How HR leaders can leverage A.I. to transform work—and where they often go wrong

Ravin Jsethasan, Global Leader for Transformation Services at Mercer
Ravin Jsethasan, global leader for transformation services at Mercer.
Courtesy of Mercer

Good morning!

HR has become the center of experimentation for leaders thinking about how A.I. will transform the workplace. Perhaps no one knows this better than Ravin Jesuthasan, global leader for transformation services at consulting firm Mercer, who advises some of the corporate world’s top HR executives on the rapid advances and changes in the ways employees perform their jobs everyday. One of his main areas of focus lately is generative A.I. and how it will affect HR practices. He spoke with Fortune about some of the new tech tools he’s evaluating, like ChatGPT, and how he believes they will change the role of CHROs. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: Where do leaders often go wrong when evaluating the latest A.I. tools like ChatGPT?

Ravin Jesuthasan: Not leading with the work and instead leading with the tech. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of leaders get really enamored with ChatGPT-3, and even more so now, GPT-4, which is incredibly more powerful. But unfortunately, when they lead with the tech they see a binary narrative between the talent performing the work and that particular automation solution.

Alternatively, what we consistently see with companies who lead with the work is they see where highly repetitive rules-based work can get substituted. They see where the creative things that we do might get augmented by tools like A.I. They see where our critical thinking, and our ability to express empathy and concern, might be supercharged by some of these tools and make us even more productive. And they also see something that often goes missed, which is where the presence of these automations can actually create space for new human work or create the demand for new human skills. 

Do you think this technology is just another trend, or does it feel like it’s here to stay? 

Oh, it’s definitely here to stay. And it’s not unanticipated. You can go back to 2014 when Google bought DeepMind Technologies. DeepMind brought a lot of the advances in neural networks to the public’s visibility. We also started to see innovations with IBM Watson making some significant progress with [cancer] diagnoses, although it was very rough.

We always assume that automation is going to come in and substitute what humans do, but in 90% of the cases that automation is too blunt an instrument in its early days. It really needs the human alongside it, both to teach it as well as to apply that judgment to what the algorithm is telling us. I think that’s one thing that we have to really understand—it’s much more nuanced than we typically think.

We also often overestimate the near-term impact of emerging technologies and we underestimate the long-term impact of these technologies. But until we understand the nuances, we won’t get the full value from them. It goes back to the idea of needing to lead with the work and not with the next bright, shiny object.

How do you see the latest technological innovations enhancing the future of training and reskilling?

It’s got massive potential. Particularly with advances in virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. One of the things we’ve talked about is as people redesign the work, how do we design in space for learning into the flow of work? There is real potential to compress the learning cycle and to blend it with the “doing cycle,” if you will.

What do you think these advances mean for the future of the HR department?

It advances HR as a strategic orchestrator of work and the development of the workforce. HR is going to need to orchestrate the perpetual upskilling and reskilling of the workforce and utilize systems and tools like skill taxonomies and skill prices. All of these tools give HR insight into the overall cost structure of the company and where value is being created. And, most importantly, as the demand for work changes, these advances will translate into direct signals for how the talent needs to be upskilled and reskilled so that the talent is ready at a time when you know the work will be in demand.

Amber Burton

Reporter's Notebook

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In a conversation last week with human capital research firm i4CP, Pinterest’s chief people officer Christine Deputy shared some advice for HR leaders navigating uncertain times. 

“Have perspective. We can get very focused and build energy around what's happening right this minute. We have an opportunity to be the person at the table who steps back a little bit, and says, ‘Let's look at the whole context. Let's look at the opportunities ahead. How do we get better as a result of this experience?’”

Around the Table

A round-up of the most important HR headlines, studies, podcasts, and long-reads.

- Employers are seeking an older set of workers. Federal data finds that employees over the age of 55 are the fastest growing segment in the workforce. Wall Street Journal 

- Labor laws have made it difficult for Big Tech firms like Google and Amazon to lay off employees in Europe. Bloomberg

- It’s been over a year since President Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill to update roads and bridges around the U.S., but hiring managers say they’re still struggling to find enough skilled construction workers to fill the jobs. NPR

- Work-life balance remains elusive to many as job insecurity spreads and employees feel heightened pressure to prove their productivity. Insider


Everything you need to know from Fortune.

Chipotle’s hiring woes. Chipotle has big plans to double its number of restaurants over the next decade, but labor unrest and high employee turnover in the industry has left some investors doubtful. —Phil Wahba

Cost-cutting conundrum. The majority of leaders admit that they’ve made snap decisions with cost-cutting in mind. Over a third say they regret their rushed decisions that resulted in scaled back perks and mass layoffs. —Orianna Rosa Royle

C-suite moves South. Visa asked its chief diversity officer and head of corporate responsibility to move to its Atlanta office to help diversify corporate ranks in the city. —Ellen McGirt

This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Today’s edition was curated by Paolo Confino. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

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