HR Is Already Behind in the AI Revolution. Here’s How to Take the Lead

BY the Editors | November 16, 2023

Most HR leaders didn’t go into their field because of their love of technology. Their affinity is more about seeing people reach their potential in the workplace. Yet now comes a transformative revolution in which they’d be best advised to embrace both. And do it soon. 

It was only a year ago, when OpenAI launched ChatGPT 3.5, that generative AI burst into the public consciousness. Within two months of its release, it had 100 million users, ranking it as the fastest-growing consumer software application in history. Tapping its uncanny cognitive capabilities, people began using it to compose songs, draft emails, plan parties, write software, and conduct myriad experiments. 

Yet in the HR world, most professionals have taken a guarded approach, one that could prove detrimental to their businesses given the speed and potential of AI’s transformative impact, according to a global study that surveyed 1,522 professionals in HR and related fields across 62 countries. Conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), the study concluded that because of “HR’s purview of workforce capabilities, skills, potentials and deficiencies, this is a strategic miss that needs to change if organizations expect to truly leverage AI,” wrote Kevin Oakes, CEO of i4cp, in his foreword to the report, titled “Is HR Already Behind in the AI Revolution?” His answer to the titular question is yes­, followed by a detailed assessment of the situation and recommendations for how HR can take a leading role. (An executive brief is available here.)

As part of the survey, i4cp interviewed HR pleaders, many of whom testified to the benefits that are already apparent for those who have embraced AI early. “As an HR professional if you’re not digging into this space, then you’re already behind. It’ll change the way we do so many things,” said Cameron Hedrick, chief learning officer at Citi. 

An executive summary of i4cp’s new report can be obtained here.

In the years since the pandemic, repeated crises have heightened the influence of HR leaders in their organizations. The arrival of generative AI is the next disruption, one in which HR profession could take a leading role at the decision table. “We’ve always said we want HR to be more strategic partners with the business,” said Dalia Kendik, head of digital HR for Thomson Reuters, the news and information giant. “There’s a lot of opportunity for generative AI to improve the employee experience and HR needs to be an advocate for the rest of the organization.”

Approaching Generative AI: Three Organizational Types

Based on its survey, i4cp identified three archetypes to describe how organizations are approaching AI, which it calls the Generative AI Maturity Model:

AI Laggards, where leaders have not communicated clear guidance on usage and have no formal usage policy.

AI Enquirers, where leaders are researching potential uses but are largely in wait-and-see mode. They’ve likely told employees to refrain from using AI until there’s more evidence of how other organizations have used it.

AI Innovators, whose leaders have communicated their support of AI usage and experimentation, and likely have put formal usage parameters in place.

To evaluate these organizations, i4cp described nine AI Innovator practices that every organization should follow if they hope to stay current with the revolution. These practices range from openly communicating about generative AI to reduce fear and uncertainty in the workforce to providing a secure environment for workers to experiment with generative AI. The survey found a striking gap in engagement between AI Innovators, who on average have put into place 77% of those nine practices (or are planning to adopt them), the AI Enquirers, who have embraced just 13%, and the AI Laggards, who are at fewer than 1% of those practices. 

The difference can be huge for organizations who take the innovative path, the study forecasts: “AI Innovators lead when implementing these practices compared to others. Their gap-creating lead can be cataclysmic for those lagging in the number of practices they are planning to implement or have implemented.”

How AI Innovators Can Create a Competitive Advantage

Organizations who wait to embrace generative AI will face a huge opportunity cost. Here’s what they’ll miss: “Organizations that are the most advanced in AI applications (the AI Innovators) are more likely to have higher market performance, increased innovation and productivity, and healthier cultures than those that are slow to adopt,” the i4cp report asserts. 

