Working Transitions

The Future of the Workplace - 5 minutes with Christina Banister - IBM Talent Consultant

Welcome to our monthly series - ‘5 minutes with…’ - quick, chatty interviews with specialists working across HR, Recruitment and Transition.

In this issue we talk to Christina Banister – Managing Consultant at IBM – a Working Transitions Partner.  Christina is a specialist in talent acquisition and is pivotal to IBM’s work incorporating digitalisation into the future of the workplace.  We asked Christina what AI and Automation mean to her and what, in her view, the future of the workplace looks like…

Hi Christina!  Can you start by telling us a bit about your role?

I’m a Business Psychologist - here at IBM I work as a Managing Consultant and my area of expertise is in the talent acquisition and cognitive arena. 

Within my role I work with clients to really understand their current processes – both at pre-employment stage and also when developing existing employees.  We can then compare this with the potential future state of both their organisation and industry and help them decide upon appropriate steps to close the gap between the two.  Interventions can include assessments, employee engagement or understanding the underlying architecture of an organisational structure and applying the cognitive piece to it.

Within IBM we have developed ‘Watson’ - the mechanism that helps us perform the cognitive side of our work.  ‘Watson’ is a supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence and sophisticated analytical software - it has the capability to not only take in information but also to learn and extrapolate information and create additional material that adds value to an organisation and its employees. 

‘Watson’ takes unstructured data from a huge range of sources, ‘thinks’ about the information and applies it to other areas.  For example, it can take a lot of information that a company may have about their learning and development objectives and create new learning references. 

AI and Automation is a ‘hot’ topic at the moment – how can it make life easier for HR?

A lot of people refer to AI as ‘Artificial Intelligence’ – I like to think of it as ‘Augmented Intelligence’.  I have a firm belief that when it comes to jobs, it’s not about replacing humans it’s about augmenting skills and capabilities and moving us forward.

When thinking about the future of work, many people think ‘the robots are coming - they will replace all of our jobs leaving us with nothing to do!’.  That’s not the case at all.  Instead, we need to think about how can we use digitalisation to our advantage, how can we be more efficient and free ourselves up to work on the higher-level things that computers can’t do.  

The workforce demographic is changing – so many of us want to move away from ‘9-5’ working and work flexibly.  Digitalisation helps us make that leap to more efficient processes and flexible working practices and environments – this can be of benefit to us all.

With so many organisations digitalising their workforce architecture, we are able to have a much clearer understanding of both individual jobs and the skills and competencies required for those positions.  We can take this information and automate it.  This means that everyone in the workplace can interact with this data in a really efficient way.  Each individual can assess their current skill set against the roles that they would like to move towards and can work at closing any gaps.  It can help people move from where they are currently towards a future promotion or perhaps a lateral move that will give them the new opportunities that they crave.

At IBM, we are creating Watson ‘bots’ that effectively act as a ‘virtual career coach’ – this is an automated function that can look at an entire organisational structure.  Individuals can have their existing skill set assessed and potential opportunities – perhaps in directions that they have not previously considered -  will be flagged up.  The ‘Bot’ will suggest alternative roles and flag learning and development opportunities to support and drive an individual’s career.  This can give some excellent direction and guidance as well as complete clarity and transparency within the workplace – employees are no longer reliant on their line managers to support their development.  From an employee engagement and retention perspective, this is great news – individuals can really take ownership of their own development within their organisation and move in the direction that is right for them.  

What skills do you feel will disappear in the near future to be replaced by automation?

Robots will free up our time to allow us to get on with the things that really add value.  Certain jobs will go but automation will create many new jobs and opportunities.

Repetitive jobs that don’t have a lot of unique instances are more likely to become automated.  It makes sense – as human beings we are not made to do repetitive jobs over and over – it is actually harmful to our bodies.  We’ve already seen – in car manufacturing for example – that very automated jobs are already done by robots.  However, there is still a level of human intervention required – quality control for example.    The industry has not been completely taken over by robots, rather the skill set needed has moved to create a higher level, more interesting job with less risk for the employee.   

Going forward, there will be a real focus on adaptability, agility and resilience. 

These are key ‘buzzwords’ out in the marketplace at the moment but they all sit in very validated and reliable psychological constructs.  We’ve always said that flexibility and dependability are important - these skills fit right into being adaptive and having the agility to move between tasks. 

Which skills do you feel will always remain in demand, regardless of automation?

I mentioned adaptability and resilience.  People will still need to do their day job – but perhaps in a different way. 

