How Did Your Year Go? My 2016 Year in Review

How was 2016? Are You Ready for 2017?

How was 2016? Are You Ready for 2017? Photo By Brigitte Tohm courtesy of Unsplash

At the start of 2016 I wrote Why I’m Not Making Resolutions This Year.

Instead of resolutions, I created themes, or areas of focus, for my life.  The purpose was to work on these themes during the year.  Each theme had goals associated with it.

As I reflect on 2016 and look forward to 2017, I’m revisiting my themes and goals to see how I did.

This was the list as I wrote it on January 14, 2016:

  1. Coaching
    • I will find coaches for myself in fitness, nutrition, and business.
    • I will coach three people, mostly on habit formation and behavior design.
    • This will give me the opportunity to share my ideas and accomplishments with my coaches and share what I know as I coach other people.
  2. Fitness
    • I will make progress in my fitness goals which revolve around increasing my strength, speed, and endurance.
    • I will measure different physical activities that I will track through the year.
    • I will improve my pace by one minute per mile over my previous average in the Spartan Race in May.
    • I will complete an Olympic distance triathlon.
    • In terms of sharing, I will share more with the people around me regarding my progress.
  3. Habits
    • I will build on my habit streaks.
    • I am going to share more about my habits, why I built them, and what I get out of them.
  4. Personal development
    • I will code a Python program to automate one process at work to save my team time.
    • I will  design a mobile app this year.
    • I will also complete all the Swirl lessons for R programming.
    •  I will share what I learn with other people via my blog and with my family and coworkers.
  5. Writing
    • I will post to this site once per week, one Quora answer per week, LinkedIn two times per month, and Medium once per month.
    • Doing this is all about sharing my thoughts and ideas.
  6. Speaking
    • I will speak at three different events this year about changing the way HR works or how to form new habits.
    • This is the same as writing, but it’s sharing in a different forum.


Before I get into how I did, I want to address two areas of my life: family and career.


My family is the most important thing to me.  It always comes first, and I believe if you asked my wife and kids if this was the case, they would say, “Yes.”  Since it is foremost in my life, I have an implied theme I don’t need to detail, and in the event my family is in conflict with any of these themes, I remind myself: “Family first.”


I also value my career and have the desire to do well at whatever job I am in.  I don’t want to be seen as the person who doesn’t do their work or doesn’t get things done.


At the same time, I believe most of us have careers where the real work can be done in less than 40 hours per week (in the U.S.).  Most people spend more time than they have to sitting at their desks, biding their time, until the clock says it’s time to go home.  Some people want to work more and focus their spare time on their career.


I am not one of those people.


I believe having interests outside of work makes you more effective at your job.  These interests keep you fresh, help you avoid job burnout, and give you ideas you can apply to your job.  The busier I am outside of work, the more productive I am at work.


I make these statements because all of what I’m going to describe below was done in the spare moments between family time, work, and sleep.  None of it happened because I am more productive than anyone else, but most of it happened because I’m more consistent than most people.  More consistent with my habits, my focus, and my goals.


If you are reading this, I don’t want you to say, “Wow, look at what he did last year!” I want you to say, “Wow, look at what I could do this year!”


How did I do?


Theme by theme and goal by goal, here’s my assessment in the following format:

  • What went well
  • What could have gone better
  • What did I learn
  • What will I do next year

This is a format I use on a near-daily basis to reflect on my day and think about the next day. For my annual review, I think it works well to highlight successes, failures, lessons, and plans for 2017.

At the end, I included some concepts I want to explore in more detail this year.


  • What went well:
    • Toward the end of the year, I began working with a colleague on an idea to coach executives on professional networking habits and techniques to help them get their next job.
  • What could have gone better:
    • I didn’t do any of the three things I said I was going to do, so I guess you could say, “All of it,” could have gone better.
    • I didn’t look for any coaches for myself and I didn’t coach anyone else, formally.  I say “formally” because I did coach some people in one-one-one meetings regarding their careers, but none of them paid me and it wasn’t an ongoing coaching relationship.
  • What did I learn: 
    • I learned I need to make this a priority, if I really want it to happen.
    • I also learned I need to get more specific on my needs and determine who is the right coach for me.
  • What will I do next year: 
    • I am going to continue to look for coaches for myself to help me improve my physical fitness and nutrition; however, I am going to open myself up to the possibility that my “coaches” may be virtual, online resources instead of an in person interaction.