To illustrate these points, the report offers several case studies of organizations that have acted quickly to apply generative AI to their processes. Felix Martinez, senior director of talent acquisition at General Electric Appliances, describes how TA leaders at his GE division are using an internal platform similar to ChatGPT to draft individualized recruiting messages to potential candidates. “Best practice is you send 10 emails and get four responses—that’s best in class,” Martinez said. “Our ChatGPT-crafted emails are generating 70% to 90% response rates. Now we’re able to reach individuals in a more compelling way and they’re responding at a higher rate, which affects time-to-fill and quality-of-hire.” 

The mandate to be innovative comes from the top, Martinez said. “We’re very fortunate to have a CEO who is leading the way,” he said, speaking of Kevin Nolan, CEO of GE Appliance.

“He gave us a task where anyone could come up with any idea to use AI to solve for business problems. There were 300 submissions. And our CHRO is challenging us in HR—how can we use this and how can we get in front of it? If you don’t learn how it can impact you, you are going to be left behind." 

For Leaders, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Besides the risk of missed opportunities, an overly cautious approach to generative AI has other dangers, some of which could strike quickly. In organizations where management have explicitly forbidden employees from using AI for work, 36% are certain their employees are doing so anyway, and another 36% say it is highly likely, according to the i4cp survey.

In such cases, companies can increased the hazard of data leakage. “Exposing company information often happens unintentionally when employees copy and paste proprietary or sensitive data, such as a source code, into publicly available models like ChatGPT,” the reported noted. AI Innovators are more likely than their laggard peers, for example, to have data security and ethics policies, as well as requiring fact-checking and citations when AI is used.

Another risk is bias in the system. “Since generative AI models are trained on content created by humans, it can perpetuate human biases at scale,” the report said. Such bias can not only undermine an organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but can also run afoul of the need to comply with new regulations among, local, state, and federal governments about how organizations use AI in candidate selection, hiring, and promotion.

There’s Almost No Area of HR That AI Won’t Change

The list of tasks for which AI can be useful starts with the mundane (searching information, data cleaning) and rises to much more strategic levels. Today, HR professionals in the survey said they’re using generative AI in learning and development (58%), people analytics (57%), talent acquisition (54%), employee experience (46%), and leadership development (45%). Many AI Innovators say they plan to use it next in such areas as workforce planning, succession, labor scheduling, and performance management.

To help organizations be on the forward-looking side of the AI revolution, the report makes four recommendations: Be prepared to lead strategic discussions about the workforce implications of generative AI; proactively prepare HR with the necessary skills for the AI revolution; approach generative AI as a systems enabler, not just a personal productivity tool; and create a change-ready culture.

Already, HR leaders who have taken these steps on the journey start seeing exciting prospects down the road. At Sysco, the world’s largest foodservice distributor, the company expects to use the technology to make end-to-end HR processes more efficient, for example, by matching employees in need of specific skills with internal “gig” opportunities to help them advance. 

“Those are huge opportunities for us, and they are just some of the use cases,” said Michael Fischer, Sysco’s VP of global talent management. “You’ve got transactional work, then you’ve got really meaningful work around career development and around colleague development. We know it’s the future and we also know it’s early days. We are going to invest in this. But we want to be very thoughtful about it as we continue because it is changing so fast.” 

Editor’s note: From Day One thanks its partner, i4cp, for sponsoring this story. An executive summary of its new report can be obtained here. (Feature illustration by Quoya/iStock by Getty Images)


Utilizing Benefits to Attract Diverse Talent: Building the Foundation Before They Arrive

