AI should work hand in hand with human talent

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

By Pete Cooper, Director of People Partners & Analytics, Personio

AI is a real disruptor – with the potential to change every corner of the economy. Headlines have long warned of the risks that AI may pose to jobs – and over the past few months, it’s become clear that their warnings may have some merit. In fact, according to the OECD, the AI revolution could put skilled jobs, such as law, medicine and finance, at real risk of extinction.

While this could be alarming for some, the bottom line is that AI lacks the ability to perform tasks that require human consideration, nuance and dexterity. No machine can replace the human touch that is required to effectively do most jobs.

Where it has huge potential however, is as a tool that helps people and businesses to be more effective and productive. AI tools aren’t just the province of big enterprises, but can also have huge benefits for smaller organisations. That’s why SMEs can, and absolutely should, harness AI’s capabilities to improve efficiencies and the services they provide.

You can see this already creeping in across businesses, for example in my area of specialism, HR. In fact, data from our latest research illustrates that, with three in five (60%) business leaders at SMEs intending to incorporate more AI and automation into their HR department in the next five years.

But crucially, as SMEs look for ways to keep up with what could be huge workplace changes thanks to AI, they must not lose sight of what’s important: their people.

The question is, how can SMEs integrate AI effectively with their workforce?

View AI as another tool in the digital toolbox – albeit a very powerful one

Today, AI has the potential to vastly change the jobs we do and the way SMEs operate. For example, AI can automate routine, time-consuming tasks, analyse swathes of data, produce interesting insights and generate creative ideas. Its capabilities have the potential to lighten the lift of process work and therefore improve efficiencies in businesses. This will only serve to encourage growth.

But despite its benefits, AI won’t be replacing most human jobs any time soon. SME leaders should see AI as another tool in the digital toolbox – not a replacement for human talent.

Why is this? It’s because whilst AI provides major efficiencies, it also has limitations. For example, AI on its own cannot give a complete picture of a situation – it doesn’t understand empathy or human interactions. Even a tool with contextual and conversational capabilities can’t provide the human touch that we all require, and that SMEs need to deliver a first class experience to employees and customers, for example.

Use AI to free up employees for meaningful work 

We are starting to realise just how extensive AI’s capabilities are. Therefore it’s important for business leaders to understand where AI could support their business in improving efficiency and productivity.

A first step is identifying where AI could be used to streamline inefficiencies and add value. For example, here at Personio we’ve recently launched an AI powered chatbot, which will help employees to get fast and tailored responses to their HR related queries by automatically answering routine questions – such as “where can I find our parental leave policy” – without asking HR personnel.

While this improves the experience for employees, it also relieves the workload of HR and allows them to focus on more valuable work. To make this more tangible, instead of sharing documents and responding to holiday requests, HR could focus on building a company culture which keeps retention high in a challenging jobs market, for example.

Extrapolated through multiple departments, being relieved of such admin heavy duties will allow employees at SMEs to focus on more strategic, engaging work – increasing job satisfaction, motivation and overall business results.

Use AI to upskill your workforce

With technology developing day by day, business leaders have a role to play when it comes to keeping their workforce in the loop and trained in the latest advancements. And AI is no exception. Instead of employees feeling overwhelmed and fearful of AI taking over their jobs, SMEs should take steps to teach them of its capabilities and how it can enhance their job – not replace it.

For example, employers could hire AI experts or teach staff about AI and how they can use it in their specific role, through a range of ways including AI workshops, online courses and corporate AI training programmes.

AI, a workplace ally

There’s no question that AI will transform our workplaces. But SMEs and their employees should be reassured that where AI will add value to businesses will be through helping, not overtaking, human jobs. The task now for business leaders is to be proactive by working with their HR teams and employees to understand where AI technologies will work hand in hand with human talent.

Ultimately, the human touch will always be crucial to any successful business.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024