Can Artificial Intelligence Help You Better Manage Your Workforce?

Artificial intelligence (AI) can track workforce management patterns, and anticipate hiring needs, but is it something your company needs? I would say, without knowing anything about your company, that it probably could help.

No matter how effective a company considers itself in tracking and managing its workforce, the human brain can’t compete with the analytical capabilities of a computer. That’s what I thought when I saw the news last week of ADP’s Executive and Manager Insights, a feature within the ADP Mobile Solutions app that delivers employee management and retention recommendations to C-suite decision-makers, according to reporting by Kyle Wiggers on tech site VentureBeat.

The technology “spots big-picture trends and patterns in departments, drawing on data points such as wage, location, time, industry, and more. In brief and easily digestible push, text, and e-mail notifications delivered daily or weekly, it highlights employees with the highest overtime, for example, and positions where turnover is likely to spike,” Wiggers writes.

What could those kinds of capabilities mean to your company? What it means to me is you won’t have to rely on managers, who often are preoccupied with other matters, to alert you to staffing needs. In addition to near-future hiring needs, you could use the technology to send you automated reports about workforce productivity, so you don’t have to rely on annual performance reviews to identify areas where more training is needed.

The question would be the criteria you would use to judge employee performance. In sales roles, this would be easy, as you could do it simply by dollars generated. But in roles in which the impact on the bottom line is less direct, you would need to come up with the metrics you would tell the AI system to use to track performance. Then again, are there AI systems so “smart” they can figure out for themselves, or at least give you recommendations, on metrics to use to judge performance?

One of the trickiest questions is how to establish measures for performance. A good AI system potentially could help you with this. The way it might work is you have the system analyze the performance reviews of a cross-section of employees who scored high on their performance reviews—those with rave reviews—and then see if the AI system can give you a list of the characteristics all of those reviews have in common. From there, judging performance becomes simpler. You then would ask the system to use the characteristics it correlates with high performance to judge each employee. The important thing to remember would be that the criteria should be different for each job function, so you shouldn’t to ask the system to come up with a list of high-performance characteristics for all job roles, but would want to particularize it to each job function.

A company I used to work for used forced ranking in such a way that employees were measured against each other, regardless of job role, with managers asked to rank from most- to least-essential employees whose jobs had nothing to do with each other. Naturally, in that kind of system, those with the greatest direct tie to revenue generation got ranked higher than those with an indirect impact on the bottom line.

You wouldn’t want to force all of your employees into the same box—all striving to do well against metrics that may not be relevant to their job role. That brings up another question—whether to let employees know the AI-powered system that will be used to determine their performance and send automatic reports to their manager and HR about their performance. Do you need to inform employees about this system, and if you don’t, should you? Is there a danger of an employee “playing to the test,” or, in other words, finding ways to appear to be whatever the system is looking for—to game the system? Or is it just the opposite—that telling employees the exact criteria they will be judged against is tantamount to telling students what’s going to be on a test, so they can learn those things, and then do well?

Could you imagine your company making good use of an AI-powered management tool? What would be the advantages, and potential disadvantages, of such a tool?

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