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Strategies for dealing with AI and other disruptive tech in HR

By David Creelman

There is a lot of hype around AI in HR. While it sometimes seems that vendors are simply using the term “AI” to sow confusion, you only have to see AI’s ability to translate languages or have human-like conversations (e.g. Google Duplex) to be stunned by the possibilities.

The challenge that we face is that it’s hard to know what impact these technologies will have, when that impact will be felt, and how to prepare for that impact. I wanted to share three general strategies for coping with the impact of AI.

Rule 1: Focus on decisions with long term impact

AI will have an enormous impact over a ten-year period, it’s impact won’t be so large year to year. The HR decisions you need to worry about are ones that have long term implications. For example, if you are in an environment with high turnover you don’t need to worry too much about how changes in technology will affect the employees since they won’t be around that long. On the other hand, if you have low turnover and it’s hard to lay off staff, then decisions you make today may haunt you when AI revolutionizes how things are done.

If you hire a 25-year-old teacher in the public sector today, then you are making a bet on what the school system will need 40 years from now. You should not make that decision without a sense of what could happen with AI in education over those 40 years. In fact, the only smart choice is to, wherever possible, avoid decisions that lock you in for a period more than 6 or 7 years.

Make a list of decisions that have a long-term impact, think about how AI might change things over 5-10 years, then act to mitigate the risk.

Rule 2: Spend more time scanning the horizon

I recently spoke to a professional at a large American organization and he had been horrified to find that the HR department saw no reason at all to move their on-premise system to the cloud. It’s true that some years ago the cloud, or more properly SaaS, was a strange and scary concept. Now, in 2018, it’s almost always the best solution. How could the HR team not know this? Presumably, they were so heads down in their daily work that they had no idea how much the world of HR technology had changed. They had no capability for scanning the environment to keep up to date on what was happening in the world.

The changes we are seeing in technology are bigger, faster and less predictable than anything we’ve lived through to date. You can’t begin to adapt to the changes if you’re not aware of them. There is an endless amount of information about new technologies on-line. Spend more time keeping your eye on what’s out there. Use your commute time to keep up to date. Insist the HR department have quarterly meetings to discuss the latest advances in AI and other technologies.

Rule 3: Start with the impact on your business and industry

The important impact of disruptive technology on the HR department in the grocery industry isn’t that it may speed up hiring cashiers; the important impact is that on-line grocery shopping (Amazon) or employee-less stores (see the Tutudaojia in Yiwu, China) will disrupt the existing business model. If Amazon eats up the grocery industry the way it has other parts of retail you won’t be worried about speeding up hiring, although technology to speed up layoffs may help.

The lesson is that changes to the business will set the context for everything that goes on in HR. Make sure you know how AI and other new technologies are affecting your business before you zoom in on how technology affects HR.

The best way to learn about how technology will affect the business in the next 5-10 years is to talk to your business leaders about what changes they are expecting. If they don’t have a good idea, then bring them this article and get them to identify decisions with long-term impact and create a process for scanning the horizon to become aware of what might happen.

Summing up

The potential of AI and other disruptive technologies is so profound that it can lead to paralysis. You need a strategy for constant adaptation while still getting your day to day work done. The three tactics discussed in this article will get you pointed in the right direction.



David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. He is best known for his workshops on Agile Analytics, Evidence-based Management and the Future of Work. You can connect to Mr. Creelman on LinkedIn or email him at







Lists of Articles


Secrets of Human Capital Management


Articles on Analytics


Articles on HR Tech



X-Men Organizations are the Future

I’ve written a lot about the future of work and the gig economy, however the most important model may be what I’ll call the X-Men Organization. The X-Men Organization looks just like a normal organization on the surface, but is run by employees who are super-powered by virtue of their access to a talent cloud.

A normal organization, with a lot of employees in jobs, might look like this:


The equivalent X-Men Organization, one producing the same output, would look like this:



The stars orbiting each X-Man employee represent the on-demand talent each person can access to get their work done. It’s reasonable to suppose each X-Man will be able to do three times as much as a regular employee who does all their work themselves.

The advantages of the X-men organization start with the usual ones we get from using free agents:

  • Access to as much talent as we need when we need it. There will be no more staff sitting on the bench or work delayed because there’s a shortage of workers.
  • Access to specialized talent. With an X-men organization there is no need to get an employee to do work they are not particularly good at, that work gets sent out to a free agent who is an expert in the area.
  • Access to inexpensive talent to do low end tasks. No more will a highly paid employees do low end work; they’ll be empowered to send that out to the talent cloud where someone else can do it cheaper.

However, I suspect the real advantage of the X-Men Organization is the agility that comes from having fewer employees. An organization of 30-odd people is a lot easier to manage than one with 100-odd staff. An X-Men Organization with 500 employees will have fewer levels of management than the equivalent old-style organization of 1500 people.

The great thing about this model is that you don’t have to be a brilliant organization designer to set it up.  It is a form you can evolve into; just slowly add access to cloud talent, and figure out how to use it over time.

You’ll see a clear analogy between the talent cloud powered X-Man Employee and the technology powered employee. Both models let one person do much more than in the past. Now instead of empowering staff with access to a PC, you empower them with access to talent.

Here’s what you can do to get started:

  1. Think of employees as hubs that enable work to be done; rather than as workers who do the work themselves. In the X-Men Organization everyone is a manager.
  2. Create processes that allow employees to use the talent cloud. Given them a budget, give them access to talent platforms, build processes for using the talent cloud, provide training.
  3. Create processes so that organization learns how to best use and control the talent cloud. Any time you let employees spend money or send work outside the organization there are risks. These risks are all familiar ones, nonetheless organizations need to develop an understanding of how they manifest themselves in this kind of organization.

This is the future, it’s ready to go, let’s get moving.

Great article on Science & HR

This article by my colleagues from the Centre for Evidence based Management (CEMBa); Dr. Rob Briner & Eric Barends, is a great explanation of how to bring scientific thinking to HR.

The article was published in HRPS’s excellent journal People + Strategy (Spring 2016)



Rob Briner                          Eric Barends




The 2 (quite different) ways of approaching HR analytics

This is just a 1:38 long but is a critical insight on HR Analytics.

One hour of definitions in one minute

It’s easy to get off track when you focus on the wrong questions.

And stay tuned for the follow up video where we give examples of “Who?” and “What for?”

HR Analytics Diagnostic Video

One thing that strikes me is how big a gap there is between a few firms operating at the frontiers of HR analytics and those down at the end of lonely street trying to get started with limited support.

I’ve created a musical view of the the different stages of HR analytics.  Perhaps you’ll find it helpful in seeing more clearly where you company is now and how to move to the next stage of maturity.


To learn more:

The Big Bang Theory of HR Analytics

This video (2:30) is fun, but it does get to a big issue in bringing HR analytics to life; and helps show why I’ve taken such an interest in evidence-based management.

(I hope you are familiar with the TV show; it’s more vivid if you know the characters)

MORE: Taking action with a workshop

HR Analytics Diagnostics

If you’d like to chat about HR Analytics & Evidence-based practice then a good place to start is with a diagnostic.  I’ve created two quick ones here:

After you’ve done one or both diagnostics then shoot me an email ( and we’ll schedule a time to talk about the challenges and opportunities you face.


David Creelman