The need for human interface to complement organization processes in resolving employee issues in large organizations : Prof. Sourav Mukherji, OB & HR and Dean – Alumni Relations & Development at IIMB
With increasing automation, the need to have a complementary human interface, i.e., technology that is complemented by human touch, is likely to increase, rather than the other way round.
- Automation of processes is not an easy task, especially if it involves delivering a service to a customer.
- Despite improvements in technology and the application of machine intelligence, one’s satisfaction while interacting with automated interfaces such as a chatbot is far from ideal.
- When automated interactive systems reach their ideal stage, will organizations feel the need for human intervention at all?
- Is it possible to address most or all of the employees’ needs through automated interfaces that are intelligent enough to customize the responses and handle exceptions?
- A case study with a large organization provides some insights.
- The organization, with more than 30,000 employees, had instituted an automated system for addressing employee queries regarding human resource (HR) policies.
As organizations grow large in size, they institute systems, rules and processes. Standardization and
formalization are necessary to manage scale, replicate and to ensure predictability. Such activities form
the core of management and organizing, the benefits of which were first explained by Frederick W Taylor, more than hundred years ago, through his Time and Motion studies on the factory shop floor at Midvale Steel.
Principles of Taylorism, that inspired several leaders such as Henry Ford, provided the world with the blueprint of mass manufacturing, primarily concerned with improving productivity and achieving efficiency. With the advent of information technology, such processes became the ideal domain for automation.
Automation not only reduced on-going costs, but also eliminated errors that might inadvertently happen when processes are administered by human beings. However, automation of processes is not an easy task, especially if it involves delivering a service to a customer. Despite improvement in technology and application of machine intelligence, one’s satisfaction while interacting with automated interfaces such as a chatbot, is far from ideal.
Several large organizations are now turning to technology mediated interfaces to deliver services to their employees – their internal customers. While it would have started with simple phone-based automated voice recognition systems, today, such interfaces are available 24 X 7, through computer and mobile devices, delivering services to thousands of employees, often in an interactive manner.
There is no doubt that over a period of time, such applications will become ubiquitous, as well as more
sophisticated in understanding the needs of the employees. Some large Indian IT service firms are using their internal employees as a beta sight to stress-test these applications, before they can be sold to their customers. This implies that while at present, there are some limitations in these applications, they are likely to get resolved as more and more people use them.
The question then arises that when such automated interactive systems reach their ideal stage, will
organizations feel the need for human intervention at all? Is it possible to address most or all of employees’, and by extension, customers’ needs through automated interfaces that are intelligent enough to customize the responses and handle exceptions? For a fair comparison, one must keep in mind that even a compassionate human being providing service has his limitations and is not always willing or capable enough to handle exceptions and provide customized responses.
Our recent work with a large organization provided us with some insights. The organization that has more than 30,000 employees spread across 40 locations in India and abroad, had instituted an automated system for addressing employee queries regarding human resource (HR) policies. While the automated interface performed quite well, HR leaders could sense a growing dissatisfaction among the employees, many of whom viewed the HR department becoming distant and aloof.
To address the growing concern, the HR leader introduced a new role of Human Resource Facilitator (HRF), a human being who would act as a single point of contact for all queries that were not being addressed by the automated
Employing close to 50 professionals to address human queries over and above an existing automated system is expensive and the HR leader had to address concerns raised by the top leadership and board about its utility. But in the end, all important stakeholders felt that the human interface complementing the existing automated interface was critical for improving satisfaction of the employees.
Can the need for HRF be entirely explained by deficiencies of the existing interface, implying that with improvement in technology, HRFs may no longer be needed? We do not think so.
For an evolving organization that faces new business and managerial challenges, HRFs can continue to complement the automated interface by identifying new service-demands and opportunities for improvement. More importantly, when we have a problem, it is often assuring to know that there is a human being in flesh and blood, someone like us, at the other end, despite their foibles and frailties. That probably arises from a fundamental drive of human beings to bond and to socialize, which is unlikely to be addressed by an intelligent machine at the other end, because this drive to bond is not led by the drive to maximize utility.
For ages, we considered that human beings are driven by their urge to acquire and defend, which maximizes utility. We now realize that these urges to acquire and defend are complemented by our urge to learn and to bond. Therefore, with increasing automation, the need to have complementary human interface, i.e., technology that is complemented by human touch, is likely to increase, rather than the other way round.
Source: The Economic Times