Mercer’s Jason Averbook tells us how HR can stay relevant in the age of AI

HR thought leader Jason Averbook visited ‘The New Talent Code’ podcast to talk about how HR professionals can stay relevant in the age of AI. Hint: It’s going to take some changes in mind-sets and behaviors.

Mercer’s Jason Averbook tells us how HR can stay relevant in the age of AI

  • The HR function started during the manufacturing economy to keep workers safe and organizations compliant. Every practice must be redesigned to serve today’s modern workforce demands. 
  • To stay relevant, you must deeply understand your business and make sure your talent strategy has buy-in across the organization and supports your overall goals.
  • There’s fear that AI will take jobs. While it is transforming the way we work, it’s not going to replace all workers — a human-in-the-loop is essential.

Have you experienced FOBO? 

This fear of becoming obsolete is a growing trend among workers who worry that new technologies — especially AI — will take their jobs. According to a recent Gallup poll, 22% of workers are concerned that advancements in technology will make their jobs disappear.

What will your role in HR look like in this new world — and how can you help guide your employees and your organization through the transformation? 

Jason Averbook, HR thought leader and Senior Partner at Mercer
Jason Averbook, HR thought leader and Senior Partner at Mercer

Jason Averbook, Senior Partner and Global Leader of HR transformation at Mercer, joined hosts Ligia Zamoa and Jason Cerrato to answer these questions on The New Talent Code. Averbook is a recognized authority on HR, the future of work, and the role of technology in shaping the workforce of tomorrow, and is the author of two books: HR from now to next: Reimagining the workplace of tomorrow and The ultimate guide to a digital workforce experience: Leap for a purpose

Over two episodes, Averbook shared his perspective on the evolving world of HR, including how organizations can stay adaptable and relevant, why generative AI is the “printing-press moment of our time,” and how to overcome FOBO.

Read on for highlights from our conversation with Averbook.

Related content: Does your C-suite need some convincing when it comes to talent intelligence? Read our tips for engaging leaders about adding AI to your HR tech stack. 

HR’s role is evolving in the age of intelligence

To understand where we are today, Averbook said that it’s important to look at why HR exists. “HR started as something designed to manage people who worked on machines,” he said. “In the manufacturing economy, HR’s job was to make sure people were safe, that union laws were followed, and that employees had pensions to protect their long-term careers. 

“If you fast-forward to where we are today, the role of HR has changed so drastically as we’ve switched from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy to an intelligence economy,” he continued. “If we’re still doing things the way we did back then, we’re probably doing stuff that no longer applies. Yet many people in HR still operate that way.”

“So often, people haven’t adjusted HR to meet the change in the world, and therefore people say HR is just this transactional thing that gets payroll done, a function that counts people instead of making people count.”  — Jason Averbook on The New Talent Code

The evolution of HR and workforce demands call for a more nuanced and calculated approach, one tailored to the age of intelligence. 

“If we don’t change how we do things, all of a sudden, we become outdated, old, or irrelevant,” Averbook said. “In many organizations we’re working with today, they will say that the HR function is not relevant. There’s nothing worse than not being on that island of relevancy.” 

But like work, transformation is possible — and inevitable.

The art of staying relevant 

You might be used to being formulaic in your HR duties, but communicating with people and building connections is an art that AI can’t replicate.

In the future of work, you will have to tap into these areas of communication and connection. There are foundational steps you can take to set yourself up for success. “I stay relevant by having a people strategy that’s aligned with my business strategy and knowing my audience,” Averbook said. “Staying relevant also requires adapting a mind-set of ‘changefulness’ — or open-mindedness.”

Averbook said this changefulness is essential when deploying new technology and practices. If employees don’t see the value in new technology, they won’t use it, no matter how incredible the software. However, if you can get buy-in across your organization early, change management and adoption become much easier.

“If your strategy is to become a skills-based organization, you start the changefulness there, and say, ‘I better make sure that every manager in this organization is bought into this,’ ” Averbook said. “Once I do that, then I’m going downhill. But if I don’t start there, then I’m three weeks, four weeks before go-live, and all of a sudden, I start thinking about how to get people bought in, and it just doesn’t work.”

If the first step to staying relevant is alignment, the second and third steps are defining the measures of success and what’s required for a successful deployment. Averbook says it’s critical that your measures of success align with your outcomes, not just claiming a successful implementation or “go-live” with new technologies. Your organization has to be specific and define goals and tangible outcomes, like aligning skills, increasing sales, or improving customer satisfaction. 

“You can’t just take how you’ve always measured or evaluated something and push it into the future,” Averbook said. “You have to redesign and rethink what success looks like in this new way of work with this new technology.”

GenAI and FOBO

Many organizations are curious about adopting GenAI, while others are cautiously waiting for the government to specify how they’ll regulate this new technology. Averbook said it’s smarter for organizations and workers to start using it now.

“Is it going to get better? Are we going to learn? Are we going to have governance? Yes, yes, and yes,” he said. “But generative AI is the printing-press moment of our time. It’s going to impact the HR function, the business, and the workforce more than any other technology in the past. It’s our electricity moment.”

“Generative AI is the printing-press moment of our time. It’s going to change every single job in the world.” — Jason Averbook on The New Talent Code

As you have probably heard, GenAI won’t replace workers, but it will replace those who don’t know how to work with it. “There’s a major concept with generative AI that not enough people think about, which is this concept of human in the loop, HITL,” Averbook said. “There’s a reason that generative AI has tools called co-pilots, not pilots. The ‘co-’ means you still need a pilot.”

While we are well into the GenAI revolution, Averbook said don’t let FOBO keep you from learning how to work with it. 

“Forget what you read in the media for a second, about all these jobs changing,” Averbook said. “When the calculator came out, everyone’s job changed. Generative AI is out, everyone’s job is going to change. That doesn’t mean everyone’s job is going to go away. So when someone says jobs are changing, that doesn’t mean jobs are leaving. They’re just changing. They’re becoming more rich.” 

Transform your workforce with ‘The New Talent Code’

“Learning how to unlearn” is the first step toward designing a modern HR function, according to Averbook. After you’ve unlearned, the next step is learning a new way of working. As you embark on that adventure, the most important thing you can do is remember your humanity. 

“We sometimes forget the fact that outside of work and inside of work are one,” Averbook said. “As we move forward, it’s really important we keep humanity at the center of everything we do. If we do that, we’re going to end up achieving our goals in much more empathetic and meaningful ways than if we do work the way we think of work in the past, which is just driving financial means.”

Listen to parts one and two of ‘The New Talent Code’ with Jason Averbook on our website or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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