Using AI to Improve Relocation Assignments, Employee Retention

May 28, 2019

Anyone who’s picked up a copy of Fast Company or Harvard Business Review over the past few years undoubtedly has seen articles extolling the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on business. If the full potential of AI is to be believed, in the not-so-distant future, AI will help us instantaneously identify and solve customer complaints, make manufacturing more efficient, along with a litany of other long-belabored business challenges.

But what about the HR space? Sure, making better products using fewer resources is great and all, but what about helping your employees feel more empowered, engaged and committed to their work? There are quite a few ways AI, specifically predictive analytics (i.e., using data to predict future outcomes/actions), can better equip employees for success, ultimately paying dividends to the success of your organization as a whole.

Here are a few ways AI can boost your employee relocation and retention efforts.

Foreign assignment selection

According to FIDI, studies have shown that assignment failure can cost an employer as much as $400,000. With how much is riding on an international assignment, how do you select the right employee? Traditionally, seniority has dictated who is offered the opportunity, or at the very least, who gets first right-of-refusal. Fortunately, it’s evolved so now other factors such as the employee’s personality and adaptability are considered to determine the right candidate for the international assignment.

This will vary for each organization, but AI has the potential to assess all the factors that help to determine a successful placement. Some of these factors may be easier to identify than others, but often include: expertise concerning the business objectives driving the placement, expressed interest in relocating, and a track record of success with other challenging, high-stress efforts.

However, as any HR professional knows, these aren’t the only success indicators. More ancillary variables also could include the employee’s aptitude for working with peers of diverse backgrounds, personal commitments at home (e.g., elderly parents who need care, school-aged children), and the ability to embrace change.

How these factors are evaluated shouldn’t exclude anyone from an assignment, but they can help to identify certain issues that should be explored and discussed before investing upwards of $400,000 in an employee to live and work abroad.

Onboarding and retention

One of the biggest reasons we stress the importance of a smooth relocation is because of how much it can affect the first few months of an employee’s work performance. Why is this important? More than one in four employees quit in the first 90 days. Starting off a new job assignment feeling stressed and frustrated too often is reflected in one’s work, which quickly can lead to the employee second guessing the position altogether. This isn’t to say a bad relocation is the only factor behind early resignations. There are a host of factors, again, unique to each employee and organization that ultimately can lead to a resignation.

This is another area where AI is poised to be a tremendous asset for organizations focused on employee retention – and that future may not be far off. A recent CNBC article notes that IBM’s AI software can predict which employees will quit with 95% accuracy. By analyzing data points relevant to their job, predictive analytics can give valuable indicators as to how well they are adapting to the new position and if any proactive steps should be taken to improve their situation. (Don’t forget, SHRM estimates that it costs an average of $4,129 to replace an employee.)

Considerations to Keep in Mind Before Diving into AI

While there are specific issues that predictive analytics can help address, there are several other considerations to keep in mind before investing in an AI platform.

You’ll need lots of data

In addition to a predictive algorithm capable of producing these insights, you first need data – lots of data – for it to analyze. Before exploring AI options for your company, you’ll want to assess your organization’s infrastructure for gathering and sharing employee data. What questions and issues do you want to address? How are you currently gathering data on those topics – and how frequently?

Despite all the hype and promise surrounding AI, at the end of the day, it is only as good as the data it has to analyze. If you’re only assessing employee performance and engagement via an annual survey, for example, the insights you can expect to glean will be limited to say the least.

Don’t be too reliant on findings

While AI has tremendous potential to impact all areas of businesses, it’s incredibly important that it doesn’t negate the human aspect of your organization’s work. This arguably is most critical in human resources. Employees need to feel valued and be seen as people – not just data points. And even though a predictive tool might say they are a higher-risk candidate for an international assignment, that shouldn’t immediately disqualify them. Instead, use areas of concern as catalysts for one-on-one conversations to get a full picture of what may be going on before making a final determination.

Make sure AI efforts are designed to be “employee first”

No matter how you use predictive analytics to aid your HR efforts, it always should be regarded as a tool that primarily seeks to aid your employees. If your AI platform indicates that a new employee is at a high risk of resigning, that insight should be the basis for a conversation to ascertain what’s going on and what could be done to improve their onboarding. As mentioned above, high-quality data is critical to any AI effort. But, be careful with data acquisition; if your employees believe the company is gathering data solely for its own benefit – and not theirs – they will be substantially less inclined to answer truthfully or see follow-up conversations as something that could benefit them.

It can be easy to write off artificial intelligence as science fiction fodder, but more and more, businesses are finding ways to leverage this technology to improve functions all across their organization – and HR is no exception. Employees are every organization’s greatest asset, and the insights available through AI and predictive analytics can benefit everyone.

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