Experiment and ambiguity as generative AI shakes up HR

What will be the impact of generative AI on how people are recruited, managed and developed inside companies around the world? Professor Lynda Gratton has been asking the HR professionals

Millions of workers are using it. Billions of dollars are being invested in it. Generative AI has become the go-to technology which is fast defining how 2023 will be remembered.

But while the excitement and the hype are undeniable, the central question remains as to how generative AI will impact the workplace. We know it’s going to be a big trend, but do we know what it will mean in practice inside organisations?

The short answer is that we don’t yet have a clear picture. This is something that leading academic Professor Lynda Gratton of London Business School is trying to rectify. She recently conducted online research with around 260 HR executives from companies in the US, Japan, Europe and Australia in order to examine the use of generative AI in human capital domains.

What’s going on?

The results of Gratton’s study, which have been written up in MIT Sloan Management Review, October 2023, shine a line on what’s currently happening. Alongside record levels of investment in the technology, reckoned to be around US $12 billion, there is a large volume of experimentation and ambiguity inside companies as employers try to figure out generative AI.

Gratton explains that, unlike previous workplace technologies, generative AI is not being positioned as a substitute for routine tasks such as keeping records, providing repetitive services or routine assembly. Instead, she says, ‘it’s a technology with the potential to hit at the heart of non-routine analytical work. This is knowledge work, such as forming a hypothesis, creating content, recommending medical diagnostics, or making a sales pitch.’

Consuming CEO bandwidth

The source of this impact is a growing capacity to understand natural language, which may explain why over half of the executives surveyed by Gratton agreed that generative AI is now a CEO priority. It is already consuming bandwidth at the top of organisations. Opinion was more divided, however, on the timescale for when gen AI will achieve human levels of creativity. For many in the HR community, there remain too many imponderables.

 ‘Opinion was divided on the timescale for when gen AI will achieve human levels of creativity…’

Gratton probed human capital domains for where gen AI might have most impact. She discovered that among her sample group of HR professionals, 46 per cent are experimenting with the technology for internal knowledge management, 44 per cent are already using it for recruitment and around a third (34 per cent) are using it for skills training.

As more use cases surface, momentum is clearly building. According to Gratton, ‘Around 25 per cent of the total work time of knowledge workers is spent on the kinds of creative tasks that generative AI is beginning to get good at.’

Watch a video of Lynda Gratton in conversation with WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson here.

Learn about the latest technology trends in ‘The Science of Work’, WORKTECH Academy’s Q3 2023 Trend Report exclusively for Academy members and partners.  This can be found in our Innovation Zone here.

To access the Innovation Zone, join WORKTECH Academy here.

Lynda Gratton is a professor of management practice at London Business School and founder of HSM Advisory. Her most recent book is Redesigning Work: How to Transform Your Organization and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone (MIT Press, 2022).
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