HR Is Already Behind in the AI Revolution. Here’s How to Take the Lead

BY the Editors | November 16, 2023

Most HR leaders didn’t go into their field because of their love of technology. Their affinity is more about seeing people reach their potential in the workplace. Yet now comes a transformative revolution in which they’d be best advised to embrace both. And do it soon. 

It was only a year ago, when OpenAI launched ChatGPT 3.5, that generative AI burst into the public consciousness. Within two months of its release, it had 100 million users, ranking it as the fastest-growing consumer software application in history. Tapping its uncanny cognitive capabilities, people began using it to compose songs, draft emails, plan parties, write software, and conduct myriad experiments. 

Yet in the HR world, most professionals have taken a guarded approach, one that could prove detrimental to their businesses given the speed and potential of AI’s transformative impact, according to a global study that surveyed 1,522 professionals in HR and related fields across 62 countries. Conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), the study concluded that because of “HR’s purview of workforce capabilities, skills, potentials and deficiencies, this is a strategic miss that needs to change if organizations expect to truly leverage AI,” wrote Kevin Oakes, CEO of i4cp, in his foreword to the report, titled “Is HR Already Behind in the AI Revolution?” His answer to the titular question is yes­, followed by a detailed assessment of the situation and recommendations for how HR can take a leading role. (An executive brief is available here.)

As part of the survey, i4cp interviewed HR pleaders, many of whom testified to the benefits that are already apparent for those who have embraced AI early. “As an HR professional if you’re not digging into this space, then you’re already behind. It’ll change the way we do so many things,” said Cameron Hedrick, chief learning officer at Citi. 

An executive summary of i4cp’s new report can be obtained here.

In the years since the pandemic, repeated crises have heightened the influence of HR leaders in their organizations. The arrival of generative AI is the next disruption, one in which HR profession could take a leading role at the decision table. “We’ve always said we want HR to be more strategic partners with the business,” said Dalia Kendik, head of digital HR for Thomson Reuters, the news and information giant. “There’s a lot of opportunity for generative AI to improve the employee experience and HR needs to be an advocate for the rest of the organization.”

Approaching Generative AI: Three Organizational Types

Based on its survey, i4cp identified three archetypes to describe how organizations are approaching AI, which it calls the Generative AI Maturity Model:

AI Laggards, where leaders have not communicated clear guidance on usage and have no formal usage policy.

AI Enquirers, where leaders are researching potential uses but are largely in wait-and-see mode. They’ve likely told employees to refrain from using AI until there’s more evidence of how other organizations have used it.

AI Innovators, whose leaders have communicated their support of AI usage and experimentation, and likely have put formal usage parameters in place.

To evaluate these organizations, i4cp described nine AI Innovator practices that every organization should follow if they hope to stay current with the revolution. These practices range from openly communicating about generative AI to reduce fear and uncertainty in the workforce to providing a secure environment for workers to experiment with generative AI. The survey found a striking gap in engagement between AI Innovators, who on average have put into place 77% of those nine practices (or are planning to adopt them), the AI Enquirers, who have embraced just 13%, and the AI Laggards, who are at fewer than 1% of those practices. 

The difference can be huge for organizations who take the innovative path, the study forecasts: “AI Innovators lead when implementing these practices compared to others. Their gap-creating lead can be cataclysmic for those lagging in the number of practices they are planning to implement or have implemented.”

How AI Innovators Can Create a Competitive Advantage

Organizations who wait to embrace generative AI will face a huge opportunity cost. Here’s what they’ll miss: “Organizations that are the most advanced in AI applications (the AI Innovators) are more likely to have higher market performance, increased innovation and productivity, and healthier cultures than those that are slow to adopt,” the i4cp report asserts. 

To illustrate these points, the report offers several case studies of organizations that have acted quickly to apply generative AI to their processes. Felix Martinez, senior director of talent acquisition at General Electric Appliances, describes how TA leaders at his GE division are using an internal platform similar to ChatGPT to draft individualized recruiting messages to potential candidates. “Best practice is you send 10 emails and get four responses—that’s best in class,” Martinez said. “Our ChatGPT-crafted emails are generating 70% to 90% response rates. Now we’re able to reach individuals in a more compelling way and they’re responding at a higher rate, which affects time-to-fill and quality-of-hire.” 

The mandate to be innovative comes from the top, Martinez said. “We’re very fortunate to have a CEO who is leading the way,” he said, speaking of Kevin Nolan, CEO of GE Appliance.

“He gave us a task where anyone could come up with any idea to use AI to solve for business problems. There were 300 submissions. And our CHRO is challenging us in HR—how can we use this and how can we get in front of it? If you don’t learn how it can impact you, you are going to be left behind." 

