Can AI Pick Better Leaders?

Can AI Pick Better Leaders?

Artificial intelligence technologies in recruitment and selection processes have become commonplace in corporate practice. After the initial euphoria, the use of AI in recruitment is becoming increasingly controversial due to the close link between AI-based decision-making and ethical norms and values. With regard to executive search, the question arises whether the use of AI in the recruitment process makes the headhunter redundant or at least leads to better decisions in the final candidate selection.

The first question most organizations end up struggling with regarding adopting AI in the hiring process boils down to, “is AI in recruitment ethical?” As it stands, many organizations are looking to AI to help cut down the time and money associated with the recruitment process. They often deploy it throughout various stages of the hiring process, such as outreach, screening, assessment, and facilitating the selection process of candidates. While few organizations have entirely yielded decision-making to an algorithm, many ethical questions remain. When it comes to the ethics of AI recruitment, it falls on the company to consider the interests and rights of (potential) employees. Hiring companies have a duty to uphold the rights of applicants, not only in their hiring decisions, but also in the way they treat applicants during the selection process. AI often misses the mark regarding the concept of “nondiscrimination,” as data sets are very susceptible to many different types of human biases.

Although AI can be trained to weed out specific unwanted or wanted traits in candidates, it can lead to unfair or unequal treatment of certain underrepresented groups. A study of 100,000 prerecorded interviews found an unpredictable over and under-estimation of the likelihood of inviting underrepresented groups for a follow-up interview—many of those groups directly impacted candidates based on gender and ethnicity. In short, the improvements gleaned from the use of algorithmic decision-making were often the result of subjective human biases. They focused on cost reduction or maximizing efficiency vs. ensuring a fair and equal representation of all available candidates in the marketplace.

Organizations looking to deploy automation to their hiring practices should do so with some heavy caveats in mind. When implementing an algorithm, corporate responsibilities and accountability must be clarified. Companies must be able to control the AI training data set or thoroughly evaluate the data set for a potential unfit within the company’s context of fairness. In short, companies should not only rely solely on the information provided by algorithms or even implement automatic decision-making without any human controls.

Where does this leave AI in the hunt for leadership roles? The reasons an organization might turn to AI for their executive search remain the same as with all other uses of AI in the recruitment process – leveraging AI to help cut costs, improve time efficiencies, and automate as much of the process as possible. While that remains to be the driver for many companies considering deploying AI for their leadership search, there is currently no meaningful involvement of AI in leadership recruitment. While there remains potential for using automation in decision-making to cut costs and save time, many organizations are unwilling to forego the human-related interactions that cannot be captured with AI. As more automation is applied to these processes, there is a noted reduction in human interactions that can be used to identify company fit better. Additionally, using AI for organizational leadership can leave a company susceptible to discriminatory practices since many of these human interactions cannot be captured due to legal, technical, or ethical reasons.

AI usage will undoubtedly change the future of work and decision-making in hiring processes. The question is, how do we harness the positive benefits of AI while respecting the complexity of human nature? An executive search consultant can help you bridge this gap and make sustainable HR decisions – especially in the area of senior leaders. As we’ve noted above, there are several considerations that organizations must take into account when deploying any automation in the decision-making process. Even more so, when considering filling leadership positions – I strongly encourage you not to eliminate the human element when selecting your organization’s leaders.

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