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8 Min Read

From Automation to Advancement: Embracing Artificial Intelligence while Keeping the Humanity in HR

Dr. Jeff Smith

People leaders who learn to embrace AI and leverage its power for good can make a real impact for their organizations and the people they represent. New AI technologies promise to take administrative work off your plate and give you more time to focus on what matters most—your people and their performance, engagement, and retention.

That said, people are genuinely concerned that AI may steal their jobs or introduce new forms of bias into the workplace. How can you not only embrace AI capabilities but also bring your team members with you on the journey?

That’s precisely what our team wanted to dive into at Thrive 2023, with an interactive panel discussion: From Automation to Advancement: Embracing Artificial Intelligence while Keeping the Humanity in HR.

I was joined by Amanda Halle, HR Consultant, Founder & CEO at Mindful Growth Partners, and Stephanie Smith, SVP of People and Culture at Tagboard. We discussed how HR practitioners embrace AI today without adding risk to their organizations. 

Here are some of the practical AI applications we discussed and more on how you can achieve your objectives while leading your team through fear or uncertainty.

The upside of leveraging AI for HR 

According to a report by Eightfold, the majority of HR leaders surveyed reported using AI in some capacity, and 92% plan to increase their use of AI in at least one area of HR.

You may have seen AI capabilities rolling out in some of the tools you already use (15Five included!), with more solutions on the way. With AI-enabled technologies, busy HR departments can increase operational capacity and automate certain repetitive tasks, saving their organizations time and money. 

That increased efficiency gives people leaders and their teams more time to focus on business outcomes like improving employee engagement, retaining high performers, and preventing regrettable turnover.

For HR professionals and the employees they serve, this is a game-changer with the potential to reduce burnout and increase engagement. Instead of spending countless hours on mundane tasks, you can spend more time on the fulfilling aspects of your job—like helping people—which is probably why you got into HR in the first place. 

As Stephanie shared during our conversation, “I think that when we talk about AI, a lot of us get kind of scared, like, ‘Oh my god, it’s going to take our jobs.’ And it’s like, oh no, no, no, it’s going to enhance your job because you actually get to focus on what you’re good at.”

How are HR practitioners integrating AI into their processes today?

There are so many people ops pioneers out there already proving how AI tools can supercharge their work. While AI can’t replace a person, you can see how it could enable someone to become 30-50% more productive (or more).

However, integrating AI into HR is a delicate balancing act. We have to get very clear on the efficiencies to be gained versus the unique human element that remains irreplaceable. Also, adding AI to HR processes should involve your corporate counsel, especially if decisions are being made based on the results.

As Amanda shared, “By identifying areas where AI can provide significant leverage—such as data synthesis and content generation—and choosing appropriate tools, organizations can have a balance of technological efficiency and human empathy. AI can be a powerful ally in HR, improving efficiency and decision-making while preserving the indispensable human touch that lies at the heart of our work.”

Many HR leaders today are finding that balance, using AI capabilities to tackle operational tasks (e.g., administration, program planning, benefits, etc.) while dedicating more time to human operations (e.g., change management, coaching, inclusion, empathy, vulnerability). It also gives HR leaders more time to focus on the whole business and become a more strategic partner to the C-suite.

Here are a few more practical applications our panel discussed:

Content generation

Generative AI tools can be great for idea generation and brainstorming. With a short prompt and single click, you can receive a strong first draft of everything from a job description to an offsite agenda. For some people, just getting started on something new can be difficult, and AI helps them get a V1 down on the page. It’s a useful assistant to help you get the creative ball rolling.

In addition to employee communications, generative AI can assist people teams with developing education and training materials, onboarding documentation, and more. It can also be a useful partner when preparing to have a difficult conversations. For example, it can simulate some potential responses to prepare for.

Scaling DEIB

Many teams are beginning to use AI to scale their DEI efforts and reduce bias. AI can be used to review your communications to ensure they sound authentic, use inclusive language, and align with the organization’s mission, vision, and values. It can even be used to translate content into different languages, to provide more tailored communications for a global team.

AI can’t and shouldn’t replace DEI professionals or human recruiters. However, from a sourcing perspective, AI can flag potential human bias in job descriptions and candidate evaluations. It can catch problematic language and make recommendations to improve postings or evaluation criteria. It can be used as a helpful gut-check and to spur more thoughtful discussions on creating a more equitable workplace.

Data analysis

One of the most significant benefits of using AI in HR that we discussed on the panel is its ability to synthesize large quantities of data. Marketing and sales teams have been using AI technology to analyze customer sentiment for quite some time. Now, HR can harness that power in the same way to analyze employee sentiment.

With employee engagement data, for example, AI can surface trends across thousands of individual data points and distill down the key ideas and takeaways from employee survey responses. Work that could take a human days or weeks can take a machine learning algorithm just a few seconds. 


Our panelists shared some examples of teams using AI to create job descriptions, build templates for hiring plans, draft interview questions and rubrics, and more. These operational tasks can add up and have a negative impact on your time to fill, costing your organization money that you aren’t currently accounting for.

There are already several applicant-tracking solutions that use AI to scan resumes and job sites for well-qualified candidates, predict the time-to-fill open roles, and rank candidates based on their skills and experience. Internally, these algorithms can also be used to connect current employees with opportunities for advancement or promotion. However, proceed with caution as there have been high-profile instances of bias showing up in automated talent selection.

Ethical considerations with AI adoption

While we were excited to discuss all the possibilities and benefits, we shouldn’t overlook the ethics of AI and what implications to be cautious about. For most people leaders—our panelists included—maintaining employee privacy and trust is critical to keeping the humanity in HR. As mentioned above, there have been some infamous misuses of AI in recent years that we should all learn from.

Familiarity helps reduce fear

People are concerned that AI will take their jobs or just make organizations increase expectations for them even more. As Stephanie explained, having a plan and being transparent about how you’re using the technology can help you manage any fears about adoption: 

“You see people stepping to the side, because they’re either scared that their job is going to be taken or they’re scared of what information is being scrubbed from them…. We have a duty as people operations practitioners to close that gap and create opportunities for exposure, and we also have the duty of listening to those fears.” 

As Amanda added, “People don’t resist change, they resist loss. People might be scared of what they’re losing when it comes to AI.” To effectively manage change and address that feeling of loss, Amanda recommends these three strategic areas of focus:

  1. Education. Get to know all you can about the AI tools you want to use. There are many free resources out there, so borrow and craft what works for you. 
  2. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Devote 15-30 min a day to test or demo various AI platforms, and document and share your learnings.
  3. Create guardrails. Gather feedback across your organization (listening tours, focus groups, working sessions) and determine your purpose, goals, and desired outcomes. (What does the company hope to achieve with AI?)

As I shared in our session, AI isn’t just an R&D thing or an engineering thing—it’s an everyone thing. Ready or not, it’s here, and it’s something we all need to begin experimenting with and learning to work alongside.

Meet Spark AI from 15Five

We’re thrilled to introduce 15Five’s new AI-powered assistant for HR leaders, managers, and employees, Spark AI. This first-of-its-kind assistant is designed to streamline administrative tasks and drive measurable improvement in engagement, performance, retention, and manager effectiveness.

Spark AI helps you close the measurement-to-action loop even faster by supporting HR and Managers with things such as:

  • AI synthesized feedback insights from engagement surveys, reading through thousands of open-text comments and providing themes, insights, and next steps
  • Reduce bias and save time writing manager reviews with AI-assisted Reviews
  • Providing managers with an AI Manager Copilot for real-time assistance within the flow of work so they can support their teams with things like creating more effective 1-on-1s

Learn more >