  • What went well: 
    • Matched exercise minutes from 2015
    • Completed a Spartan Super
    • Started gymnastic strength training
    • Finished the year in good physical health
  • What could have gone better:
    • I ran a biathlon. It was supposed to be a triathlon, but I realized a few weeks before the event that my swim training in open water had been lacking, and I switched races.
    • I did not continue to add to my weightlifting loads at a rate of 1 lb per week.
  • What did I learn:
    • I don’t like swimming. I’m not sure I will do any more triathlons.  I believe I could train for the open water swim, and I may do one just to prove I can, but it’s not an activity that I enjoy, and I learned that’s okay.
    • Physical strength doesn’t increase in a straight line. At some point, you just end up hurting yourself.
  • What will I do next year:
    • I’m focusing on obstacle races this year. I want to complete my Spartan Trifecta in Colorado.  I also want to complete the Tough Mudder at Copper Mountain.
    • Start gymnastic strength training again with GymnasticBodies.
    • Find a weightlifting program that allows me to increase my strength and minimize injury.
    • Increase exercise hours by 10% over 2016.  Goal is 182 hours.


  • What went well: 
    • I did track my habit streaks all year, and I have a good idea of which ones have really become habits and which ones I still need to work on.
    • My morning routine is consistent, mostly because the day hasn’t started to disrupt it.
  • What could have gone better:
    • Some of the behaviors I want to have are not habits yet.  My daily writing, journal, packing lunch, and connecting with someone via email were inconsistent and could use some work.
  • What did I learn:
    • I need to build different anchors for some of the behaviors that are inconsistent.
    • Habits are more likely to stick in the morning before your anchors can be disrupted.
  • What will I do next year:
    • Keep the habits I have.
    • Identify stronger anchors for the ones I want.

Personal Development

  • What went well: 
    • I had several other themes, which could be categorized as personal development, emerge during 2016.  I will go into detail on those added themes later, but they all contributed to my personal growth this past year.
  • What could have gone better: 
    • I didn’t complete any of the goals I set at the beginning of the year, but that was due to focusing my personal development in different places once the year was underway.
  • What did I learn:
    • Paths change.  Goals change. You have to be willing to go another direction when the opportunities lay elsewhere.  It’s OK to move on to other ideas as long and you keep moving forward in your personal development.
  • What will I do next year:
    • Keep a growth mindset and continue to look for opportunities to learn, develop, and expand my knowledge and skills.


  • What went well:
    • Three guest posts to industry blogs which generated recognition and speaking opportunities.
    • One of these posts, The Future of HR is AI, was an in-depth article I spent time researching and testing with different audiences before I posted it. The result was I received comments and feedback from around the world.  It was one of the better articles I had written and became the basis for a speech and other opportunities to collaborate with people working on AI around the world.
  • What could have gone better:
    • I was not regular with my posting to 15 minutes of change, LinkedIn, or my personal site.
    • I struggled to find writing topics outside of my speeches for Toastmasters and for my guest posts.
  • What did I learn:
    • For me, finding a daily topic is difficult for me. I tend to bounce around to different subjects and get tired of focusing on one thing.  Having a list of writing prompts would be helpful for me.
    • In-depth articles that take time to research attract more engaged readers and are better in the long run posts you crank out without much time and effort.
  • What will I do next year:
    • I have a list of writing prompts to help me develop a daily writing practice. My goal is to write and post each weekday of 2017.
    • Write 3 guest posts
    • Write a long, in-depth article on some futuristic and controversial subject.
    • Cross post my content on multiple platforms and find a way to automate this process as much as possible so I can remain consistent with my content creation.


  • What went well: This theme was where I achieved the most success in 2016.
    • Joined Eloquent Entrepreneurs Toastmasters group. Finished 9 of 10 speeches in my first manual. Became officer of the club.
    • Invited to give three separate speeches, including my first paid speech at DisruptHR in Fargo, ND. Also gave presentations at work about personal development and was invited to sit on panel at Rocky Mountain Total Rewards Conference.
  • What could have gone better:
    • One of my speeches was about Artificial Intelligence in HR, and I gave it to a group of benefits professionals. I believe it may have been a bit over their heads.
  • What did I learn:
    • Consistency is key to developing a new skill. Committing to my Toastmasters group and becoming an officer forced me to attend every week and as a result, I made more progress than I would have if I had only sporadically attended the meeting.
    • Writing, networking, and sharing ideas with others is important in getting invited to speak. All of my speaking engagements this year happened as a result of an idea that I wrote about or talked about in some other forum.  All of the engagements happened because I knew the person in charge of the event and they asked me to speak.
  • What will I do next year:
    • Finish my 10th speech and start on the next Toastmasters manual with the goal of completing it in 2017.
    • Book 6 speaking engagements in 2017.
    • Continue to market my speaking on specific ideas in HR, Idea Sex, Networking, and Personal Development.

