Adaptive Systems, AI and HR

March 10, 2020 ProgressionHR

Understanding Organisations as Adaptive Systems

There are different ways to manage organisations. Some management approaches are more than 100 years old (and you’ll still find them in today’s organisation). However, a more modern way to look at management is to view organisations as Adaptive Systems.

What is an Adaptive System?

A system is said to be adaptive if it modifies itself with the changes in its environment. Organisations are adaptive systems because they must adapt to environmental changes, the economy, the needs and wants of customers and so on. There is a growing view that organisations should also adapt to the individual preferences of employees, something that will be increasingly possible with Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Are you willing to personalise?

Adaptability has much to do with the ability and the willingness of an organisation to personalise, and with the level of acceptance of differences of the employees in the organisation. Personalisation is “the act of tailoring an experience or communication based on information a company has learned about an individual”. If you want to engage and retain the employee who lives far away, you might want to tailor your offering to their wishes. Can they work from home? Can they work from an office closer to their home? Are the remote working facilities up-to-standard? Can you support his relocation to a location closer to the office? Different people will have different issues, and if you are able to deal with these issues, or even better, anticipate possible issues by offering personalised solutions, you might be a popular employer.

Segmentation versus Personalisation

Treating employees as individuals, and not as part of a group or segment, is one of the most important long-term trends.  The way organisations deal with employees is still far behind the way organisations deal with clients, but there is movement. We can all learn a lot from marketing and how they treat customers.

Today most organisations still segment in simple ways. Young versus old, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z, Managers and non-managers and so on. Many untested assumptions are used to design policies and career tracks. Gen Y wants “more work-life balance”. People over 55 want to “slow down”. With AI and big data analysis, it will become even easier to detect and predict individual preferences of employees, and organisations can act on the insights with tailored programs and interventions.


Research suggests recruiting for specific jobs and standard traineeships is slowly fading. The trend is to look for people who have future-proof capabilities, a certain personality and who have a fit with the culture and purpose of the organisation, and then check how suitable candidates fit with opportunities. Look at the personality and capabilities of candidates, and offer them a personalised job (content, location, boss, colleagues, clients and other aspects). Maybe candidates will start to use AI to design their own jobs?

Learning more about candidates in the workforce

Personalisation has become easier with the advancement of data collection and data analysis. The key here is continuously listening to detect, and predict, the individual capabilities and preferences of candidates and employees. AI should make this easier and enhance accuracy.

Internal Comms

The trend is away from ‘sender determines channel’ to ‘receiver determines channel’. In the past, the sender determined the channel and the receiver had to adapt. Today, the power is shifting to the receiver. It is easy to find out the preferred communication channels for each employee. If you want to communicate in an effective way, as management or as organisation, you must find ways to tap into these preferred channels. This improves the likelihood your message will be received and read.

Learning and Development

Learning and development is an area that is still dominated by a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach with standard onboarding programmes, traineeships and management development programmes. The learning needs of employees are different, as well as the learning styles. Fortunately, as with current technology, AI will enable a more effective personalised learning and development approach.

Management and Employees

Situational leadership is a good example of personalisation: how to adapt a leadership style to the specific needs of individuals and the organisation There might be opportunities for AI to further personalise management and leadership, like matching managers and employees based on personality and other criteria.

Personalising Onboarding

Onboarding can benefit a lot from personalisation and customisation. Most onboarding programs are top-down, as in what does the new employee need to learn? The question:What can we learn from this unique new employee?” is hardly ever asked. For example, a big retail store offers all new shop floor staff a standardised onboarding program of twenty hours. Per hour the programme outlines in detail what the new employee should do. However, the onboarding program is not personalised. Some of the new employees might already have experience with some of the tasks. Some learn faster than others. Some learn by doing, others by listening to instructions. Using AI to personalise onboarding, this retail company could save money and improve the employee experience.

How AI may impact Adaptive Systems: a wish list

The promises of people analytics and AI are high. It is expected as our ability to adapt improves, our experience in the workplace will be a lot better, efficiency will increase, and we will unleash the potential of our talent. To follow is an HR AI wish list.

Targeted Pulse Surveys

Targeted Pulse Surveys provide quick access to employee opinions and reactions to events and give managers the valuable insight they need to enhance the employee experience, drive change and monitor its effect on staff. Will AI help us make better decisions?

The Applicant Selector

If we know what characteristics, skills, personality type and other attributes an applicant possesses, we can use AI to determine if they are a good fit with an organisation and its culture to achieve a greater level of successful placement.

The Boss Matcher

Some people fit better with a certain boss than other bosses. As the employee-boss interaction is an important driver for engagement, can AI possibly make better matches than a human?

The Adaptable Communicator

How do staff communicate? Do they use twitter or WhatsApp? In most organisations, email is still the only choice. With AI, it should be possible to identify which channel works best for different employees, even without asking. If you use an individual’s preferred channel, the chance of the message being received increases.

The ‘give me my salary when I need it’

Most people who earn a salary receive it once a month or fortnightly. With AI, it will be possible to get some insight in the spending pattern of employees and create a better fit between spending pattern and salary payments, paying them when they need the money.

Watch this space

This wish list is only the beginning of how AI may make organisations better and faster at adapting. AI will be able to do things we haven’t even imagined yet, so watch this space.


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