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Even With AI There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

At Spotify, we’re extremely dedicated to using the latest technology to support our organisation, but we’re also very careful in our work to keep our objective top of mind. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again and again: there’s no intelligence, positive results or benefits to using technology for technology’s sake. The same goes for jumping on the bandwagon of the latest trends – it’s all-so-easy to find the brightest, shiniest new-fangled product and buy into how it’ll solve your current problems without having to heavily tax your own brain, or re-model some of your processes or work. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

AI: The Unavoidable Trend

This is particularly relevant right now as talking about HR (or any topic really!) in 2024 without mentioning AI is near impossible. And the wave of automation and personalisation within employee experience will, of course, continue in the coming years. That’s not to say that this is a negative. It’s clear that AI can help with a number of things. It’s the idea of blindly adopting the latest thing that’s creating buzz and thinking through why and how it can be the most valuable for you, your business and your people – that’s the thing we object to.

With such a revolutionary wave of ideas coming to life, it’s more important than ever to lean back and actually understand what the technology aims to solve before jumping in. If you haven’t taken the time to analyse what you’re actually trying to solve, there’s a great risk of the technology addressing something that wasn’t even a problem, or even worse, with the help of technology, running faster in the wrong direction.

The Sales Patter

Many pundits and consultants propagate the same opinions, with new (U)SPs depending on what’s trending. For example, exercise and its tools were sold to organisations 10 years back as an approach to solve public health issues, and now the same tools are being sold as an answer to how employees working remotely can get closer to each other. The product hasn’t changed one bit, and yes, a small part of the messaging might have been there 10 years ago, but it’s certainly not the new product the supplier would have us believe.

Another example is the traditional career framework, which over the past 30 years has moved from physical paperwork stored in binders, through to extensive Excel documents, and later; ‘HR systems’. Nowadays, these products are being sold as AI solutions.

A tweaking of a sales message – fine. That’s how marketing works. But what leaves us really wondering is that these sales messages are being evolved without any reflection on why the traditional method wasn’t particularly effective 30 years ago either. There’s an epidemic of repacking things to keep flogging the dead horse, and maybe people are sucked into buying the outdated and never particularly efficient products, because the sales patter has been spun to include the latest buzzwords.

Learn From The Past

If the method with gap analyses on future competencies for future innovations had worked according to theory, most of today’s tech companies would never have existed, because companies with resources 20 years ago would have already mapped the future and trained their staff in the direction required to win the market that tech companies have today. 

For example, no e-commerce company within fashion would have had a chance to enter the market, because the clothing industry did their gap analysis 30 years ago. However, this theory simply doesn’t work in practice. Trends and fashions come and go, and this is a major factor in why so many startups have become world leading organisations in an incredibly short time. 

Here’s some simple tips for you who get drawn into sales pitches on technical HR solutions that will drive your company forward (in 2024, most likely with AI): 

  1. Use the date tool in Google and make searches 5, 10, 15, 20 years back in time within the area that the supplier claims they can solve. 
  2. Evaluate whether the essence of the solution is different today? And if it’s the same theory at the core, what results has the solution had historically? 

Do An Analysis

This reasoning mirrors the thinking of not buying into the concept of the ‘Great Resignation’ and instead branding the idea the ‘Fake Resignation’. It’s another example of the importance of basic source criticism and alternative interpretations of available data. And above all, recognising that just because something is true within one industry/company doesn’t mean it’s true for you.

When looking at new solutions, the following quick step-by-step analysis should help give you a steer:

  • What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • What’s the philosophy behind the offered solution?
  • Do you agree with the philosophy? (If you don’t, then you’ve completed your analysis!) 
  • What alternative solutions are there?
  • Is this solution specifically designed to solve the problem you are faced with?

When Technology Is Not The Solution, Or The Driver

After conducting your own analysis it’ll be easier for you to identify the challenges that technology is not the answer to. And whilst technologies can, and do, have numerous benefits, there will be many situations where it’s not necessary, does not add value, or even derails you. For example, products that offer real-time market data to determine compensation. Before jumping on the sophisticated solutions out there, do the step-by-step analysis to determine if this is the right investment for you:

  • Problem to solve: having market insight to build your pay structure.
  • Philosophy behind the offered solution: the high volatility in offers of compensation requires companies to work with real-time data so they don’t over or under pay.
  • Do you agree with the philosophy? Oil is a commodity, where traders find opportunities by following the spot price. People are as far from oil as you can get – they are not a commodity, they are your talent. If you’ve designed a long-term strategy that drives fairness (both internally and externally), you will be destroying and contradicting the strategy if you instead choose to follow spot prices up and down.
  • Analysis completed (at least for now, re-evaluate your compensation strategy and approach now and then).   

As buzzwords and fads are created it seems like they become both the answer and drive to everything that’s happening. It’s like recognition of any other macroeconomic influences get thrown out of the window. This is dangerous territory. When you start doing this, you’re navigating in the dark. One very current example of this is that many people will attribute increased internal mobility to AI driven job architecture design or job matching. However, it’s more arguable the biggest influence on the current increase in internal mobility is due to external hire freezes. This is more likely to push more internal movement of talent than the best AI solution there is, or ever will be. 

When it comes to internal mobility it’s not uncommon that the biggest challenge in an organisation is that nobody knows where the crucial talent sits. Therefore, the most effective solution is creating an acceptance among all managers that what’s best for the company is always more important than what’s best for each individual manager’s team – and that sharing talent is a strategy to bet on. It’s not AI that can create this mind shift, or make sure your people strategy ecompasses this approach. It’s culture work. Building a culture where managers adopt this behaviour, because what’s best for the company is best for all of us.  is the most impactful way to move the needle. 

Make The Tools Work For You

In a world where AI seems to be the best thing since sliced bread, and the ultimate tool that everyone needs right now, we encourage you not to lose your head, or drop your professionalism. Yes, AI is having, and will continue to have a heavy impact within the HR landscape and it is a powerful tool when used correctly. However, never forget that your job as an HR professional is to choose the solutions and approaches that will benefit both the organisation and your people. You have a responsibility not to take the easy road, or get blind-sided with the latest fads. And always, always take the sales patter with a pinch of salt. Especially if the person describing the solution stands to profit from it. Do your own analysis and think objectively about the challenges you face. Take pride in choosing the best solutions for your organisation and understanding that in some instances driving change, or doing the most beneficial thing, it will take time and a whole lot of culture work.

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