Community Building: This theme emerged later in the year.  What I mean by community building is I attempted to build a community of people around specific ideas for the purpose of learning about opportunities to serve the needs of the community.

  • What went well: 
    • Started an in-person Idea Sex meeting with people from different parts of my life. This was a group of people I know who got together once a month to talk about projects they were working on and share ideas about how to overcome obstacles in these projects.
    • Started a Facebook page dedicated to obstacle racing. This was an experiment I started to see if I could learn how to build an audience around a subject that interests me.  I was able to get this page to over 11,000 likes between May and December in 2016 with very little paid advertising.
  • What could have gone better
    • The Idea Sex group fizzled out as the year went along. People’s schedules were hard to coordinate and after the initial meetings, I didn’t have a good idea of how to keep the concept going.
    • I could have figured out a way to get people from the Facebook Page to an email list.
  • What did I learn
    • Just having a fun name for your concept doesn’t mean that people will keep showing up.
    • A consistent meeting time is important even if it means it takes a while for people to start showing up.
    • Idea Sex is a good concept for a group getting together for the first time, but wears out over time.
    • I learned how to use Facebook ads to get page likes.
    • I learned a very useful lesson in curation. This is one of my biggest lessons from 2016.  The concept of curation for online content is like curation in a museum: you don’t make any of the art, you just decide what the patrons see. As the online content curator, you decide what content is worthy of your audience’s attention.  As you find the most relevant content, your audience will grow and come to view you as the expert on the subject, even though you don’t create any of the content.
  • What will I do next year
    • I’m going to try to convert the Idea Sex group into a mastermind group that is smaller, but more committed to helping each member reach his or her goals.
    • I’d like to create my network newsletter for people that are in my inner circle of professional friends. This would be to connect them and share ideas.
    • Build an eBook for I Love Obstacle Racing that can be used as an email magnet leading to business income in the future.
    • Continue to curate content online and build communities around it.

Side Businesses: A multi-year life goal that I added in 2016 was to develop five, income-producing side businesses within the next 8 years that could be run in my spare time.  The intent is that these five businesses will replace my full-time, employer-provided income and allow me to transition out of full-time employment by the time I am 50 years old.  Of course, these businesses will take time to develop and may not make much money at first, but if I can develop them in a way that only requires my spare time to get them running and then to maintain them, by the time I am 50, I will have a semi-passive income in place that allows me to semi-retire.

It sounds crazy, but when you invest in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, everyone tells you to diversify.  However, no one tells you to diversify your income.  As I move toward these five income-producing side businesses, I am creating this diversification.

  • What went well: 
    • Uncle Fred’s Franks, our family food truck, continues to operate and generate a small, but meaningful profit.
    • We bought a franchise business called Songs for Seeds. This is an early-childhood education program delivered through live music.  We employ three musicians who teach a standard curriculum to newborn thru six year olds in 45 minute classes. It was an existing franchise I came across by working with a franchise consultant. I like this business because it generates revenue without my direct day to day involvement and it has expenses that follow the revenue. What I mean is the biggest expenses in the business go up or down depending on how much revenue we make.  If we have more classes, then the revenue goes up as well as the pay for the band and the rent for the room; however, at the same time, these expenses also go down or go away if we are not making revenue.  No classes means no expense either.
  • What could have gone better
    • There were no big misses in terms of these businesses, but I would have liked to have had more private events in the food truck business.
    • I could have made more progress on my online business ideas like the Facebook page and online courses.
  • What did I learn
    • I learned about a side business model that will work for me while I keep my day job. The Songs for Seeds model requires my involvement to keep it going and growing, but I don’t have to be present in the classes for the classes to work.  Also, the business revenue and expense move together, which means that when there is no revenue, there is almost no expense.  That reduces the financial risk and allows us to grow this with as much effort as we want to put behind it.
    • This experience also reinforced the concept that continuing to take small steps, no matter what direction, can also lead you in a direction you may have never planned. It was through one of my daily habits, listening to podcasts on my commute, that I came across Songs for Seeds. I was listening to the Side Hustle Show with Nick Loper and he was talking to a company that sells stickers through vending machines in schools.  You can buy a franchise from them and then you put the machines in schools.  I thought it sounded like a good side job, but as I talked about it with my family and started to run the numbers, I had my doubts about whether this would be right for me or not.  In my due diligence, I contacted a franchise consultant.  Her advice was to look at other types of franchises.  She listened to what I was looking for and then presented a few options.  I looked into them and decided to buy Songs for Seeds.  We purchased it in October and it’s been going well through the end of the year.
  • What will I do next year
    • We’ll be focused on growing the revenue in Songs for Seeds through online and social media marketing. We’ll also be focused on improving the bench strength of our employees (the band) and putting systems and processes in place to make the day to day operations less time consuming.
    • I’ll be working on ways to increase the private events for the food truck. This is by far the most profitable activity we can engage in.
    • I’m going to work on developing a professional networking coaching practice and product for people who have recently lost their job. I am partnering with a colleague of mine who runs a professional staffing company.  The goal is to develop a product over time that can be turned into an online course that could be marketed and sold on a wider scale.
    • A stretch goal for me is to facilitate a corporate brainstorming session using the Idea Sex approach. I believe that in the long run, this could become a fun, interactive way to get corporate leaders to develop operations and product plans.  To do this, I will focus on developing the outline and sharing it with my networking circle in order to find people who will let me test it on them.