For Leaders, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Besides the risk of missed opportunities, an overly cautious approach to generative AI has other dangers, some of which could strike quickly. In organizations where management have explicitly forbidden employees from using AI for work, 36% are certain their employees are doing so anyway, and another 36% say it is highly likely, according to the i4cp survey.

In such cases, companies can increased the hazard of data leakage. “Exposing company information often happens unintentionally when employees copy and paste proprietary or sensitive data, such as a source code, into publicly available models like ChatGPT,” the reported noted. AI Innovators are more likely than their laggard peers, for example, to have data security and ethics policies, as well as requiring fact-checking and citations when AI is used.

Another risk is bias in the system. “Since generative AI models are trained on content created by humans, it can perpetuate human biases at scale,” the report said. Such bias can not only undermine an organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but can also run afoul of the need to comply with new regulations among, local, state, and federal governments about how organizations use AI in candidate selection, hiring, and promotion.

There’s Almost No Area of HR That AI Won’t Change

The list of tasks for which AI can be useful starts with the mundane (searching information, data cleaning) and rises to much more strategic levels. Today, HR professionals in the survey said they’re using generative AI in learning and development (58%), people analytics (57%), talent acquisition (54%), employee experience (46%), and leadership development (45%). Many AI Innovators say they plan to use it next in such areas as workforce planning, succession, labor scheduling, and performance management.

To help organizations be on the forward-looking side of the AI revolution, the report makes four recommendations: Be prepared to lead strategic discussions about the workforce implications of generative AI; proactively prepare HR with the necessary skills for the AI revolution; approach generative AI as a systems enabler, not just a personal productivity tool; and create a change-ready culture.

Already, HR leaders who have taken these steps on the journey start seeing exciting prospects down the road. At Sysco, the world’s largest foodservice distributor, the company expects to use the technology to make end-to-end HR processes more efficient, for example, by matching employees in need of specific skills with internal “gig” opportunities to help them advance. 

“Those are huge opportunities for us, and they are just some of the use cases,” said Michael Fischer, Sysco’s VP of global talent management. “You’ve got transactional work, then you’ve got really meaningful work around career development and around colleague development. We know it’s the future and we also know it’s early days. We are going to invest in this. But we want to be very thoughtful about it as we continue because it is changing so fast.” 

Editor’s note: From Day One thanks its partner, i4cp, for sponsoring this story. An executive summary of its new report can be obtained here. (Feature illustration by Quoya/iStock by Getty Images)


Looking Ahead: Integrating Weight Loss and Diabetes Medications for a Healthier Workforce

With the recent increase in demands for new drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic, 43% of employers are now considering covering GLP-1s next year, nearly double today’s number. Since its first FDA approval in 2005, GLP-1s have proven effective for health conditions like obesity and diabetes.However, with a steep price tag and concerns about misusage, leaders may find adding GLP-1s to their benefits offerings to be challenging. In a recent From Day One webinar, physicians from Accolade joined moderator Katie Miller Blakemore, senior manager of events at Accolade, to discuss the trends around GLP-1s.Understanding Cost BenefitsOn average, medication like Ozempic can cost more than $1,000 per month, a deterrent for some leaders considering proving it in their benefits. However, there may be greater healthcare costs if employers choose not to offer these drugs, says James Wantuck, MD, associate chief medical officer at Accolade and co-founder of Plush.“There are two sides to this equation: the cost of the drugs and the cost of not using the drugs,” Wantuck said. “Employers need to consider the costs for not using the drugs which may include things like absence from work or inability to do as much at work.”Wantuck points to the cost of obesity as one example. Chronic diseases caused by obesity and excess weight cost 1.72 trillion dollars in the U.S. alone in 2016.With a direct effect on one’s cardiovascular system, GLP-1s can reduce the severity of these diseases by reducing the chances of heart failure and strokes. Having healthier employees is an invaluable asset to any company, Wantuck said. “It’s harder to dismiss and not cover a drug that prevents a heart attack,” Wantuck said. “The price decreases as employees get less sick.”In comparison to similar countries, GLP-1s cost five to ten times more in the U.S. and the prices are not expected to change anytime soon, says Connie Hwang, MD, Accolade’s chief medical officer.“The FDA approved GLP-1s almost two decades ago, and yet there are no generic competitors in this class of drugs,” Hwang said. “The patents and regulatory exclusivity granted show a median of 18.3 years of market protection and so putting this into perspective, the earliest date for a possible generic Ozempic is guaranteed for December 2031. Employers need a GLP-1s strategy now as there is likely no pricing relief in sight.”Dr. Connie Hwang, chief medical officer at Accolade spoke with Dr. James Wantuck and Katie Miller Blakemore during the webinar (company photo)Giving Access to the Right PeopleNot everybody qualifies for GLP-1s but high costs and the spike in popularity of some drugs from mainstream media have caused employers to enforce restrictions and in some cases, outright bans.Qualifying for GLP-1s states individuals need to have a BMI greater than 30 along with medical problems such as hypertension, type two diabetes, or cardiovascular disease.“Some large employers have eliminated coverage for GLP-1s for the weight loss indication, and many have done so pointing to the greater than 200% total cost increases that they’ve been seeing,” Hwang said.Eliminating GLP-1 options negatively affects people who need the medications, bringing the strategy back to the need for employers to evaluate cost benefits. In a study of how members receiving GLP-1s meet the protocol criteria, researchers discovered that 94% of Accolade Care members did meet the criteria.Offering GLP-1s is only the beginning of the journey for employers, Wantuck says. Employers need to provide employees with resources to continue the momentum of their lifestyle change for a successful exit from these drugs.“You have to be open to a lifestyle change to change your habits, diet, and exercise routine to make these drugs the most effective that they can be,” Wantuck said. “These drugs facilitate this weight loss and allow people to reach the goals they’ve never been able to reach before, and I think that inspires them to change their habits.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Accolade, for sponsoring this webinar.Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | December 06, 2023

