15. March 2024

Perry Timms: How to upskill for the AI age

Perry Timms: How to upskill for the AI age

It’s safe to say we are very occupied by the prospects of AI and automation. It's not all positive thoughts, but we are captivated by possibilities, impact and the need to change and adapt. 

And I want to highlight that – it’s not necessarily about the technology installation and replication, but the need for us as HR professionals to adapt and upskill.

Because of the impact of AI, we have to think not only about how we master these skills, but also what the ripple effect is. We need to think about what we can and should do with the capacity that it will create. We also need to consider the capabilities and skills we can strengthen as a result of this liberation.

Efficiencies are clearly at the heart of a lot of this. Removing human processing tasks and giving them over to the digital ‘workforce’ means a range of things to us in relation to the work we are left to pursue.

The impact of AI for managers

Firstly, let’s consider managers. According to a range of academic studies, managers spend around 50% of their time on administrative activities. So, if that is all scripted and outsourced to our co-piloting bot, great! But what should managers do with that time?

Coaching their teams, building stronger relationships with other managers, strengthening their plays on planning, forecasting, pre-emptive thinking on problems to solve and strategies to forge would all feel like productive use of that time. 

Managers’ attention, demands and actions appear to be increasingly squeezed. And AI could be a powerfully liberating force for their thinking, connectivity, decision-making and future-casting. I think we would all vote for upskilled managers.

The impact of AI for leaders

Secondly, let’s take a look at leaders – we’re talking about executives, specialists and more strategic players. Again, the implications here are that AI and automation may not necessarily liberate them from administrative burdens because they often have teams to support them. 

But it should give their teams more focus and opportunities to use data that helps them make the big calls. It should allow them to think of all the complex scenarios that need modelling and testing. And it should give them a chance to think differently about what they double down on as leaders, in order to guide their people to sustainable success.

The impact of AI for employees

Thirdly, let’s look at all of us that are in the workforce. This is probably where the impacts are most felt and most likely to need a significant amount of ‘recalibration’. Our work, roles and even entire jobs (according to prediction) are likely to experience the biggest shifts. 

We need to consider how we make the most of the automation and the AI tools we now have at our disposal and unlearn and relearn new ways and even behaviours. We need to look at what options are now open or lost to us for careers and progression and how we interplay with our machine-based ‘colleagues’. 

And we will look to our executive leaders to be even more clear and transparent about direction, data and decisions. We will need our managers to be there, supportive, guiding and helping us with a different set of approaches we will be expected to use. These will impact how we behave, operate and escalate.

So all of this feels like a big change. The urge from this post therefore is to prepare, even if the plans are unformed as yet. More specifically, I would advise the following:

  • Encourage more active learning and awareness of what AI and automation is

  • Engage the executive team about shared responsibilities to support each other and the organisation with an AI/automation section in board meetings, strategies and specific trials, experiments and learning

  • Support managers and enable them to start to engage more with the coaching, enabling and work reengineering efforts they will work on with their teams

  • Provide guidance, learning and safe spaces for people to experiment in their work, roles, operations and relationships

There won’t be a finish line for this: There is no such thing (as we can tell) as the state of AI work will continue to be a regular and ongoing transition. 

Helping people see this as an integral part of their work now will pave the way for activism, confidence and capability-building. Preparing now will pave the foundations for positive and productive utilisation of the next generation of digital technologies.

Perry Timms

Perry Timms

Perry Timms has over 30 years of experience in business change. He was ranked number one in HR's Most Influential Thinkers 2022. He is a guest professor, author, TEDx speaker and founder of People and Transformational HR Ltd. He is also the host of Personio’s Tomorrow's People Podcast.

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