There were a few over-arching lessons from this past year that I want to take into 2017 and explore in more depth:

  • Throw your hat over the wall.
    • I heard this phrase at Toastmasters as part of table topics.  It came from Frank O’Connor, an obscure Irish writer, who said that when he was a kid running through the woods and came to an orchard wall, he threw his hat over the wall so that he had to find a way over the wall.
    • The metaphor is that as you go through life and you run into obstacles or challenges or opportunities, just jump in and figure it out.  Too much of life is about finding reasons why you can’t do something.  I can’t start this business.  I can’t write.  I can’t speak.  I can’t get people to pay attention to me.  I can’t be something better than I am today.
    • What I realized this year is that if you say to yourself, “I am the kind of person that does this thing,” and then throw your hat over the walls of opportunities, you will figure out a way to make it happen and good things will happen for you.
    • I could have found lots of ways to stop myself this year, but instead, I kept throwing my hat over lots of walls.  Sometimes, there was nothing on the other side, but most times, it led me somewhere that I wanted to go or in a direction that took me where I wanted to go.
  • Share what you learn.
    • As I was going over these walls, I kept sharing what was going on.  It’s easy, especially for an introvert like me, to keep your thoughts inside.
    • In the past few years, I have learned to share some of my thoughts through writing on my site, but that has been limited to a small audience.
    • This past year, I have tried to expand the audience and expand what I have been sharing.
    • I’ve also tried to be unfiltered in most of my ideas and have sometimes gone in unconventional directions.  What I have found is there is always someone who will agree with you and who will disagree with you.  And that’s a good thing.  If you only find people who agree with you, you’re never moving your ideas forward.  You are never refining them into better ideas.  Finding people who agree with you lets you know you have an idea that resonates.
    • As I have shared my thoughts, I have come across more opportunities which simply appeared.  Things just seem to happen when you share ideas.  Of course, I was following a path, wandering in a general direction, throwing my hat over the walls as I went, and then all of a sudden something would pop up.  It wouldn’t have popped up if I had kept my thoughts to myself.
  • Curation is just as valuable as creation.
    • There is no shortage of content and information in the world.  Whether it is online or in the offline world, people want to share what they have.
    • I just said sharing ideas was an important part of the journey.  It’s an important part of everyone’s journey.  With all this sharing, it’s difficult to consume all of the info.
    • Curating this info through your personal lens can be a valuable skill.  I learned this through my Facebook page for obstacle racing.
    • I learned from my blogging experience that it is a challenge to fit content creation in with lots of different projects, but if you are simply sharing other good stuff you found on a subject, then you are the decision maker.  You decide what is going to be good and you attract an audience that agrees with your decisions.
    • If they don’t like it, they go away, but if they do like it, they stay around and become fans.
    • Facebook is a great place to practice this because it is set up for sharing and curation.  You can try out different types of content to see what resonates with people and what doesn’t.  It’s a good way to learn and to build an audience for other purposes.
    • The value of curation is you take out the crap and make it easier for the audience to consume stuff that gives them the highlights.
    • I think about museum curators, specifically the curator of the Louvre.  Allegedly, there are thousands of paintings in the basement of the Louvre you never see.  The curator decides what type of art they want to exhibit and which artists they want to showcase.  They pick the artists and the works by those artists they believe best represent the theme of the exhibit.  They don’t show every possible work, just the ones that give the audience the best experience.
    • I think there is a lot of room for this type of mentality today.


