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Workforce Transformation: The Convergence of Robots and HR Analytics

This is going to sound “out there”, especially to those of you who are still having trouble getting your heads around the fact that AI enabled software and robots are here in a very real sense, but stick with me for a minute.

If hotels are using robots (link), and if hardware stores are using robots (link), and if factories are using robots (link), and the list could go on, isn’t the question of robots in the workplace quickly becoming a strategic HR and management question and less a technological one? Or to put it another way, isn’t the question quickly becoming “how” robots can be integrated into the workforce and less about “if they can do the job”?

Smart business leaders in every industry are quickly beginning to understand that robots provide a very real opportunity to augment their workforce to achieve greater productivity.

I have written about how Lowe’s is experimenting with robots in its stores in Silicon Valley. I went and tested them and they are pretty neat. But beyond being “neat” they offer some very real benefits especially around scaling and consistency of quality. For instance, yesterday Home Depot announced that it was going to hire 80,000 temporary workers for the spring season. Or to put that in perspective that means that in the next two months Home Depot will need to hire and train an average of 55 people every minute of every day for the next two months. That is a herculean task. It is a scaling challenge. It is a quality challenge. Robots would eliminate this burden if they can do the job – which they can.

So in my humble opinion a better approach for Home Depot would be to spend money on more in depth training for their existing employees to eliminate the problems that I outline here (link) and buy robots to augment their work. This becomes a design challenge – how to train their current employees to offer high level, deep knowledge navigation services while having robots focus on helping customers locate items and other more rote tasks? By doing this the company would be able to achieve 4 really great things:

  1. Scale to meet surge demand at a relatively low cost (i.e. $5k per robot)

  2. Not only maintain consistent quality customer service during the surge but to actually increase that quality

  3. Reduce the complexity that surge demand causes to their organization

  4. Save money, increase customer satisfaction and increase profit

But that isn’t what is going to happen. What will more likely happen is that no additional training will go into improving the knowledge of their current employees, 80,000 new employees will be added with only the most cursory of training, customers will become frustrated and will buy less than they might have otherwise. So at the end of the day they will reduce customer loyalty and profits.

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