When Matthew Legere and his family faced a devastating pregnancy loss, he submitted for bereavement leave at work. He was denied. “They said because the baby wasn’t actually born, I didn't qualify for bereavement leave,” Legere said. “Now, if you asked me at that moment if I felt valued as an employee, no. No, I did not.”While this example is startling, it’s unfortunately not uncommon. Progressive employers need to account for all the nuances and complexities of an employee’s life when crafting a benefits package with care, dignity, and respect.By looking at your benefits plan through a variety of lenses and thinking about your employees’ diverse needs, you can build a plan that allows individuals and their families to feel seen, heard, and valued through the benefits that you offer. “By addressing unmet needs, we believe you can truly drive engagement with your current employees. But it also casts a vision that’s attractive to a prospective employee, making it so that your story can truly become their story,” Legere said.Legere, now SVP of Brown & Brown, the fifth largest benefits consultant in the country, shared his top tips during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Building out an employee benefits package that is comprehensive and sensitive to a variety of lifestyles and situations is integral to workforce acquisition and retention. Of course, employers cannot envision those needs in a bubble. There is a difference between a vision and a shared vision, Legere says. “If we have an opportunity to get feedback from the talent market, or even our current employees on how well we’re solving for a diverse employee benefit program, that is what’s going to be most effective,” Legere said. Shared visions attract more people, sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges.Surveying Employee ValuesLegere cites a 2023 study from MetLife of the top desired employee benefits, which include, in order of importance, health, paid leave, 401(k), dental, vision, life insurance, and disability.But importantly, Legere notes, these rankings changed from generation to generation. “You have to get a sense of who your current population is as well as who you’re trying to attract and what their needs are,” Legere said. “What they expect for benefits could vary significantly.”It’s also important to pay attention to what trends change over time. For example, from 2020 to 2023, there was a 100% increase in employees surveyed who prioritized wellness benefits like gym memberships and employee assistance programs. Your employee benefits need to change along with the cultural climate in order to stay competitive. Legere also shared that employers tend to significantly overestimate their employees’ well-being and satisfaction, and encourages them to be proactive in crafting a package that reflects their actual current circumstances.Moving from Buzzword to ActionMatthew Legere, senior vice president of Brown & Brown, led the thought leadership spotlight (company photo)Talking with employers, Legere found that while many talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion, they weren’t really taking steps to move the needle.  “Craft strategies, policies, practices, and procedures, for everybody at every aspect to feel valued,” Legere said. That means taking into consideration all aspects of life wellness and creating policies that are effective for all generations in your workplace. It’s also crucial to recognize the different steps of an employee’s life journey both in and out of the office, and account for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.Using national statistics like Gallup polls or the U.S. census, employees can project an estimate of how their workplace population might be impacted by categories like LGBTQIA+, family planning, veteran status, working parents, and build out a benefits plan accordingly.An effective plan should be valued by all employees, encompassing all of their intersectional identities. “You want to be relevant to your employees in those key areas and offer benefits specifically for them.”Legere and his team at Brown & Brown offer assessments for organizations to see how their benefits packages address the needs of certain populations and find where there might be gaps. They can also show the cost/benefit analysis, in other words, how much an employer has to pay for a benefit vs. the positive economic impact it would potentially have on an employee.Executing the Benefits Strategy and Looking AheadAlongside benefit strategy decisions, Legere says employers have several opportunities to embed relevant DEIB themes across their HR and benefits communication. Employees and their family members receive inclusive content, DEIB culture messages, and targeted materials. It’s important to use inclusive language in these communications. Legere shares an example of using the term “chosen family” alongside “nuclear family” when talking about holiday celebrations, which is potentially more welcoming to LGBTQIA+ employees. “Having intentional and inclusive language woven into communications can be significant,” he said.Legere advises employers to identify their target employee audience, then take a look at their current benefits partners to make sure they are offering the depth, breadth, and cultural sensitivity that is best-suited to that community. If they are not, it’s time to make a change.Ultimately, it comes down to what is best for the employee when they are at their time of greatest need and vulnerability. “If you can be relevant with what your employees or prospective employees are talking about at their kitchen table,” Legere said, “you're going to help them feel so seen.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Brown & Brown, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight. Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost, Honeysuckle Magazine, and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | November 30, 2023

