How to Speak AI to Executives

AI will reshape hiring practices, but the extent of its impact depends on how well-prepared companies are to blend automation with human expertise.

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Mar 27, 2024

AI in the context of HR doesn’t mean artificial intelligence. It means, “We’ve found another magic word that will solve all our problems.”

Artificial Intelligence is generally a pitch following the same trend that Big Data and Social Media have used in the last decade: it promises to solve recurring problems plaguing recruiting. But, haven’t we heard this all before?

The problem is that the growth in AI’s capabilities is transformational. The promise is finally catching up to the hype, but it won’t happen because we’re missing essential steps. No one would suggest you’re ready to run a marathon because you bought fancy shoes, but for some reason, we are convinced we don’t have to do the hard work necessary to make AI a complement to our staff instead of a replacement.

Executives see AI as a cost-cutting tool aiming to replace people.

Let’s not mince words. The language coming from the C-Suite is about replacement. Many executives are signaling that they want to cut costs using AI, hold their margins and earnings, and do it in a vacuum where no other company is considering doing the same. HR and TA have to step into this gap, understand the changes coming, and bravely defend the value of the humans on their teams.

What AI can and can’t do.

Automation has helped good recruiters and sourcers 10x their ability in the last decade. AI promises to do even more, fundamentally changing how we source and filter candidates. I’ve seen some demos that could legitimately cut all sourcing out of a recruiter’s workday.  In the product demos, the system identified candidates, made contact, screened them, verified them, and then set them up for interviews without human involvement. The AI platform pitch is: AI takes away mundane tasks to free your staff from the high-touch, creative work that fulfills human beings (we’ve heard that before, right? Sounds great! Where do I sign?)  However, that kind of a system works for someone like me, I have 25 years of experience, thousands of interviews and hires – and I’m good with the tech.

What happens when experienced recruiters are replaced with inexperienced recruiters?

Let’s say I make my millions and head off to Fiji. Okay, okay. Or, more accurately, what happens when I leave my recruiting gig and am replaced by a fresh graduate who doesn’t know what high-touch means? Will that new graduate gain the work experience necessary to be creative when the AI system makes all the decisions for them?

The danger lies in over-reliance.

What happens when the AI System breaks? When the LLM has an outage? Or when Microsoft copies AWS, and the cheap cloud service eventually grows into your most significant expense, with no way to replace it because you’ve fired all your staff and junked your onsite servers?

AI, at its core is transformational, but someone has to do the transformation.

You must educate yourself, your team, and the C-Suite on how to get to the next model. Anyone who has seen an RPO implementation fail knows you cannot simply “Lift and Shift” a recruiting process into a new vehicle, no matter how shiny. Someone has to be there fine-tuning the work – something that is painful, takes time, often fails, and, quite frankly, isn’t something that Human Resources teams are great at.

The solution is easy to understand but hard to execute.

Let’s say you’re A CEO with the world’s most incredible marketer at your disposal. They are 100X the number of qualified leads you bring in, and your sales team has a banner year. The following year, your company fell apart because you didn’t have enough implementation people to onboard those customers. It happens all the time.

What you want is controlled growth that allows you to market, sell, and deliver in a way that satisfies your customers. Hyper-growth comes with headaches.

AI is going to be great for our hiring efficiency. It can improve candidate experience, fight bias, uncover hidden gems, and give us accurate, granular reporting. It can do all these things if we give our staff, companies, and talent pools time to adjust.

Here’s the solution. You need to protect your staff and give them the time to adjust and get skilled with AI software. You have to temper expectations of the C-suite, discuss aggressive but doable change, and persuade the entire company that too much efficiency in the recruiting process will cripple your ability to deliver on their goals moving forward.

If you can get just 2X productivity out of your staff, half of their time needs to be spent using AI to train and develop internal employees on what high-touch and creative work looks like (LLMs are excellent at this).

Here’s the historical blueprint:

When IT outsourcing to India became prominent in the 1990s, the CEO of a significant company in St. Louis said, “Let’s cut our IT contractors by 90%.” Fortunately, the CTO prevailed and tried a much smaller budget cut, planning the change out over several years instead of a massive shock to the system. They uncovered a lot of problems but were able to manage them because they didn’t cut everyone all at once.

The CTO protected employees and contractors while delivering aggressive savings to the CEO. That is your mission in Human Resources and Talent Attraction.

It’s not to save your skin or that of your employees. It’s to prevent a company’s catastrophic failure when the magic word “AI” doesn’t immediately fix a system designed to hire human beings.

To wrap it all up…

AI will change how we hire and do it faster than we want. The question is how much destruction it causes along the way and which companies are best prepped to augment their workforces instead of relying on the hype that writing a check is all you have to do to be successful.

A trained workforce is necessary to get the most out of any software. A developed staff will run circles around any competitor that risks their company’s growth by cutting too deep, too soon.

To finish, I’ll turn the last paragraph over to ChatGPT, which I asked to create a metaphor and summary of this story.

Think of a river ready to burst its banks, wild and untamed. Now, imagine a dam built to manage that force, directing the flood to power homes and nurture fields. That’s like the ongoing work with AI—crafting barriers and channels to turn a potential deluge into a source of strength and growth, ensuring the flow of progress enriches, not overwhelms.

This is a two-part series. The first is for directors and above to think about AI in the context of growing and protecting their recruiting teams. The second will be for recruiters and sourcers to learn how to enhance their value and future-proof their jobs.


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