As both chief innovation officer of global staffing company ManpowerGroup and a professor of business psychology, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is thinking a lot about the potential uses of artificial intelligence—but also its limitations.

“While a lot of my academic colleagues are banning it from their assignments, I’m forcing my students to use it. But instead of telling them to write an essay on Freud, I’m telling them to write an essay on what ChatGPT gets wrong about Freud,” he says. “Therefore you’re forced to interact with it, and you’re forced to develop more expertise—and expertise is the first human differentiator.”

And the second? “The second is basically human skills—things like empathy, self-awareness, kindness. There’s going to be huge value and appreciation for anybody who actually can show a human and humane touch. AI will win the IQ battle, but the EQ battle will remain and humans will remain competitive.”

We asked Chamorro-Premuzic more about how he sees the future of work shaping up, and how companies and their employees can get the most out of AI and other innovations. His prescription includes investment in middle-managers, who he sees as playing a vital role in the transformation of companies. Here’s the interview transcript, lightly edited for length and clarity.

QZ: Are there some common business processes that you see as low-hanging fruit for AI to come in and improve?

TMP: We’re still living in a clear war for talent, where the main differentiation or competitive advantage between one company and its rivals is the quality of the people they have and how they’re managed. And still, a lot of people get hired or promoted not because of their ability to actually add value, but because they fit some historical archetype that is likely outdated. You can use AI today to create your own tools to actually make internal promotion, high potential nominations, or future leadership appointments, based on people’s actual potential. The people that the systems will recommend will look very different from the people who are in charge today.

What role do change management and culture play in the success of innovation?

There’s a Stanford study that estimated that for every dollar that you invest in technology, you need to spend about nine on talent. And that is basically in hiring the right people, upskilling and reskilling, and also the change management that comes with it. [Not doing that] is actually one of the main explanations that despite all of these advances in technology, including technologies that should improve productivity, we actually haven’t leveraged technology. So there aren’t any well documented gains in productivity, especially in the last 15 years.

How should we consider the role of management in innovation?

I think mid-level managers play a really critical part here. And I do feel for them because their job is already complicated as it is. They have to understand talent and potential, the changing nature of skills, disruption in their businesses and industries, and in the last few years, adjusting to hybrid work. And on top of that, now, they have to truly be experts in AI and sell it to their employees.

There’s a big opportunity to invest more in mid-level managers so they can be change agents and help their teams understand what these tools actually can be. It’s really important to free up their time to devote to more high-value activities.

Often there’s a perception gap between leaders and employees as to what’s helpful and needed in specific roles. How do you see that gap showing up with AI?

As an example of the power of AI, I run innovation, and a lot of the time we create these super-duper advanced tools, algorithms, and assessments [for staffing] where the innovation team gets very excited. Many of our leaders get excited. But then we have to put these tools in front of the recruiters, and they’re like, No, thanks. We know how to do this. Leave me alone. I didn’t ask for this. 

But with generative AI, the recruiters jumped on it before we even asked them: Hey, have you considered using this to improve your job, or how you communicate with candidates or clients, or how to do CV resume parsing? And they’re all over it because they understand that a lot of the tasks that they have to perform on a typical day are predictable. If they become more productive by saving the time on trivial activities, they can reinvest that time spending more time with clients and candidates and actually providing the human factor. I think that model applies to everything.

The Uber app makes it less relevant for a taxi-driver to know their way around the city, but more relevant for them to have a good conversation and a clean car and to drive personally. What we’re seeing in general is not so much job replacement but our re-configuration of the skills and talents architecture that underpins specific jobs, which does call for more rescaling and upskilling. And that goes back to the idea that technology is great, but you need to actually invest even more in people to leverage those benefits.

How else can AI improve the role of HR?

A lot of the popular resistance that I see against AI in HR practices is because people don’t want to have something that is in effect, like an x-ray machine that can help you enter an organization and reveal the gap between the value people are adding. The only way to show it is if you have AI.

There’s going to be resistance, but my prediction would be that those organizations who understand that this can be a vehicle to de-bias managerial selection and promotion will do better, because they will start to hire people who don’t fit the conventional kind of archetypes or norm, and therefore find talent in unique places. You know, the best gender diversity strategy is to actually focus on talent or potential rather than gender. But in order to do this, you can’t just rely on human expertise and intuition. You need AI.

Outside of AI, can we really innovate in the people and HR space?

The opportunity for HR is actually to re-humanize work and focus on creating the skills, the meaning, the culture, and the conditions for people to do precisely what AI doesn’t want us to do, which is to engage in less predictable, more creative behaviors.

Apps like Amazon, Uber, Twitter, Netflix, and Spotify have very specific models of who you are. And that model is very predictive in those contexts. But compare that with the understanding of the view that your friends, your partner, your colleagues, and hopefully your boss have the opportunities to leverage all the things that AI won’t even be able to grasp. This sounds existential, but I think that is a very humanistic kind of goal for HR.


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