Look Again: How to Find Top Talent Among Those Who Didn't Make the First Cut

Delphine Carter checked all the boxes. She had a robust background in product and sales development and thought she found an opportunity that she could be successful in.But like many, Carter’s nonlinear work history caused her resume to be initially rejected. “I applied but I didn’t get an interview. A friend of mine was friends with the hiring manager though, and said that I was a great cultural fit and they ended up hiring me.”Carter called herself a “trash can hire,” a term referring to a candidate whose resume was tossed out in the initial screening but rescued in the end. Now, as the CEO and founder of Boulo Solutions, Carter speaks about her business of helping employers break out of their traditional hiring processes to adopt a more open-minded approach. Carter spoke on the subject during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Avoid Looking at Titles and EducationTraditional hiring practices look primarily at linear work experience, with employers scanning resumes for key titles, education and company names. However, this method removes candidates with nontraditional resumes who may be prime candidates as well, Carter says.“Ask recruiters to ignore titles, industry and timelines and focus on what’s needed. Put these candidates in front of a panel that represents people from different areas of your organization,” Carter said. “This can help ensure a fair evaluation process and expand the type of questions that the candidate might receive.”At Boulo Solutions, clients are already embracing this change. For each candidate, Boulo Solutions creates a profile of their work experience and skills to present to employers.“We create a 360-degree profile of our candidates with the information that shows off their capabilities in a nonlinear fashion, to eliminate the bias that’s caused by hyper-focusing on titles, timelines and industry,” Carter said. “This helps the candidate stand out because it calls out hard and soft skills that they’ve gained through job and life experiences. Our customers feel like they’ve had a mini interview, and it makes it easier to compare the hard and soft skills of one candidate with another.”Grow Your Referral PipelineDelphine Carter, founder and CEO of Boulo Solutions, led the thought leadership spotlight (company photo)82% of employers rated referrals as their top source for yielding the best return on investment, showing referrals from employees can be a reliable source for employers to get top candidates.“Referrals come from people within your organization or a personal network, who are familiar with both the candidate and your company’s culture. As hiring managers, you can elevate this element of trust and credibility to identify candidates who are more likely to align with your company’s values and expectations,” Carter said.For employers, 45% of referral hires stay longer than four years, compared to only 25% of job board hires, and can cost less to hire than other hiring sources. Having a referral pipeline from employees and industry peers can diversify the hiring pool and help employers look at candidates beyond just the ones that come from the job board, Carter says.“Grow a referral pipeline from industry peers or companies with cultures similar to yours,” Carter said. “This method leverages personal and professional connections to find individuals who possess qualities that are essential beyond what’s written on their resumes and can contribute to a more robust and culturally aligned workforce.”Break Out of TraditionAs a former “trash-can hire,” Carter isn’t afraid to go dumpster diving. “The best reason for dumpster diving is that these candidates are in the dumpster because they applied and they found your company and that job interesting,” Carter said.Looking at rejected resumes with a different mindset can help change traditional hiring practices and give top candidates a second chance. When evaluating these resumes, employers should look for the value proposition that the candidate can add to the company.“Some exceptional candidates may not have the most conventional resumes but there’s a chance of uncovering those diamonds in the rough who may not have typical paper qualifications but possess the skills and potential your organization needs,” Carter said. “Look for the diverse perspectives and backgrounds that are missing from your team and find how they could add value.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Boulo Solutions, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | November 29, 2023

