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Could AI Help Managers Predict Personnel Conflicts Before a Hire?

Igor Makarov
Igor Makarov

AI could one day help screen candidates.

It admittedly sounds a little like Big Brother, that a robot can tell significant things about your personality merely by looking into your eyes. And not all that deeply, mind you.

It seems absurd. Yet, that is the hiring territory that we are fast approaching – although we may not be sitting across from androids in interviews anytime soon. The use of artificial intelligence in making HR decisions is, while fraught with peril, not without its promising aspects. In an era when it is increasingly difficult for businesses to unearth the best job candidates, we may yet see the day when technology makes it possible to separate good from bad in the blink of an eye.

Hiring of the future

Despite caveats about security and privacy, relying on AI would appear to be a method far superior to digging through a pile of resumes or asking ice-breaking questions like, "What's the last book you read?"

Hiring good people – people who are talented, agreeable and work well with their co-workers – goes a long way toward nipping workplace conflicts in the bud. However, selecting high-potential candidates isn’t the only means by which AI can help craft a happier workplace environment. AI-based tools can reduce stress by cutting down on the tedious, repetitive tasks that so often come personnel administration. Need to mediate a workplace conflict or identify an employee who is mailing it in? There’s a chipper robot available to help you on your way. 

Granted, we are a far way from these tech-savvy, AI-powered tools being implemented. Slowly but surely, however, it is beginning to seep into the business world.

AI in the business world

Studies have shown that 56% of employers have a favorable view of AI and related technology, such as robotics. Only 20% of those surveyed viewed at such technological developments in a negative light. (And for the record, employees were slightly less sanguine about it – 49% viewed it positively, 24% negatively.)

For all that, 52% of the organizations reported in another survey that they were unlikely to adopt AI in human resources within the next five years – 36% because they believe their company is too small, 28% because senior leadership did not see a need. 

The University of South Australia, working in concert with the University of Stuttgart, Flinders University and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany, recently conducted groundbreaking research about AI’s ability to discern personality traits courtesy of eye movements. It did so by fitting 42 on-campus participants with glasses capable of tracking every wink, blink and squint as they went about their everyday tasks. After compiling a trove of data, those in charge of the study discovered that they could accurately assess four of the five primary personality characteristics of each subject – neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Openness was the only trait that they found themselves unable to quantify in set microexpressions. 

Physiognomy (the study of facial expressions) actually dates back to the days of Aristotle, but this latest study took things in an entirely different direction, a direction that obviously has implications for businesses everywhere – and implications that pertain to such things as customer care, career guidance and yes, recruitment.

In an increasingly competitive atmosphere, interpersonal skills count for a lot, and they are impossible to determine courtesy of a quick glance over a resume scan or a 20-minute interview. An AI personality prediction, whenever it becomes available, will become a game-changer for HR departments in every industry. Such tools could offer the means to unearth employees that not only have talent, but are natural, collaborative communicators. Such choices would vastly improve the chances that an employer is able to establish and maintain a harmonious workplace. 

In the meantime, until such technology emerges, it is possible to lean on algorithms to do less-impressive but still-important tasks such as sifting through resumes and determining from a video interview whether a candidate is worth bringing in for an in-person chat. Josh Bersin, an independent analyst and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, reported on a client who was able to improve his hiring success rate by over 30% courtesy of tech centered along those lines.

Yet Bersin also concluded that too often businesses remain rooted in the old methods -- that hiring managers make up their minds 60 seconds after meeting a candidate and often base their decisions on little more than a handshake or a nice tie. As a result, he says, businesses get their hires wrong between 30%-40% of the time. The failure rate is perhaps an unsurprising conclusion, given the methods. 

However, such mistakes are costly in terms of a company’s bottom line – one estimate is that it will take up to 20% of a midrange employee’s annual salary to find a replacement for a turned-over employee – and in terms of a company’s culture. 

The promising news is that AI-based conflict-resolution technology already exists. It is called cogSolv, and can discern the way different people view their surroundings, simulate their reaction to negative stimuli and provide the best possible resolution. More than anything, though, it helps HR professionals nips issues in the bud and prevent little problems from becoming massive, position-ending concerns.

HR, hiring and AI today

Today, HR professionals have access to coaching apps that offer tips about how colleagues can work through conflict. Also on the edge of popularity are relationship bots, tools that can determine whether two people will get along or not – and figure out whether collaboration will ever be possible by (again) reading facial expressions, as well as vocal cues. Such cues are also crucial to an AI solution developed by IBM, which is capable of decoding the stress in an employee's voice on a phone call and urge them to take a break.

Not to be discounted either is the manner in which AI can ease the everyday burden on HR professionals, and thus eliminate a workplace stressor. Chatbots can field common, repetitive questions, and automation allows employees to access information about insurance and other benefits. That in turn frees up HR staffers for more far-reaching tasks.

One of the potential uses of AI – tracking employees' computer usage – underscores one of technology's possible pitfalls: How will management make use of all this information? Is it not possible that there will be an invasion of privacy, or worse?

The other caveat, as mentioned at the top of this piece, is security. Is it not also possible that AI will open another avenue for hackers? Perhaps.

All that said, tech would appear to offer some promising possibilities for conflict management, ones that HR professionals would be remiss to ignore. It would behoove us to keep an eye on the technology coming down the line – or we might find ourselves struggling to find the insights that an AI could find in the literal blink of an eye. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock
Igor Makarov
Igor Makarov Member
Igor Makarov is a competitive player, in business and in sports. He currently stands as the president of ARETI International Group, a corporation which he originally founded under the banner of ITERA International Group of Companies (ITERA IGC) in 1992. ARETI has a broad portfolio, but focuses primarily on the integrated energy sector -- today, it is one of the foremost suppliers of natural gas and oil in Eastern Europe. Makarov has netted considerable recognition for his work at the corporation's helm; in 2003, the Energy of Russia National Prize Award nominated him for their Manager of the Year accolades on the strength of his business success. Only three years later, Igor Makarov was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Scientific and Technical Council of the St. Petersburg Mining Institute, where he earned the “Golden Badge of Mining Engineer of Russia” for successful oil and gas business activity and support of Russian education. Under Makarov's leadership, ARETI IG has grown into cohesive corporation with subsidiaries, affiliates, and business interests across Russia, Switzerland, the Baltic States, North America, Western Europe, and the Middle East. Igor Makarov is also well-known as a constructive force in the global cycling community. A former Olympic athlete, Makarov built his reputation as a professional cyclist during the 1980s by standing as a member of the USSR's national cycling team and earning, at the peak of his career, the laurels of an "International Master of Sports." While Makarov no longer cycles competitively, he is an active supporter of the sport -- he is the founder and current primary sponsor of the Sweden-affiliated cycling group, Team Katusha, which has consistently earned top spots in World Tour Competitions since 2009. In sports and in business, Igor Makarov is driven to succeed.