How AI is enabling CFOs and CHROs to work smarter together in an economically uncertain period

Breaking data silos to drive strategy enables HR and finance departments to work in concert – and by removing administrative tasks, and empowering employees with self-service solutions, AI makes their working lives more fun.

By Oliver Pickup, Award-winning Writer, Pickup Media

How AI is enabling CFOs and CHROs to work smarter together

22 November 2023 marks 60 years since Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F Kennedy. The 35th president of the United States knew plenty about handling pressure in uncertain times. JFK commanded patrol torpedo boats during World War II, was at the helm during the Cuban Missile Crisis and signed the first nuclear weapons treaty a month before his premature death.

What would the youngest-serving US president have made of modern-day pressures, not least the advancement of AI in the post-pandemic world? Kennedy’s observation that “the Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’” is perhaps apposite. “One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity,” he explained. “In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity.”

CFOs and CHROs would be wise to heed JFK’s words and recognise the opportunity presented by AI. Admittedly, they have had it more challenging than most since the start of the COVID-19 crisis and during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. And, considering CFOs and CHROs have seen their list of responsibilities multiply in recent years, they may not have the time or inclination to engage with a technology that, as many predict, will cut human jobs and possibly slaughter humanity, according to some doom-mongering experts.

However, embracing AI enables those operating in these spaces to handle their workload better, focus deeper on identifying and nurturing talent – which is why most HR professionals enter the industry – and manage finances, the chief concern of CFOs.

Further, with more data at their fingertips, both can play more critical roles strategically, working closely together and with other members of the C-suite.

Holistic approach

“The best HR teams impact right across the operations and strategy of organisations and are looking outside them to anticipate the coming challenges and opportunities too,” says Lesley Richards, Head of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in Wales. “It is absolutely right to say that a more holistic approach is necessary. In fact, it’s really hard to create excellence in this type of work without all of the critical elements being well aligned.”

Notably, ‘Will AI fix work?’, a report published in May by Microsoft – which has invested billions of pounds in OpenAI, creator of ChatGPT and DALL-E – suggested it will be the HR professionals, working in concert with finance teams, that can best understand and use AI who will communicate better with workers and improve the overall employee experience. 

As the axiom goes, a happy worker is a productive worker, so it is worth CFOs working closer with CHROs. Increasingly, data-powered AI is the golden thread that binds together their work, enabling smarter decisions around employee recruitment, retention, performance and career development.

While 49 percent of around 30,000 respondents to Microsoft’s global survey reported they were worried that AI would consume their jobs, considerably more (70 percent) wanted to delegate as much work as possible to AI to lessen their loads. “Human-AI collaboration will be the next transformational work pattern,” stated the report.

Clare Barclay, Microsoft UK’s Chief Executive, expanded this theme when she took to the stage at London Tech Week in June. “This wave of AI innovation sweeping the world right now is going to impact the world for generations to come,” she enthused. “It will be the most significant inflection point in our lifetime.”

“This wave of AI innovation sweeping the world right now is going to impact the world for generations to come. It will be the most significant inflection point in our lifetime.” 

Clare Barclay UK Chief Executive, Microsoft

Avoiding digital debt

The uptake of generative AI, in particular, has been extraordinary. Barclay pointed out that the internet took seven years to reach 100 million users. It took ChatGPT just two months to hit the same number (a record that has since been surpassed by Threads, Meta’s latest social media platform that looks and feels like the channel formerly known as Twitter). 

“This type of adoption has not been seen before and really will disrupt all industries and how they traditionally operate,” continued Barclay. “It will also significantly impact the world of work and how people work.” She cited a PwC study that calculated AI would boost the UK’s GDP by over 10 percent by the end of the decade, equating to an additional £232 billion.

To take advantage of AI, though, finance and HR teams must look up, urged Barclay. Referencing more Microsoft research, she warned that 64 percent of workers didn’t have enough time or energy to complete their daily jobs. “They’re challenged and overwhelmed with the pace of work, burnout and a lack of productivity. We call this deluge of information ‘digital debt’, sapping energy, slowing down the ability to think clearly and severely impacting thinking for innovation.”

AI can assist. “There’s been a lot of discussion about job losses and the impact of AI, but the research showed that leaders around the globe are the least interested in using AI to cut jobs,” said Barclay. “Instead, they believe, and value how, it will help employees to be more productive and focus on more meaningful work, as well as having wellbeing benefits – obviously one of the overheads of this digital debt.”

In short, AI provides finance and HR teams with digital assistants, or ‘copilots’, as Microsoft calls them. “These copilots will help workers manage this digital deluge, prioritise the most important tasks, create compelling content and improve their creativity significantly,” added Barclay. “Ultimately, this is about using this technology to help employees navigate what matters most to them.”

AI as copilot

If used correctly, AI in its various forms will ease the workload for HR and finance teams, says Paris-based Helen Poitevin, Distinguished VP Analyst, HCM at Gartner. “In future, as AI can provide hyper-personalised recommendations and insights around employees, HR professionals will be able to better support staff in creating career development plans, streamlining documentation and improving the onboarding process, among other things.”

Daniel Pell, UKI Country Manager for Workday, says HR departments are already establishing more ‘self-service’ tools for employees that reduce their administration workload. Increasingly, companies empower staff to book holidays via a smartphone application or intranet portal – no need to plead with HR for time off.

Yet, more crucially, learning is not keeping up with the pace of work. According to Work Economic Forum projections, 60 percent of the workforce requires upskilling by 2027, but less than half have access to the necessary training.

“Using AI to identify and predict skills for prospective and current employees enables more effective job matching and career development.” 

Dan Pell UKI Country Manager, Workday

Again, AI can help CHROs and, in turn, CFOs. “Using AI to identify and predict skills for prospective and current employees enables more effective job matching and career development,” says Pell. By acting on recommendations surfaced by AI, HR professionals can proactively approach staff that have been in the same role for three years, for instance, to offer an appealing internal move. This engagement extends the employee’s lifecycle within an organisation.

Showing a small amount of recognition can go a long way, too. LinkedIn research found that saying ‘thank you’ to employees four times a year raised their retention rate to 96 percent. With AI, HR teams can prompt managers to celebrate their team members’ contributions.

Additionally, frequent pulse surveys allow HR teams to monitor the morale and sentiments of individuals, providing them with the data needed to make necessary improvements or interventions before a situation is irreparable and costly.

Given Gallup’s most recent ‘State of the global workplace’ report found that 2022’s 23 percent employee engagement was a record high, there is significant room for improvement in this area. But by using AI to boost this figure, CHROs and CFOs working in tandem will become the beating heart of company strategy in the digital age.

Posted in:  smartCFO Magazine

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