Minds + Machines: Revolutionizing work, careers, and learning

Posted by
Michael Griffiths
,  Matt Stevens, and Carly Ackerman on October 27, 2017.

We often hear threats of the imminent doom headed our way in the form of artificially intelligent robots. Instead of considering robotics and cognitive technologies as a way to reduce the need for humans, organizations should be considering how the future of work drives complementary capacity created by automation. HR and Learning & Development (L&D) have a significant opportunity to help the organization transition toward structures capable of moving faster, learning rapidly, and embracing the dynamic, human-centered careers created as a result of digital proliferation and increased automation.

Digital disruption continues to compel organizations to rethink how they do almost everything. Machines may someday make “hard” skills (e.g., coding, data analysis) obsolete in humans, so what’s needed are skills that enable an organization to continue to adapt, innovate, and thrive. A culture of learning—both for the organization and the people in it—is now a critical component of any business strategy. Organizations and individuals should learn how to do the same things differently, learn how to do other things entirely, and, along the way, learn how to build competitive skills to sustain themselves over time, whether over the course of a career or the lifetime of a business.

Bersin™ research reveals that a true High-Impact Learning Organization (HILO) is always learning—the entire organization enables and supports a culture where learning is work and work is learning. Cognitive technologies are playing an increasing role in work, which impacts the way we need to approach learning and careers. We like to think about cognitive technology in terms of four levels of application ranging from robotic process automation (RPA) to human-like processing capabilities.


Source: Deloitte Consulting LLP

RPA is where many organizations begin, using it to streamline “labor” work. Progressing to cognitive and AI applications is where “thought” work becomes involved. In either case, the use of cognitive technologies creates an augmented workforce, and organizations need to understand the unique capabilities that humans and machines bring to bear in order to realize the full scale of business impacts.

Realign rather than replace
While much of the discussion of machine intelligence has centered around replacing human capabilities, its real power and potential comes from realigning human capabilities. In the cognitive era, human and machine intelligence are best viewed as complements rather than substitutes. Each has distinctive capabilities that are dependent on one another, and to realize the most from pairing human and machine, businesses should focus on how the two interact and reinforce one another, rather than on their individual capabilities.


Source: Deloitte Consulting LLP

Embracing L&D and HR as strategic enablers
One of the takeaways from the Bersin HILO research is that L&D is in a tenuous position as learning shifts from being solely in the purview of L&D to being deeply embedded in the fiber of the entire organization. To evolve, L&D’s role needs to shift from owner to influencer. The learning function and HR are uniquely positioned as strategic enablers of enterprise adoption and use of cognitive technologies. As such, L&D and HR leaders should think about how to leverage this position. At the same time, the C-suite should recognize it as a business imperative.

Claiming a seat
Having a seat at the table in terms of how the organization blends cognitive technologies into operations is critical, and that’s more likely to occur if HR and L&D efforts capture C-suite attention. According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends research, even though 77 percent of surveyed global executives expect to retrain or redeploy the human talent displaced by new forms of automation, only 17 percent say they’re ready to manage a work¬force with people, robots, and AI working side by side.1 Chances are good that some parts of your organization are thinking about or already implementing some form of cognitive technology (for example, finance using blockchain to create a digital ledger, or even within HR itself), and efforts across multiple business units may be fragmented. HR and L&D can play a role to unify efforts, breaking down silos to develop a cohesive plan for the workforce.

Creating a culture of always-on, embedded learning
To maximize cognitive technologies, learning should be deeply embedded in the flow of work. This means:

  • Understanding the synergy of machines plus humans. To realize the most from pairing human and machine, focus on how the two interact, rather than on their individual capabilities. Machines are good at using and applying knowledge (e.g., quantitative analysis, image, and text recognition, predictive analytics, task performance), while humans excel at creating and expanding knowledge (e.g., innovation, qualitative evaluation, contextualization, developing definitions, rules, and structures). Both skill sets are imperative, but neither is effective on its own.
  • Redefining existing work processes to more efficiently and effectively use automation and machine technologies, where appropriate, looking beyond the obvious processes for additional candidates for automation. For example, it may be obvious that a system should be able to automate class assignments or mass notifications, but what about creating a customer portfolio that a sales rep can then discuss one-on-one with the customer?
  • Designing a learning strategy for reskilling/upskilling. To make effective use of the melding of machines and humans at work, we have to help people shift and adapt.
    – Reinvent learning to better equip career transitions on-the-fly
    – Employ targeted micro-learning to provide information in the appropriate format at the right time
    – Identify mentors to invest in team members’ transitioning roles
    – Enable learning communities, encouraging collaboration, and leveraging the power of the crowd source knowledge
    – Embed learning experiences in the flow of augmented work
  • Redeploying talent to capitalize on newly achieved synergies. With machines taking over some aspects of work, humans can be redeployed to focus on their innate strengths, as our colleagues noted in this discussion of the future of work—curiosity, creativity, imagination, emotional intelligence—and harnessing those to both solve problems and creatively identify new opportunities.

A (r)evolution in work and careers
In a world where work, learning, and career are fully integrated, the full scope of human potential is unlocked—that’s the revolution that cognitive technologies and automation are helping to bring about. If, as an HR or learning leader in your organization, you’re not part of that conversation, you need to be. Enabling digital learning and embedding it in the flow of work is essential for any organization striving to be digitally mature—and that should be every organization.

Michael Griffiths is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads Deloitte’s Learning Consulting practice in North America.
Matt Stevens is a learning specialist leader in the Human Capital Organization Transformation & Talent practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, where he helps organizations in a wide range of industries define and implement talent development strategies.
Carly Ackerman is a senior consultant in the Learning Solutions practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, focusing on supporting clients in adopting an employee-first mind-set when addressing learning strategy and transformation.

1 Jeff Schwartz, et. al., The future of work: The augmented workforce, 2017 Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte University Press, February 28, 2017. https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/focus/human-capital-trends/2017/future-workforce-changing-nature-of-work.html

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