Utilizing Benefits to Attract Diverse Talent: Building the Foundation Before They Arrive

When Matthew Legere and his family faced a devastating pregnancy loss, he submitted for bereavement leave at work. He was denied. “They said because the baby wasn’t actually born, I didn't qualify for bereavement leave,” Legere said. “Now, if you asked me at that moment if I felt valued as an employee, no. No, I did not.”While this example is startling, it’s unfortunately not uncommon. Progressive employers need to account for all the nuances and complexities of an employee’s life when crafting a benefits package with care, dignity, and respect.By looking at your benefits plan through a variety of lenses and thinking about your employees’ diverse needs, you can build a plan that allows individuals and their families to feel seen, heard, and valued through the benefits that you offer. “By addressing unmet needs, we believe you can truly drive engagement with your current employees. But it also casts a vision that’s attractive to a prospective employee, making it so that your story can truly become their story,” Legere said.Legere, now SVP of Brown & Brown, the fifth largest benefits consultant in the country, shared his top tips during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Building out an employee benefits package that is comprehensive and sensitive to a variety of lifestyles and situations is integral to workforce acquisition and retention. Of course, employers cannot envision those needs in a bubble. There is a difference between a vision and a shared vision, Legere says. “If we have an opportunity to get feedback from the talent market, or even our current employees on how well we’re solving for a diverse employee benefit program, that is what’s going to be most effective,” Legere said. Shared visions attract more people, sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges.Surveying Employee ValuesLegere cites a 2023 study from MetLife of the top desired employee benefits, which include, in order of importance, health, paid leave, 401(k), dental, vision, life insurance, and disability.But importantly, Legere notes, these rankings changed from generation to generation. “You have to get a sense of who your current population is as well as who you’re trying to attract and what their needs are,” Legere said. “What they expect for benefits could vary significantly.”It’s also important to pay attention to what trends change over time. For example, from 2020 to 2023, there was a 100% increase in employees surveyed who prioritized wellness benefits like gym memberships and employee assistance programs. Your employee benefits need to change along with the cultural climate in order to stay competitive. Legere also shared that employers tend to significantly overestimate their employees’ well-being and satisfaction, and encourages them to be proactive in crafting a package that reflects their actual current circumstances.Moving from Buzzword to ActionMatthew Legere, senior vice president of Brown & Brown, led the thought leadership spotlight (company photo)Talking with employers, Legere found that while many talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion, they weren’t really taking steps to move the needle.  “Craft strategies, policies, practices, and procedures, for everybody at every aspect to feel valued,” Legere said. That means taking into consideration all aspects of life wellness and creating policies that are effective for all generations in your workplace. It’s also crucial to recognize the different steps of an employee’s life journey both in and out of the office, and account for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.Using national statistics like Gallup polls or the U.S. census, employees can project an estimate of how their workplace population might be impacted by categories like LGBTQIA+, family planning, veteran status, working parents, and build out a benefits plan accordingly.An effective plan should be valued by all employees, encompassing all of their intersectional identities. “You want to be relevant to your employees in those key areas and offer benefits specifically for them.”Legere and his team at Brown & Brown offer assessments for organizations to see how their benefits packages address the needs of certain populations and find where there might be gaps. They can also show the cost/benefit analysis, in other words, how much an employer has to pay for a benefit vs. the positive economic impact it would potentially have on an employee.Executing the Benefits Strategy and Looking AheadAlongside benefit strategy decisions, Legere says employers have several opportunities to embed relevant DEIB themes across their HR and benefits communication. Employees and their family members receive inclusive content, DEIB culture messages, and targeted materials. It’s important to use inclusive language in these communications. Legere shares an example of using the term “chosen family” alongside “nuclear family” when talking about holiday celebrations, which is potentially more welcoming to LGBTQIA+ employees. “Having intentional and inclusive language woven into communications can be significant,” he said.Legere advises employers to identify their target employee audience, then take a look at their current benefits partners to make sure they are offering the depth, breadth, and cultural sensitivity that is best-suited to that community. If they are not, it’s time to make a change.Ultimately, it comes down to what is best for the employee when they are at their time of greatest need and vulnerability. “If you can be relevant with what your employees or prospective employees are talking about at their kitchen table,” Legere said, “you're going to help them feel so seen.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Brown & Brown, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight. Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost, Honeysuckle Magazine, and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | November 30, 2023