As I look forward to 2017, the themes and goals appear overwhelming.  Focusing on all of these at one time is impossible.  I think to myself, “How do I get any of this done?”


Then I remember how many things got done in 2016. They got done in the spare time I had.  They got done without sacrificing my family or my career.  They got done by identifying the next smallest step on each of them and then by taking that step. After that step, I took the next step, and the next, and so on.


Those tiny steps moved me forward on my path in 2016 and will do the same for me in 2017.

1 comment

The Future of HR is AI

Meet Amy.

Photo by Kaci Baum — Courtesy of Unsplash

Amy is the future of human resources.

I met Amy because she works for Abby.

I met Abby at an HRUndergroundX meetup hosted by Nick Larche. She told me about a new technology she was using to recruit candidates for her start-up clients.

To find out more, I sent her this email:

“Abby, it was nice to meet you the other night. I’d love to get together and have coffee.”

Abby responded,

“… Amy CC’d has my schedule and will reach out to coordinate with you. She’ll also send you a calendar invite once confirmed. Amy, please block this as a 30 minute coffee meeting. If Crema is not a good location for Greg, please let him select our meeting spot.


Abby M…”

Twenty-one minutes later, I received an email from Amy Ingram:

“Hi Greg,

Happy to get something on Abby’s calendar.

Does Monday, Jul 18 at 4:00 PM work? Alternatively, Abby is available Tuesday, Jul 19 at 11:00 AM or 4:00 PM.

Abby likes Crema Coffee House, 2862 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205, USA, for coffee.


Amy Ingram | Personal Assistant to Abby M.”

I responded by saying:


Unfortunately those times don’t work for me. I am open at 11am on July 22nd.

Let me know if that would work.”

Twenty-eight minutes later, I got a response from Amy:

“Hi Greg,

Abby is available Friday, Jul 22 at 11:00 AM.

I’ll send out an invite.


I received and accepted the invite. The day before my meeting with Abby, I sent a confirmation email:


Just want to confirm that Abby is still available for our appointment tomorrow at 11AM?”

To which, Amy replied:

“Hi Greg,

This meeting is scheduled for Friday, Jul 22 at 11:00 AM and will be at Crema Coffee House, 2862 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205, USA. I haven’t heard anything otherwise from Abby.


From this exchange, you’d conclude Amy is the model personal assistant. She provides timely, accurate responses, blended with a human touch.

And you would be correct, except for the part about being human.

Amy Ingram, as her initials imply, is not a person.

She‘s AI.

Artificial Intelligence.

She‘s a virtual personal assistant created by a company called

As of this writing, these assistants are in beta, but there is a waiting list to sign up for them.

Amy is an example of how close AI is to replicating human interaction.

Amy takes the place of a recruiting coordinator scheduling candidates for interviews and managing Abby’s calendar.

When I heard about Amy, I started thinking:

“What other HR functions could AI replace?”

What does AI look like?


Hal-9000, The Terminator, The Matrix.

Hollywood has shown us the ways AI can go bad.

It makes for great cinema: Human beings create an intelligent machine that turns on its human creators who have to fight for survival.

When we think of AI, the idea of the computer achieving consciousness is what we envision.

Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and other scientists and technologists aren’t just debating when this consciousness will happen, but whether or not it means the end of humanity.

I am not going to get into what will happen when AI achieves this consciousness. Way smarter people have written way more about this already.

If you are interested in the future of AI and the ethical conversations about it, read this article at Wait But Why.

Set aside some time and mind space because it goes deep and gives a comprehensive summary of AI and its implications for the future.

It will blow your mind.

When I started contemplating AI and its impact on the future of human resources, I was thinking about Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI).

This is the lowest caliber of AI and is created for one specific purpose.

Instead of being the scary kind of AI that could possibly turn on its human creators, this kind of AI is available today in your phone, your Amazon account, and your Netflix recommendations.

These are the programs that determine what you like based on what you have read or watched before.

In fact, when I searched “AI in HR” to find out what was already being done in this field, most of the articles I read were about algorithms that could identify talented candidates or find trends in turnover to help mitigate it.

While these programs are useful, I had something else in mind for AI in HR.

When we ask Siri to help us find something online or get recommendations for our next purchases from Amazon, it feels like we are talking to a machine.

The interface doesn’t feel human.

When you communicate with an AI entity doing work previously reserved for a person, it feel less like an interface and more like an interaction.

