How Humans and Machines Work Together

HR is essentially the business of managing people. But in the age of technology, how do people and machines work together? Here are some tips for finding the right balance.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
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The digital transformation is impacting every aspect of business. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and wearables have already infiltrated our consumer lives, changing the way we shop, engage and connect with friends and family. Now, these same technologies are being adopted to improve our business lives as well: how we communicate with clients and colleagues, how we measure success, how we drive operations, etc. Technology combined with machine-learning, automation and intelligent software is enabling more efficient and effective processes across nearly every department -- and HR is no exception. The difference with HR is that it's truly the business of managing people. This begs the question, in the age of technology, but the business of people -- how do people and machines work together?

The first thing to remember is that technology is not replacing humans -- human resources wouldn't be very useful without people. Instead, technology is driving better, smarter HR processes through automation -- creating opportunities to breeze through the mundane tasks and focus on the strategic initiatives.  

The fact is that we are only at the beginning of the digital economy's exponential growth -- automation and artificial intelligence will affect every aspect of human life -- including the workplace. As technology takes over increasingly complex tasks, new forms of human-technology interaction will emerge, and industry and society will have to evolve to accommodate that relationship. We have to work to blend the best of technology with the best of human abilities. There are certain things that technology will not be able to replace and those are the things we should start focusing on putting back into HR.

 All humans have basic needs that technology cannot provide. We need to feel appreciated, valued and a sense of belonging. Face-to-face interaction provides the emotive qualities that we need in order to feel heard, respected and valued. Emails, texts, virtual environments and automated responses can result in a misconnection, especially if not used in the right context. Customer satisfaction is not based solely on response time; relationships and experiences are crucial as well.  

How can leaders find the right balance between technology and human abilities? Here are a few suggestions:


·         Make virtual meetings more human: Connecting does not always have to be done in person -- virtual meetings are our most common form of interaction. They also inherently mean we need to leverage technology to connect -- but it doesn't have to be impersonal just because you're not sitting next to the other participants. I challenge you to turn on your video camera the next time you are connecting with a colleague. We want to feel noticed, and using video functions can help to make a meeting feel more personal.

·         Personalize automated services and trainings: When accessing an automated service, the interface should use technology to have interactive videos to guide employees through a request. Lengthy descriptions on how to use a tool are time-consuming to read and leave the requester feeling incapable of completing a request. Having a friendly face pop-up to walk you through a process would provide real-time guidance and would bring the system to life -- the perfect blend of human and technology!

·         Apply data analysis to personal connections: Data allows HR professionals to objectively keep a pulse on their business's and employees' performance. Personal connections also allow you to have a pulse of the people and organization, in a very different way -- and often more subjectively. When analyzing key data, trends emerge enabling you to build proactive solutions. It is up to us to apply the analysis to personal contacts, and use our subjective connections to make the data more useful. By applying data to personal connections, we're able to continue the investment in people and ensure we implement the proposed solutions. Using our subjective connection we need to be more consultative to discover key trends before it's too late.

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·         Use technology to engage your workforce: Create an environment that inspires employees to make your business their career, by engaging the right talent across your workforce -- and make sure they succeed. With technology, you can streamline and standardize your HR processes, get new hires up to speed quickly, and reward your employees in an instant based on real-time performance. This enables you to attract and care for your most important resource, the human one.


The technology evolution is only beginning. It is our job to stay on top of the trends and find the right balance to combine the best of technology with the best of human abilities.

Brigette McInnis-Day is executive vice president of human resources at SAP.


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