Digital computers have transformed work in almost every sector of the economy over the past several decades (1). We are now at the beginning of an even larger and more rapid transformation due to recent advances in machine learning (ML), which is capable of accelerating the pace of automation itself. However, although it is clear that ML is a “general purpose technology,” like the steam engine and electricity, which spawns a plethora of additional innovations and capabilities (2), there is no widely shared agreement on the tasks where ML systems excel, and thus little agreement on the specific expected impacts on the workforce and on the economy more broadly. We discuss what we see to be key implications for the workforce, drawing on our rubric of what the current generation of ML systems can and cannot do [see the supplementary materials (SM)]. Although parts of many jobs may be “suitable for ML” (SML), other tasks within these same jobs do not fit the criteria for ML well; hence, effects on employment are more complex than the simple replacement and substitution story emphasized by some. Although economic effects of ML are relatively limited today, and we are not facing the imminent “end of work” as is sometimes proclaimed, the implications for the economy and the workforce going forward are profound.
Researchers tested the effects of including cues, anchors, and savings goals in a company email encouraging employee contributions to their 401(k).
Researchers found that providing high contribution rate or savings goal examples, or highlighting high savings thresholds created by the 401(k) plan rules, increased 401(k) contribution rates by 1-2% of income per pay period.
Although evidence-based algorithms consistently outperform human forecasters, people often fail to use them after learning that they are imperfect, a phenomenon known as algorithm aversion. In this paper, we present three studies investigating how to reduce algorithm aversion. In incentivized forecasting tasks, participants chose between using their own forecasts or those of an algorithm that was built by experts. Participants were considerably more likely to choose to use an imperfect algorithm when they could modify its forecasts, and they performed better as a result. Notably, the preference for modifiable algorithms held even when participants were severely restricted in the modifications they could make (Studies 1-3). In fact, our results suggest that participants’ preference for modifiable algorithms was indicative of a desire for some control over the forecasting outcome, and not for a desire for greater control over the forecasting outcome, as participants’ preference for modifiable algorithms was relatively insensitive to the magnitude of the modifications they were able to make (Study 2). Additionally, we found that giving participants the freedom to modify an imperfect algorithm made them feel more satisfied with the forecasting process, more likely to believe that the algorithm was superior, and more likely to choose to use an algorithm to make subsequent forecasts (Study 3). This research suggests that one can reduce algorithm aversion by giving people some control - even a slight amount - over an imperfect algorithm’s forecast.
More than a quarter century ago, organizational scholars began to explore the implications of prosociality in organizations. Three interrelated streams have emerged from this work, which focus on prosocial motives (the desire to benefit others or expend effort out of concern for others), prosocial behaviors (acts that promote/protect the welfare of individuals, groups, or organizations), and prosocial impact (the experience of making a positive difference in the lives of others through one’s work). Prior studies have highlighted the importance of prosocial motives, behaviors, and impact, and have enhanced our understanding of each of them. However, there has been little effort to systematically review and integrate these related lines of work in a way that furthers our understanding of prosociality in organizations. In this article, we provide an overview of the current state of the literature, highlight key findings, identify major research themes, and address important controversies and debates. We call for an expanded view of prosocial behavior and a sharper focus on the costs and unintended consequences of prosocial phenomena. We conclude by suggesting a number of avenues for future research that will address unanswered questions and should provide a more complete understanding of prosociality in the workplace.
Unconscious biases are created and reinforced by our environments and experiences. Our mind is constantly processing information, oftentimes without our conscious awareness. When we are moving fast or lack all the data, our unconscious biases fill in the gaps, influencing everything from product decisions to our interactions with coworkers. There is a growing body of research – led by scientists at Google – surrounding unconscious bias and how we can prevent it from negatively impacting our decision making.
Do you think you know how to get the best from your people? Or do you know? How do investments in your employees actually affect workforce performance? Who are your top performers? How can you empower and motivate other employees to excel?
Leading-edge companies are increasingly adopting sophisticated methods of analyzing employee data to enhance their competitive advantage. Google, Best Buy, Sysco, and others are beginning to understand exactly how to ensure the highest productivity, engagement, and retention of top talent, and then replicating their successes. If you want better performance from your top employees—who are perhaps your greatest asset and your largest expense—you’ll do well to favor analytics over your gut instincts.
Harrah’s Entertainment is well-known for employing analytics to select customers with the greatest profit potential and to refine pricing and promotions for targeted segments. (See “Competing on Analytics,”HBR January 2006.) Harrah’s has also extended this approach to people decisions, using insights derived from data to put the right employees in the right jobs and creating models that calculate the optimal number of staff members to deal with customers at the front desk and other service points. Today the company uses analytics to hold itself accountable for the things that matter most to its staff, knowing that happier and healthier employees create better-satisfied guests.
When Brian Jensen told his audience of HR executives that Colorcon wasn’t bothering with annual reviews anymore, they were appalled. This was in 2002, during his tenure as the drugmaker’s head of global human resources. In his presentation at the Wharton School, Jensen explained that Colorcon had found a more effective way of reinforcing desired behaviors and managing performance: Supervisors were giving people instant feedback, tying it to individuals’ own goals, and handing out small weekly bonuses to employees they saw doing good things.
Back then the idea of abandoning the traditional appraisal process—and all that followed from it—seemed heretical. But now, by some estimates, more than one-third of U.S. companies are doing just that. From Silicon Valley to New York, and in offices across the world, firms are replacing annual reviews with frequent, informal check-ins between managers and employees.
How We Got Here
Historical and economic context has played a large role in the evolution of performance management over the decades. When human capital was plentiful, the focus was on which people to let go, which to keep, and which to reward—and for those purposes, traditional appraisals (with their emphasis on individual accountability) worked pretty well. But when talent was in shorter supply, as it is now, developing people became a greater concern—and organizations had to find new ways of meeting that need.
During Jeff Immelt’s 16 years as CEO, GE radically changed its mix of businesses and its strategy.
Its focus—becoming a truly global, technology-driven industrial company that’s blazing the path for the internet of things—has had dramatic implications for the profile of its workforce. Currently, 50% of GE’s 300,000 employees have been with the company for five years or less, meaning that they may lack the personal networks needed to succeed and get ahead. The skills of GE’s workforce have been rapidly changing as well, largely because of the company’s ongoing transformation into a state-of-the-art digital industrial organization that excels at analytics. The good news is that GE has managed to attract thousands of digerati. The bad news is that they have little tolerance for the bureaucracy of a conventional multinational. As is the case with younger workers in general, they want to be in charge of their own careers and don’t want to depend solely on their bosses or HR to identify opportunities and figure out the training and experiences needed to pursue their professional goals.
What’s the solution to these challenges? GE hopes it’s HR analytics. “We need a set of complementary technologies that can take a company that’s in 180 countries around the world and make it small,” says James Gallman, who until recently was the GE executive responsible for people analytics and planning. The technologies he’s referring to are a set of self-service applications available to employees, leaders, and HR. All the apps are based on a generic matching algorithm built by data scientists at GE’s Global Research Center in conjunction with HR. “It’s GE’s version of Match.com,” quips Gallman. “It can take a person and match him or her to something else: online or conventional educational programs, another person, or a job.”