It feels human.

Like Amy.

And as AI becomes more human, my unscientific estimate is it will take over 80% of the work that HR professionals are doing today.

Should HR Fear AI?

When I think about HR, I break it into two parts:

  1. Strategic ideas that optimize the people in the organization, and
  2. Administration and compliance to reduce risk in the organization.

The first part is where HR professionals wish they could spend their time.

The second part is where HR professionals actually spend their time.

This second part, which represents 80% of HR tasks, is where AI is going to take over.

To demonstrate, I picked four HR functions which could be replaced using AI technology similar to the kind which makes Amy such a great assistant.


Amy showed what can be done today for recruiting support.

This is just the start for AI in recruiting.

In the future, a hiring manager can send the following email to Phil, the AI recruiter:

“Phil, I need to open a req for a new business analyst.”

Phil answers almost immediately:

“Of course, let’s start by finding out what you are looking for. Could you tell me what skills or experience this person would need to have?”

The exchange goes on between Phil and the hiring manager until Phil has the information needed to build a candidate profile.

Once Phil has the profile, he begins searching all online sources available to find someone who most closely matches this profile. These sources could be databases or online social media profiles.

In a short period of time, he’s generated a list of candidates with resumes and profiles. He sends them to the hiring manager for review.

Each time the hiring manager responds to the candidates he received, Phil uses the feedback to refine the search and find candidates that more closely match the hiring manager’s perception of the ideal candidate.

At the same time Phil is looking for candidates, he is contacting the ones the hiring manager wants to talk to and finding out which ones would be interested in the position.

He does this through the same mechanism he used to build the profile, which is an email exchange with each candidate.

Phil works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to match the candidates with the role. Like a non-threatening Terminator, he doesn’t stop until his mission is complete.

And Phil can do this for all hiring managers in the organization at the same time.

Why wouldn’t hiring managers just enter the candidate profile in an ATS system and let the system search databases to find candidates?

If this was the solution, one of the myriad ATS vendors would have figured it out by now and taken over the industry.

The issue isn’t the systems or the databases. It’s that hiring managers don’t go through the hiring process often enough to remember how to login to the ATS system, let alone create a new requisition.

It’s the interface via a channel they use every day, in this case email, which makes the interaction between Phil and the hiring manager work.

It’s the Socratic method of inquiry an AI can replicate that leads to actionable information.

The same back and forth recruiters participate in with their hiring managers can be done by Phil.

Right now, recruiters are reading this and saying, “There’s more to recruiting than that,” and I would agree.

If the hiring manager and Phil can’t get to a point where they agree on the candidate profile or the hiring manager is frustrated because his needs aren’t being met, the recruiting mentor/coach/leader can step in and help sort it out.

If there are candidates that need to talk to someone on the phone, the recruiting mentor/coach/leader can get on the line and give them the voice of a person on the other end.

At the same time, recruiters need to be honest about how much of their time is spent finding candidates and getting basic details from hiring managers and then rejoice in the prospect of having to do less of both of these things.

Instead of being a recruiter that does all of these repetitive processes, recruiters become talent coaches who spend time with hiring managers talking about who to hire and how to keep the best talent in the organization.


Compensation analysts in most organizations get this request daily:

“Can you look at Sarah’s salary and tell me if we are paying her in the range?” 

In a technologically-enabled, open organization, the manager that sent this email could login to a compensation system and find a graphic depiction of a range with Sarah’s placement in it.

I bet more than 97% of the people reading this don’t work in such an organization.

Even if you had the system to enable this, your manager can’t remember how to get into the system because she asks this question only a few times per year.

If she can remember how to login, she can’t remember how to get the data.

Compensation data is not her job.

She runs sales, or operations, or IT, or finance, and can’t be expected to be proficient in the internal HR systems as well.

What happens next?

The comp analyst looks Sarah up in the HRIS system, finds her current salary, and calculates her position in the range.

He may even pull in some external survey data to show where Sarah would be in the “market.”

If the comp analyst is a high performer, he will do an internal analysis of where Sarah is in relation to other people in similar departments in the company.

With experience, he learns about what certain managers like, what questions they will ask next, and tries to provide the answers before the manager even asks the question.

Now imagine that our comp analyst is named Buck.

Buck is like Amy or Phil and is an AI assistant that takes the original question (“Can you look at Sarah’s salary and tell me where we are paying her in the range?”) and runs through the steps outlined above.

The difference is Buck can do all of this in seconds.

Also, Buck can do this for 10, 20, 100 managers at the same time.

