Should You Hire an Employee, a Robot or an Algorithm? Welcome to Human & Robot Resources (HRR)


Prepare to expand your perspective. Have you noticed that airport trains have no drivers, drones will soon deliver your packages, and call center staff has often been replaced with an IVR technology? But why should HR care? Since its inception, HR has exclusively championed “people” (human is even in our title). That made sense when permanent employees were realistically the only option for getting work done. However, today when organizations need to “get work done” there are multiple choices including robots, phone apps, gig workers, outsource vendors and a variety of software options.  In fact, one expert projects that "We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task". Despite the coming dominance of technology alternatives for doing work, currently HR is generally excluded when hardware and software substitutes are considered. And HR is often only tangentially involved when outsourcing or gig hiring is selected in lieu of hiring employees.
HR also has a long history of hiring managers to make important business decisions. However, with the advent of decision support algorithms, AI, and advanced analytics, manager decisions based on intuition and experience have often proven to be slower and inferior to those made with big data. Taken together this means that in order to stay relevant, HR must create and then lead an integrated and data-driven approach that includes all possible “getting work done options” whenever new work must be done. Of course, one option for conservative HR leaders is to ignore the problem. But a superior approach is to expand HR’s capabilities so that we become the dominant experts in choosing the appropriate time to use each of the expanding options for “getting work done”. Welcome to Human & Robot Resources or HRR!
Key takeaways from this exciting and stimulating presentation will include:

  • Workforce planning must expand – You will learn why workforce planning needs to shift to a broader “How work will get done planning”.  This broader role will research and provide recommendations to executives covering when and where permanent employee, gig hires, or hardware and software solutions should be implemented when new work needs to be done.
  • Learn not to always favor employees - You will learn why HR should take the lead in the close integration and coordination of “Ways to get work done” choices. Close integration will ensure that all reasonable choices are considered and that existing work that is currently done by employees will be periodically reevaluated, whenever new technologies are developed.
  • Assume obsolescence - Learn why in a rapidly changing VUCA world, HR must adopt an “assumed obsolescence approach”. Which assumes that all people management programs that are currently effective will, in as little as 18 months, inevitably become obsolete. HR must also learn to recognize that many employees will also eventually become “obsolete” as the required skill sets and the types of work that needs to be done continually shift so dramatically that retraining is not possible.
  • Focus on innovation – Learn the increasing value of innovation, which is easily seen because the top 5 most valuable firms are now serial innovator firms (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook). And since innovation comes from people, HR must develop a more data-driven approach for increasing organization-wide innovation. And HR must take the lead in enhancing the required innovation support capabilities of collaboration, speed, learning ability and adaptability.


Dr. John Sullivan

Professor of Management, Speaker, Author