Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
June 20, 2019  |  ByJia Wang, Human Resource and Organization Development Researcher, Scholar and Practitioner

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has existed for more than 20 years and its impact on the workplace has received more attention in this digital era. Because AI promotes deep learning and predicts human accuracy, it has drastically transformed the way we work and accelerated growth in ways humans could not.

Take Airbnb as an example. Thanks to technology, in less than a decade with fewer than 3,000 employees worldwide, the short-term rental service has achieved a business value of $30 billion, the same growth as its largest competitor, Marriott International, managed in 90 years and with more than 100,000 employees. As reflected in this example, more and more organizations are embracing AI with great hope and excitement.

Yet, at the same time in this digital age, technology has eliminated jobs rather than create jobs as occurred in the industrial age. It is projected that nearly half (47%) of U.S. jobs are susceptible to computerization in the next 20 years (Osborne & Benedikt, 2013). While this may be perceived as a positive—liberating people from mundane jobs, it is also a serious prospect for both employers and employees. With the automation of jobs comes the loss of “the meaning of work,” which has defined our professional identity for centuries. It is no wonder companies today are asking: Will humans even be needed in the future workplace?

The answer is: Yes, absolutely! And, here’s why: AI can only replace routine jobs, not creative ones. In other words, AI can’t eliminate jobs that require human emotions such as compassion, love, empathy, excitement and imagination. Contemplate dealing with angry or demanding customers, employees who struggle with the anxiety of transitioning through mergers and acquisitions, employees who are overwhelmed by higher performance expectations or employees who have lost their jobs to a machine. To come up with creative solutions for these highly complex issues requires more than just technical or technological capability. What is required is a healthy understanding of human emotions and a genuine caring for people’s well-being.

To further justify the need for humans in the technology-driven workplace, here are a few more questions to ponder: What makes us human? What differentiates people from machines? Will AI make decisions for me or my team? Answering these questions will provide another perspective to help organizations thrive in the AI age.

Let’s explore in the wholesale distribution context: As technology development continues, distributors will face more advanced and sophisticated digital innovations in business areas such as sales, operations, customer service, marketing, finance and even management. Therefore, it’s likely that many functions will be automated, and technology will instantly provide distributors with useful real-time data, such as sales volume, cash flow, market competition, customer feedback, employee performance and even return on investment. While these data can inform your decisions, they will not make these decisions for you. It will still be up to distributors to decide what business strategy to adopt or what business opportunities to pursue. Meanwhile, distributors will still need employees to solve problems for customers, consult on projects, provide technical support and create value.

In fact, research reveals that the value of human capital is significantly higher than that of physical assets (Korn Ferry, 2017). Globally, human capital (people, labor and knowledge) will be worth as much as $1.2 quadrillion over the next five years (from 2017). In contrast, physical capital (for example, inventory, real estate and technology) will be worth an estimated $521 trillion. This means that human talent and intelligence is more than twice as valuable as all physical capital combined.

In the United States, human capital will be worth $182 trillion more than physical capital. Research also shows that people will outperform even the most sophisticated technology, because they have unlimited potential and will bring more value to organizations as they accumulate more knowledge, skills and experience over time, unlike machines that depreciate over time (Euan-Smith, Pearlman, & Kane, 2017).

With this brief analysis, we can now answer the three questions above:

  1. What makes us human? Emotions.
  2. What differentiates people from machines? Potential and appreciation.
  3. Will AI make decisions for me or my team? Most likely not.

Therefore, no matter how advanced technology is in the future, humans will still be in the driver’s seat. If you believe human talent trumps technology, then take the best possible care of your most important asset—YOUR PEOPLE. This is the smartest strategy you can adopt to thrive in the age of AI.

References Cited

Euan-Smith, H., Pearlman, R., & Kane, K. (2017, February 15). 2030: The very human future of work. Retrieved from https://www.kornferry.com/institute/2030-the-very-human-future-of-work

Korn Ferry (2017). The world’s most valuable asset. Retrieved from http://static.kornferry.com/media/sidebar_downloads/ValuableAsset.pdf

Osborne, C. B., & Benedikt, M. A. (2013). The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization? Retrieved from https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf

But, wait…there’s more!

If you liked the advice Jia shared in this blog post, then you’ll find lots more practical ideas and best practices in her #1 NAW best seller, Optimizing Human Capital Development: A Distributor’s Guide to Building Sustainable Competitive Advantage Through Talent Strategy. If you manage people, this distribution-specific research study will benefit you.

George Pattee, Chairman of the Board at Parksite Inc., said:

“This is the best book I’ve ever read on human capital strategy, and it’s customized to the distribution industry! Love the process map and explanation as well as the specificity of the action plans. All people managers, the HR staff and senior executives need to read this book.”

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Jia Wang, Human Resource and Organization Development Researcher, Scholar and Practitioner

Jia Wang, Human Resource and Organization Development Researcher, Scholar and Practitioner

Jia Wang is Professor of Human Resource Development at Texas A&M University. As a scholar, she has been actively promoting individual and organizational development through culture-sensitive and evidence-based research. Her research work has been disseminated through a wide range of academic journals and international conferences. Jia currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Human Resource Development Review. With 25 years of accumulated experiences in multi-cultural contexts, she has developed and conducted numerous educational workshops to diverse groups in both the corporate and university settings.
Jia Wang, Human Resource and Organization Development Researcher, Scholar and Practitioner

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