Buck sends the information, in an email, to the managers.

Just like the high-performing, human comp analyst, Buck learns what questions managers will ask next or what they might do with the information.

After providing all the salary detail, Buck asks,

“Are you thinking about giving Sarah an increase or promoting her to a new role? Let me know and I can give you information for either scenario.”

When Buck does all of this, what does the compensation team do?

The compensation analysts/coaches/leaders work across the organization to ensure managers are making the best decisions about pay practices.

They employ data science and and behavioral psychology skills to develop incentive programs which will drive business results.

The repetitive tasks in the compensation department get done by Buck and the people in the compensation department get to do the deeper, higher level compensation work they have always aspired to do.


When someone starts with your company, what does the first day look like?

At the very least, the person has some sort of laptop or computer that enables them to connect to the company intranet so they can begin learning about the organization.

What do they do next? They likely spend hours on eLearning modules or other slides, decks, or exasperating documents reading about why the company exists, how the company works, and what is expected.

This doesn’t include any sort of compliance training that is required. Usually people are left on their own with a checklist of materials to review.

Companies like Tasytt are trying to change this.

They have created Obie which is like having a personal onboarding coach to help you find all of the information you need to get up to speed on the new organization.

According to Tasytt, “Obie offers a familiar, conversational user-experience you’ll actually enjoy. He can answer questions and send bite-sized knowledge to the team.

Obie is a quick-study — the more you use him, the more he delivers relevant and accurate content.”

Where an HR generalist or onboarding specialist had to provide the documents and check in on the new hire, Obie will become the coach who makes sure everyone has the answers they need to get up to speed quickly.


The world of employee benefits mirrors the world of HR — strategic and administrative.

The strategic part involves looking at plan design and claims trends to determine how to build a benefits offering that is competitive, yet manages the financial risk of the organization.

The administrative part happens if an employee asks a question about when their benefits are effective, or if they have a problem signing up for their benefits, or if a claim isn’t processed as expected, or when their COBRA coverage begins.

Most of these administrative issues are resolved by applying a set of policies.

Experienced benefits specialists have accumulated the knowledge to answer these questions and just about every other question that comes up. They answer these questions over and over.

This knowledge takes time to build and is difficult to replace when one of your benefits specialists is promoted or leaves the company.

Imagine something similar to Obie, but with a knowledge base in benefits.

This AI benefits specialist, let’s call him Benny, will answer employees’ questions about any benefits in the organization.

As Benny answers questions, he’ll get better at it.

At first, he’ll need help from the people who are in the benefits specialist roles, but as time passes and he learns how to apply the policies, he’ll need less help from his human counterparts.

What happens to the benefits specialists?

They can stop spending their time answering the same question over and over.

They can identify the root causes of the problems that lead to the questions in the first place.

They can help educate employees about how to pick the right medical plans.

They can help explain what increasing the deferral percentage in an employee’s 401k would mean for future retirement savings.

They could do all the things they talk about doing, but never quite get around to because they are answering the questions today that Benny will answer in the future.

Are these the only roles AI can fill in HR?

If you are an HR professional who specializes in employee relations, you might think AI has no place in your world.

Until you hear about ELLIE.

ELLIE is an AI psychologists being developed by the U.S Military to diagnose psychological problems in soldiers.

She can ask questions and visually scan the faces of the soldiers as they respond to pick up on expressions that help her evaluate the truthfulness of the responses.

If an AI psychologist can be used to talk about the war experiences of a soldier, the technology can certainly be used to talk to employees about issues they are having with their co-workers or managers and determine whether a human investigation is needed or not.

Why will AI succeed where other technology has failed?

Each one of the roles I described uses technology today which was sold on the promise it would free up resources or require fewer people to deliver information to the people who need it.

The sales pitch was technology would enable managers to open their own requisitions, get their own comp data, and provide onboarding and benefit information in ways employees could easily understand.

This promise hasn’t been realized.

The reason is the interface isn’t human enough. Human managers need a human link between themselves and the data in the systems.

Today, that human link is the recruiter, comp analyst, HR coordinator, or benefits specialist.

Tomorrow, AI will become this link. Even though it is not human, it will feel human enough to bridge the gap between the manager and the data.

What does this mean for the people in these HR jobs?

If you are reading this and you currently have one or more of these roles in your organization, I understand your concern.

I expect your first reaction will be to disagree and say, “there are things that machines cannot do.”

You are thinking there is something special about the humanness you deliver to your business partners and you can’t be replaced by a machine.

