The HR manager or intelligent software: which selects the best people? Part 3 of the series ‘Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence’.

Futures Studies

Of all the current technological developments, artificial intelligence is both the most profound and the least understood. We are witnessing impressive new applications, but can hardly foresee their impact on people, organisations and society. In this series of blogs – Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence – we investigate not only the opportunities, but also the intended and unintended consequences.

Isn’t HRM a human function?

Human Resource Management. You might think a company’s internal HRM function would be  staffed by humans, with robotisation and artificial intelligence having little to offer.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Alongside HealthTech, FinTech and LegalTech, HR Tech has become a fast growing business with fresh solutions for all critical HRM functions such as recruitment and selection, rewards and career planning.

HR Tech proves yet again that those who believe AI won’t create waves within a highly-skilled workforce are wrong. AI can take on all activities that are based upon routine, are predictable and are therefore possible to perform using algorithms. In the HRM function there are countless activities which can be considered routine.

Furthermore, AI systems are increasingly able to understand human competencies, emotions and ambitions. The virtual HR assistant is developing into an independent HR professional.

Recruitment and selection

In a tight and competitive labour market, it is difficult for businesses to both find and retain the right people. Phenom People offers a Talent Relationship Management (TRM) tool, based upon the familiar Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. The software assists in efficient and professional communication with candidates, building up and maintaining talent pipelines and organising campaigns using a variety of media.

TalentHero also helps to systematically collect and analyse candidate and personnel data. Algorithms select those who are best suited to fill your job vacancies.

Applications such as and Mya go one step further, carrying out the first round of interviews for you. These are chatbots who interview and evaluate candidates. The system creates its own interview script based upon the competencies deemed most important for a particular role. Only the best-performing candidates are invited for a face-to-face interview.

HireVue not only analyses typed text, but also video footage; candidate evaluations include facial expression, tone of voice and vocabulary usage. The system reacts to micro-expressions which human interviewers often miss.

An additional advantage of such systems is that recruiter bias or prejudice does not affect the selection process. This can help to increase diversity within organisations. It only works on the condition that algorithms are programmed without prejudice and that self-learning algorithms do not adopt unconscious, often undesirable personal preferences. See also Part 1 of this blog series.

Online applications often use scenarios of situations that occur on the job to see which choices candidates make, as well as to test their social intelligence. With the rapid developments taking place in the field of virtual reality, working conditions can be presented in an extremely life-like fashion, and candidates’ responses can be evaluated above and beyond the level attained in the classic job interview.

Onboarding, conditions of employment and career guidance

The new employee onboarding process is also a routine task. All new staff members have to fill in the same forms, go through the same procedures, get the same information and often ask exactly the same questions. In this case, a chatbot is the ideal solution.

HRM departments receive many questions about employee benefits such as pensions, travel expenses, training budgets and overtime. Smart systems can inform employees and help them to make choices that match their personal circumstances and needs.

More and more companies are abolishing the annual performance reviews. Instead, shorter term objectives are set and 360 degree feedback is collected at more regular intervals. Systems like Zugata help to organise this process and also provide employee self-awareness and personal development tools.

HRM as a strategic partner

In many board and management teams HRM plays a prominent role because of the strategic importance of finding and retaining the right people. AI can help here, too.

One widely used tool is the employee satisfaction survey. Many companies have included the engagement score into management’s performance contracts. However, such research has its limitations. The Surveys are merely a snapshot, and some outcomes are highly predictable; when it comes to salary and communication, employees are rarely very satisfied.

With AI you can analyse information previously collected by the organisation and pick out trends. This can also reveal some quite unexpected correlations, for example between the number of hours of overtime and the number of people who hand in their notice. There are also AI systems which analyse the tone of voice in emails exchanged between colleagues, thereby signalling any developments in the internal environment. This can be done without violating employee privacy.

HRM: art and science  

It is clear that the work of the HR Manager is changing significantly. AI systems take over large parts of the HRM process. This not only increases efficiency, but also increases objectivity when executing HRM policies. Research shows time and time again that our understanding of human nature is limited. If intelligent systems can help prevent human assessment errors, this is a positive development.

HRM is not simply a science, but also an art. Only people can give personal attention to employees and contribute creatively and passionately to a positive working environment. Critical thinking and leadership are also reserved for human beings. Furthermore, AI systems are not flawless. Their performance must be controlled. The machine is there to support us, not the other way round.


Earlier in this series:

  • Part 1: Man or machine: who decides?
  • Part 2: Personal customer contact via intelligent chatbots: how it’s done