The future CHRO

A conversation with Accenture HR leader Michael Bazigos

Michael Bazigos

Today’s chief human resources officers are grappling with change from several directions, including automation and shifting employee demographics. Increasingly, the status quo is not an option for executives and organizations that want to get ahead.

To manage these shifts, organizations must become more data‑driven, says Michael Bazigos, global managing director for people and organizational analytics at consulting giant Accenture. In a recent conversation with Workflow, Bazigos explains how CHROs are responding to change by redefining job roles and adopting AI tools.

What’s driving change for human resources, and therefore, for the CHRO?

The skills that got the CHRO to their goals in the past are no longer useful in the future. There are significant changes in worker demographics—the new entrants in the workforce have radically different expectations of the work experience, which is changing the HR landscape. Also, technology has put powers and abilities into the hands of CHROs that never existed before.

How are changing demographics upsetting the CHRO’s role?

You have more of Gen Z coming into the workforce, and many organizations are clamoring for the talents they have, like digital skills and advanced analytics. But in the war for technical talent, they’re finding it hard to get these people. One big reason is that in this generation, unlike previous generations, fewer people want to work for large established companies. And younger workers are more interested in the experience they can have at work.

There’s no shortage of CHROs who have heard new graduates tell them, “You know that position I accepted? I only want to do that job 70 percent of the time.” They want to work on projects outside the job role and develop in other ways.

How do CHROs need to change to accommodate these workers?

It’ll become important for companies to take job roles as they were classically defined, decompose those jobs into separate tasks, and use these tasks as building blocks to compose new job roles. One reason to do this is to create jobs that are more appealing. Another reason is to identify tasks that are wholly automatable—something you can only determine by breaking down job descriptions.

The best CHROs are the ones who see this process as an advantage that helps them put people to their best use and their highest purpose. That’s a fundamental skill for CHROs. They should be comfortable managing based on the evidence they can gather and have the ability to solve novel problems and be inspired by them.

Do today’s CHROs need a background in data science and artificial intelligence to guide automation?

I don’t think they need to be technology experts themselves. But they need to have some sophistication in terms of understanding the possibilities for applying automation and AI to the organization. They need to have conversations with CIOs and CTOs and other people who have data science backgrounds.

To help CHROs understand performance and productivity, we see some HR organizations establishing analytics units. Some are rote—their only function is to get more efficient at producing reports about people. The better analytics units create value for businesses by supplying them with insights they would otherwise not have gotten. They can successfully merge people data with company performance data and financial outcomes.

How will CHROs adopt technology so they can do their jobs better?

The same technologies that companies are using to improve the customer experience are now being applied to HR, like chatbots for training. Enlightened CHROs realize that much of the workforce needs to be reskilled so employees can be more digitally relevant to the enterprise.

We use chatbots for training at Accenture. Employees can ask about training available for their roles, and the chatbot returns links to our internal university. We also created learning boards—a similar concept to Pinterest boards but with information relevant to people’s jobs, like videos and quizzes. Employees can use learning boards to get certified in skills like the Internet of Things or cloud computing.

The part about identifying automatable tasks sounds like one that CHROs will need special skills to manage, especially given the disruption automation will cause in the workforce.

At town halls, CHROs are being asked about the organization’s views on workforce automation. It’s a complicated question, and one that CHROs will need to answer well.

Telling people that it’s about helping shareholders isn’t a very inspiring message. They’ll need to talk about the responsibility to their own people. I often hear companies talk about “the future workforce,” and I shy away from that phrase, because the future is already here. CHROs can no longer dodge this question.