Artificial Intelligence and Employee Surveys: What role should machines play in this work?

Artificial intelligence holds great promise in a myriad of industries, but it also brings up many questions. In the organizational development field, scientists are starting to explore how AI can help companies solicit, interpret, and act on employee feedback. At OrgVitality, AI-inspired methods fuel some of our newest tools, including the OV VOICE - the Value-Optimized, Intelligent Comment Extractor - which sorts through mounds of comments to assign a "Usefulness Quotient" to the most helpful and actionable items.

Yet as the technology that powers AI develops so rapidly, it's important to remember that the field of social sciences is not an exact science. Unlike mathematics, for example, there is rarely one correct answer. The work we do as industrial organizational psychologists has so many variables; fully understanding employee feedback requires human understanding. For example, did your employee have an argument with a co-worker right before taking a survey? Is the manager receiving a report worried about job security? Human beings bring insights to these discussions that machines may not.

We all assume that AI handles data in a more objective and scientific way, but that only works if we fully understand the problem we are trying to solve, which often is not the case. AI is great at scaling - handling huge volumes of complex data that humans can't - but only when we are correctly matching useful data sources to the question at hand. If we throw AI at problems without being thoughtful, it will find something, but it won't necessarily solve the problem, and can even make the outcome worse. Additionally, AI only works with the data you provide. Unfocused survey questions, incomplete networks, or even human biases in the programming stage can create a situation where machine learning goes awry.

We can use AI in our organizational development efforts, but it must be done carefully, especially when it comes to analyzing survey results. AI works through machine learning, and can see patterns or relationships that people may not have noticed. Yet it would be a disservice to your organization to use a formulaic approach to survey interpretation because there are limits, and biases, to what the machines can understand, interpret, and analyze.

So how do you incorporate AI into organizational development work? We need employee insights, and artificial intelligence can aid us in this pursuit. At OrgVitality, we are developing ways that AI can aid action planning efforts. But ultimately, we can't outsource this work to the robots completely. AI should be used carefully to help you solicit, sort, or identify relationships you may not have noticed. A human eye can help place the feedback into a narrative, painting a more accurate portrait of your organization's areas or strengths, challenges, and potential opportunities.

Interested in learning more?

Dr. Victoria Hendrickson will be at Dreamforce on November 8th in San Francisco, speaking about leveraging

AI/machine learning to improve inclusion and diversity.

Contact her for more information.

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