be called upon to work out problems quickly. Time is not on your side. If you're not solving the problem, someone else out there will be."
The following are some of the areas of HR that will be most impacted by automation.