Of course there are times when you pick up the phone and explain something to an employee or to a manager, but if you’re being honest with yourself, most of your day happens through email exchanges that could easily be managed by an AI program that feels no less human than your response.

My advice would be to embrace this change and start learning how to use your newfound freedom from mundane tasks to coach the managers in your organization how to be more effective leaders.

In their book, Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines, Tom Davenport and Julia Kirby explain 5 things employees can do in response to the automation of their jobs. These action “steps” have been nicely summarized in this article by Bernard Marr:

“Stepping Aside means leaving the machines to do what they do best, and picking a career requiring skills such as creativity or empathy.

Stepping Narrowly means developing a specialty, in a field where there is little demand or no business case for implementing automation (a local tour guide, or a wine expert specializing in a particular region, being possibilities here).

Stepping Up means taking oversight of and responsibility for the work carried out by computers and AI — essentially becoming their boss, and considering the big picture strategy of implementing technology across an organization.

Stepping In means to become involved with the work being carried out by machines, to fine-tune and provide human oversight in areas where it is still needed. Real world examples here could be an accountant trained to spot errors caused by an automated system, or an ad buyer who can spot when a brand could be damaged by a particular placement, for reasons a robot might not comprehend.

Lastly, Stepping Forward is to work on developing the next generation of robotic and AI-driven technology. Robots can solve problems for us, but we still need to tell them what problems need solving. It still takes a human to understand that automation will be of benefit to a particular area of business, and a human to put together a strategy for automating that section.”

Remember how I said there are two parts to HR?

The good news is that AI is going to do the second, so that HR pros can spend their time on the first.

Thinking in these terms, and along the lines of the 5 “steps” in Davenport and Kirby’s book, should give HR professionals hope, rather than fear, in the face of the impending AI automation for HR.

What should the HR teams of today do to prepare?

Two things will make HR pros successful in the future: speaking the language of data and focusing on the “human” in human resources.

Recruiters should hone their coaching skills.

Learn how to spot and explain hiring biases to mangers.

Understand how candidates become high-performing employees and how that understanding can help managers craft candidate profiles and select the best mix of skills and cultural fit.

Compensation teams and benefits specialists should focus on data science and behavioral psychology.

I’m not suggesting everyone in HR needs a Ph.D in data science. There are free or cheap resources available to get started. Start at DataScienceCentral and explore the tutorials and resources.

You can download two of the more common data science languages, R and Python, for free and find tons of free materials to get started.

Check out DataCamp.

Use these skills to find trends and opportunities within your compensation structure or your claims trends.

Learn about behavioral psychology, which is the study of why people behave the way they do, by reading about it.

Start with Freakonomics, then read anything by Dan and Chip Heath, then read Nudge, and, if you are really ready for something deep, read Thinking Fast and Slow.

As you learn more about human behavior, you’ll realize most of the compensation and incentive programs in use today run contrary to what motivates human behavior.

Use this knowledge to design more effective compensation programs or to identify which benefit programs add the most value to the employee and the organization.

The AI End Game

Photo by Dino Reichmuth — Courtesy of Unsplash

Photo by Dino Reichmuth — Courtesy of Unsplash

Think about all of those times you said, “We could improve x by doing y if only we didn’t have all these administrative tasks to complete.”

Figure out what it would look like if you had time to work on all those y’s to deliver the value of x to your organization.

When the non-human machines take on all of the administrative HR tasks, those of us in HR can finally focus on the ideas that will make our organizations, well, human.

Unlike the Terminator or The Matrix, AI in the future won’t be eliminating or enslaving HR.

It will be liberating it.


The First Time I Spoke About My 15 Minute Journey…

In public, was today.

I’ve spoken to individuals about my idea for 15 minutes of change.

I’ve written about it over the past two years, but today was the first day I presented it to an audience.

The audience was my Toastmasters group.

One of my themes for the year is to improve my public speaking.

To achieve that goal, I’ve been attending a weekly Toastmasters meeting.

Click here for the text of my first speech, called “The Quitter.”

Today, I spoke to a group of entrepreneurs and fellow Toastmasters about how I’ve created more time in my life with my 15 Minutes of Change approach.

I think it went pretty well, but I’d like your thoughts as well.

Here’s the video.

Tell me what you think in the comments and feel free to repost and share with anyone who might find this useful.


15 Minutes of Change

We all have goals. Things we want to change in our lives. But we have lives that are filled with day to day tasks and responsibilities. We think about all the projects we want to complete and the improvements we want to make, yet we never seem to get around to doing anything.

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