Artificial Intelligence is Revolutionizing Employee Development

By Elizebeth Varghese

It's no secret that technological change is causing unprecedented disruption in the business world — but the question for HR professionals remains: What do you do about it? How can you ensure that your employees stay perennially up-to-speed so your organization remains competitive?

Artificial intelligence has re-positioned HR to the front lines as a driver of today's increasingly demanding talent agenda. It's critical that HR gets this right: Employee training is one of the top areas targeted for reinvention, according to an analysis of the 2,100+ CHROs who participated in the most recent IBM Global C-suite Study. The report, entitled "Unplug from the past: The Chief Human Resources Officer perspective," notes that talent leaders are turning to cognitive technology like AI to help revamp their workforce while offering current employees personalized career development.

Talent is no longer defined solely by what employees have done in the past, but also what they can do in the future. By matching the delivery of employee learning opportunities with the evolving needs of your business, AI in HR can help individuals and teams respond to constant change with speed and agility.

Mindful Knowledge

Skills have become a vital competitive currency in the bruising war for talent. Companies have no choice but to deploy very different skill sets than they did in the past. Meanwhile, the required skill sets themselves are constantly evolving, because no one knows what challenge or opportunity lies around the corner.

In this emerging environment with its declining half-life of skills, how can you update and refresh employee capabilities? How do you ensure that people will stay inventive and motivated in their approach to learning? How do you cultivate renewable resources rather than skills with limited shelf life?

It begins by fostering a growth mindset. Nothing is static in the new world of work, and companies must help employees own the need for ongoing self-reinvention and lifelong learning. To make a company-wide growth mindset possible, consider the following three strategies:

1. Ensure Executive Buy-In

The first leg of the stool is prioritizing executive leadership's support of a growth mindset, sponsoring its development company-wide. IBM's C-suite study found that organizational and employee inertia is one of the top impediments to achieving digital transformation across the enterprise. Executives have to lead the charge in encouraging the organization to stay open to change and constant retooling.

Executives need to lead from the front, by educating themselves about emerging technologies and the potential impact on the business, as well as constantly communicating the need to look forward — on internal and external forums. This alone will give employees the impetus to overcome the organizational inertia that often blocks innovative thinkers and disrupters.

2. Create Consumer-Grade Employee Experiences

Once you have executives pushing the growth mindset, you need to create a "pull effect" among employees. Provide workers with the same ease of use, personalization, and responsiveness in their corporate learning experiences as in other parts of their digital life. Simplify workplace learning by offering people-centric, consumer-grade experiences that are transparent, self-directed, and empowering. Mimic the real-life experiences of data-driven decision-making that they enjoy on sites like Amazon and Netflix.

3. Build a Learning Ecosystem

Cultivating a company-wide growth mindset to motivate continuous upskilling takes a village — an agile one. So the third leg of the stool involves accelerating and personalizing skills via a learning ecosystem to help employees stay current more effectively in unpredictable environments. This ecosystem connects an employee's experiences with the ways they're motivated, assessed, and rewarded — and ties that connection to continual learning. The goal is to empower workers with cognitive capabilities that they can leverage themselves for perpetual skills development.

Lessons in Learning

As noted in a recent IBM HR study, outperforming organizations understand that artificial intelligence is key to conquering the current skills revolution. When you're ready to implement an AI-based learning ecosystem for your organization, think through the following questions to better understand what will help your employees stay intrinsically motivated to continue learning:

  • What do employees need?
  • How do they learn best?
  • What motivates them to learn?

In line with IBM's finding that C-suite executives rank "empowering employees" among the capabilities most integral to organizational success, many companies are seeking ways to cultivate employee autonomy and learning on the fly. One strategy is to create internal apps that facilitate on-the-job learning by providing functionalities that employees actually want to use, including gamification techniques, social recognition (think badges and awards for achieving certain milestones built into the app), and collaboration abilities.

Ecosystem Expansion

When developing your learning ecosystem, consider these related applications of AI to expand strategically across HR:

  • Enhanced on-site job training. Companies are using augmented technology and virtual reality for field operations. For example, visual recognition applications powered by cognitive analytics are helping field technicians provide more accurate diagnostic and repair services on-site, while enhancing job-specific cognitive learning on the job. Organizations are also using online collaboration tools that allow employees to share expertise and use "office hours" or "consults" to coach or learn from their peers. Others conduct innovation jams that include the entire company and provide employees with open forums to share ideas. Because it helps them take control of their own training and development with up-to-the-minute learning content, AI makes employees want to learn. 
  • Career pathing. Cognitive technology can help enterprises gather information around each employee's career progression and present it in a personalized way. Individuals can map their own career path, aligning to the specific learning experiences needed to bridge the gap on skills and advance. Leading organizations have found that one of the best ways to encourage learning is to provide employees with clarity and tools to make career shifts and link their learning to those paths. Cognitive technology can make this easy by customizing and integrating the information for employees.
  • Highly personalized training programs. AI can serve as HR's guide in understanding and offering each employee's favored learning methods. Consider how Netflix uses personalization and customization to curate content for individual consumers based on their past preferences. HR can apply those same principles to create an adaptive learning experience with a similar look and feel, curating training content from internal and external sources based on factors like job history, personality insights, career goals, and preferences.

With the power of AI in the workplace, employees can receive more personalized recommendations to facilitate evergreen, curated learning paths and anticipatory career management. The result is that AI solutions enable perpetual training and development, so employees can maximize their performance on the job and throughout their career.

To learn more about IBM solutions that assist corporate learners throughout their learning life cycles, visit Talent Development Services from IBM.