Organisations will always need people who are dependable, who show up to work on time, who are detail focused, adaptable – when a machine breaks down what do you do? 

Organisations need to be careful not to ‘jump on the next big wave’.  The future of the workplace is really important as is being able to identify the potential talent but you also have to recognise that you still need to fill jobs and that if, for example, dependability and conscientiousness is important to you now then that will still be the case in 5 years time.  You will always need people that will turn up to work and do their job well. 

Some skills will never change – sales is a good example – typically, successful sales people are extroverted – it makes complete sense – if you’re happy to go out and talk to people then you are going to be better at sales – this hasn’t changed over the last 50 years so it is unlikely to change with automation.  

For many organisations, digitalisation creates a ‘skills gap’ – can IBM support this and what’s the best way to address it?

We have a Watson ‘Bot’ called ‘My Career Advisor’ that links directly to an organisation’s internal job architecture.   It identifies, based on this architecture, where everybody sits within an organisation. 

As your organisation is shifting and changing, you need to be able to quickly identify what skills an individual has and what skills are missing.

We have a full set of talent frameworks – the most inclusive in the industry – it spans 18 sectors and has thousands of job roles that break down in to thousands of job titles.  We’ve been looking across industries to understand the common frameworks or common job architectures of organisations. 

The framework offers a job description and the roles and responsibilities associated with that job title.  It also outlines which skills, technical competencies and capabilities are required to perform a role effectively.   Associated with each competency are then learning objectives, development materials, interview questions and a variety of resources that allow people to work on a particular competency and develop themselves.  

This framework can be used across the board –  selection, hire, onboarding, development and exit.  The framework is a giant puzzle – ‘Watson’ can pull all of the pieces together and help an individual to really plan and develop their career.   

We can also support recruitment with an advanced CV / Resume screener – this extrapolates information from CV’s to give a clearer profile of the individual.  It can potentially identify behaviours and personality traits for an individual and their competencies that fit with the role profile.  For example, it can grade an individual’s communication skills based on their previous experience – this can make the recruitment process fairer as it is less open to interpretation by the recruiter.

How is recruitment and talent acquisition changing and what is it going to look like in the future?

The world of acquisition is changing daily – a big thing just now is organisations trying to create more efficient processes at the front end.

Interviewing has been changing for a while now due to technical developments – there is no longer the need to interview ‘in person’ – interviews via skype and face time are becoming increasingly commonplace.   Many organisations are also using online assessments and interactive assessments.  Simulation and gaming assessments can be really effective at identifying skill sets such as multi-tasking or attention to detail.

Video interviewing is growing in popularity –  a candidate can look at an interview question on their smart phone and record their answer whenever they choose.  I don’t think we’ll ever get truly away from face to face interviews – and neither should we – it’s a great way to get manager buy in on candidates, assuming you are sticking to a structured behavioural interview.  However, for screening and recruiting for high volume roles, these efficient processes are invaluable, and still maintain robust and validate interviews.  It also gives us access to a much wider pool of candidates – anywhere in the country or even the world.

Do you see any down side to Automation?

We are creating products that are going to help people to move faster and more efficiently and to allow them to be more creative and add more value.  I think there will be trials and errors along the way and it’s going to be a learning process -  but that’s the same with anything new. 

I very much think of it as augmentation – an enhancement - we’re not replacing people – we’re just allowing them to work better and smarter. 

It’s not about taking something away its about augmenting current processes to make them better – that can only be a good thing!


Working Transitions support organisations and individuals to successfully manage change and transition.  As an IBM business partner, we believe that the most important enabler of change is the people affected – by adding the human touch via face to face coaching, workshops and facilitation  we ensure a successful outcome for all.   

The increasing use of technology in recruitment and career development processes, whilst creating exciting possibilities for employers and employees also means that, whilst these technologies are emerging, people will need guidance and support to ensure that they maximise the opportunities they present. 

The changing face of the workplace also creates a skills gap.  Christina’s insight demonstrates the skills that are going to be highly valued in the digital age and which professions are likely to be left behind.   With unemployment at an all-time low and individuals in possession of desired skills in high demand, competition is fierce! Upskilling and developing an existing workforce can future proof your organisation and place you ahead of your competitors.

Our flexible suite of bespoke, tailored services are designed to support workplace development and transition and help you drive your business forward.

Get in touch to find out more


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Working Transitions
27 April 2017
Supporting effective and successful organisational change


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