Look Again: How to Find Top Talent Among Those Who Didn't Make the First Cut

Delphine Carter checked all the boxes. She had a robust background in product and sales development and thought she found an opportunity that she could be successful in.But like many, Carter’s nonlinear work history caused her resume to be initially rejected. “I applied but I didn’t get an interview. A friend of mine was friends with the hiring manager though, and said that I was a great cultural fit and they ended up hiring me.”Carter called herself a “trash can hire,” a term referring to a candidate whose resume was tossed out in the initial screening but rescued in the end. Now, as the CEO and founder of Boulo Solutions, Carter speaks about her business of helping employers break out of their traditional hiring processes to adopt a more open-minded approach. Carter spoke on the subject during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Avoid Looking at Titles and EducationTraditional hiring practices look primarily at linear work experience, with employers scanning resumes for key titles, education and company names. However, this method removes candidates with nontraditional resumes who may be prime candidates as well, Carter says.“Ask recruiters to ignore titles, industry and timelines and focus on what’s needed. Put these candidates in front of a panel that represents people from different areas of your organization,” Carter said. “This can help ensure a fair evaluation process and expand the type of questions that the candidate might receive.”At Boulo Solutions, clients are already embracing this change. For each candidate, Boulo Solutions creates a profile of their work experience and skills to present to employers.“We create a 360-degree profile of our candidates with the information that shows off their capabilities in a nonlinear fashion, to eliminate the bias that’s caused by hyper-focusing on titles, timelines and industry,” Carter said. “This helps the candidate stand out because it calls out hard and soft skills that they’ve gained through job and life experiences. Our customers feel like they’ve had a mini interview, and it makes it easier to compare the hard and soft skills of one candidate with another.”Grow Your Referral PipelineDelphine Carter, founder and CEO of Boulo Solutions, led the thought leadership spotlight (company photo)82% of employers rated referrals as their top source for yielding the best return on investment, showing referrals from employees can be a reliable source for employers to get top candidates.“Referrals come from people within your organization or a personal network, who are familiar with both the candidate and your company’s culture. As hiring managers, you can elevate this element of trust and credibility to identify candidates who are more likely to align with your company’s values and expectations,” Carter said.For employers, 45% of referral hires stay longer than four years, compared to only 25% of job board hires, and can cost less to hire than other hiring sources. Having a referral pipeline from employees and industry peers can diversify the hiring pool and help employers look at candidates beyond just the ones that come from the job board, Carter says.“Grow a referral pipeline from industry peers or companies with cultures similar to yours,” Carter said. “This method leverages personal and professional connections to find individuals who possess qualities that are essential beyond what’s written on their resumes and can contribute to a more robust and culturally aligned workforce.”Break Out of TraditionAs a former “trash-can hire,” Carter isn’t afraid to go dumpster diving. “The best reason for dumpster diving is that these candidates are in the dumpster because they applied and they found your company and that job interesting,” Carter said.Looking at rejected resumes with a different mindset can help change traditional hiring practices and give top candidates a second chance. When evaluating these resumes, employers should look for the value proposition that the candidate can add to the company.“Some exceptional candidates may not have the most conventional resumes but there’s a chance of uncovering those diamonds in the rough who may not have typical paper qualifications but possess the skills and potential your organization needs,” Carter said. “Look for the diverse perspectives and backgrounds that are missing from your team and find how they could add value.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Boulo Solutions, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | November 29, 2023