The New 401(k)? Providing Student Loan Support as an Employee Benefit

Decades ago, a clever benefits consultant spotted a provision in the federal tax code, section 401(k), that would allow employers to create a tax-friendly way for their workers to save for retirement. The rest is history. As of this year, Americans have more than $7 trillion invested in their 401(k) accounts.Today, employees are having a different kind of problem: debt. More specifically, student loan debt. They need help digging out so they can then turn to saving. Thankfully, there’s a way for employers to help. Mick MacLaverty, CEO and co-founder of Highway Benefits, discussed the topic “Providing Student Loan Support as an Employee Benefit” during a recent From Day One webinar.The Student Loan ProblemThe sad numbers: the U.S. is approaching $1.8 trillion in student loan debt. This equates to about 46 million Americans, who average have about $40,000 in loans and around $400-500 a month to pay. For employers, that means about one third of their workforce is struggling financially.This massive problem has become more severe recently. During the pandemic, loan repayment and interest was paused, but resumed on Oct. 1. That means many recent college grads are scrambling to figure out how they’re going to make payments.“It’s more or less a dam that's been built up of this pent-up student loan problem that we now have to address,” MacLaverty said. “This is a massive problem.”The government offered a way for employers to help. In March, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, they expanded Section 127. This allows employers to pay up to $5,250 per year of an employee’s student loan, tax free. The program is voluntary, but companies are seeing the benefits.Focusing on TalentAt Highway Benefits, which helps companies offer this benefits program, MacLaverty said most of their clients want to offer student loan repayment benefits for two reasons: attracting talent or retaining talent.“On the attraction side, only 9 percent of companies currently offer student loan repayment as a benefit,” MacLaverty said. For potential employees comparing different benefits, this is a great way to stand out.“On the retention side, no two companies are alike in how they should or would want to roll out this program,” he said. Companies can choose to offer the max amount available, but may offer less to start, with more given to employees who stay.“So, if you’ve been at the company for one year, you might get $100 a month, but if you've been there for three years, you get the maximum benefit. Employers are creating an environment that encourages employees to stay and provide a financial incentive to do that in a tax-free way.”Highway Benefits is a hub for companies to get started quickly and easily, especially to ensure they comply with the laws. Highway Benefits can help companies find out who on staff is eligible, then help the company figure out the best dollar amount that makes sense for them, and ultimately make the student loan payments on their behalf.Journalist Kelly Bourdet moderated the discussion with Mick MacLaverty of Highway Benefits (photo by From Day One)Why not just offer a higher salary or a $5,000 annual bonus to help employees? One big reason is that the student loan repayment benefit dollars are tax-free. That benefits the employee, but it also reduces the taxable income of the business.“This is arguably the most effective compensation dollar you can give someone if they have student loans,” he said. “Every dollar contributed goes right into their loan account.”Value-Added BenefitsBut there is another piece to this, MacLaverty added. A company that offers this benefit to employees is showing a degree of care and humanity that employees look for and appreciate more than ever.“You are telling them, and showing them, ‘I care about your financial well-being.’” It’s not just throwing cash at them to do what they want with it, but putting in the extra effort to help solve a problem for them. “So every month, in addition to whatever your payment is, you’ll get a little bit extra, and we'll get you out of debt faster. Wow, what a story that tells prospective or current employees.”For the employees who don’t have student loans, MacLaverty said they appreciate working for a company that offers it. Not every benefits package is a one-size-fits-all. Not everyone takes advantage of the benefit but for those it does help, it makes for a better employee and a better work environment.Only 2% of companies offered this type of benefit in 2017, 4%  in 2018, and 8% in 2019. Then student loan payments were paused, but now that people are back to paying them again, MacLaverty anticipates an uptick in companies that offer this benefit.The extended Section 127 is slated to expire at the end of 2025, however, the original Section 127 was started 30+ years ago as a short-term program but kept getting extended. MacLaverty believes the same will happen with the student loan repayment benefit, and hopefully the max benefit dollar amount will increase.Highway Benefits is seeing about 40% of company clients offer $100 a month per employee, about 50% introduce tenure rules, and about ⅔ offer a multi-tier rule system. Those who are eligible for the benefit and are taking advantage of it? Ninety percent. Clearly, people want this.MacLaverty said they’ve gotten emails from employees who are ecstatic about the help they’ve received in paying their student loans.Employees are even emailing their total rewards and HR teams with testimonials like, “‘I’m out of debt. I now don't have this burden hanging over my head and I can live freely.’’Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Highway Benefits, for sponsoring this webinar.Carrie Snider is a Phoenix-based journalist and marketing copywriter. 

Carrie Snider | November 27, 2023