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Leaders and the AI Organization

Leaders and the AI Organization

For decades, business writers and experts have provided business leaders with a variety of ideas, theories, and processes to help them manage and lead change in their organizations. These prescriptions, though invaluable at the time, may challenge leaders who today are planning and implementing AI changes. The difference being business leaders need to be able to not merely implement change, albeit constantly, but seek out ways to transform their organizations.

Merriam-Webster definition of transform is:

… to change in composition or structure; to change the outward form or appearance of; to change in character or condition: convert.

For leaders this means significantly changing the way their organization works. Strategic transformation is necessary in a workplace where AI applications function as implementation tools alongside human skills. As Fast Future authors, Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, and Alexandra Whittington state,

As AI becomes commonplace, employees’ soft skills will become even more important. As rule-based thinking and automation proliferate businesses, skills like sensitivity, creativity, verbal reasoning and communication, empathy and spontaneity may be increasingly desirable. HR or a new Department of Humanity can facilitate this aspect of personal development to ensure that businesses make the most of the interplay between personal and artificial intelligence.

If these authors are correct, what behaviours should we expect from leaders as their organizations embark on this journey?

Motivated to continuously learn.

In Deloitte’s Insights 2019 report, Leading the Social Enterprise: Reinvent with a Human Focus, the authors found that,

Faced with the relentless acceleration of artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive technologies, and automation, 86 percent of respondents to this year’s Global Human Capital Trends survey believe they must reinvent their ability to learn. After nearly 10 years of economic growth, and despite a pervasive corporate focus on digital transformation, 84 percent of respondents told us they need to rethink their workforce experience to improve productivity. And in the face of new pressures to move faster and adapt to a far more diverse workforce, 80 percent believe they need to develop leaders differently.

As the demographic makeup of the workforce evolves, and the boomer generation exits, there is considerable need for leadership skills transfer. Add in the advent of AI and the leader’s skills challenge multiplies. Leaders must continue to upgrade their own skills while exposing their teams to continuous training and development.

Being exposed to challenge-based learning will provide leaders with breakthrough experience opportunities to enhance their capabilities and increase flexibility and adaptability.

Leaders should continue networking, investing in courses, and researching to stay on top of trends and new developments in their areas of expertise. Reverse mentoring by trusting that younger team members may know more than them is key. All these practices are fundamental to building relationships within the organization as well as with external AI contacts and colleagues.

A willingness to share.

Dynamic leaders understand the value of teamwork, knowing that as some team member skills decrease, others increase. This happens in the AI world. Technical skills once considered critical may disappear but the need for emotional Intelligence skills will be the leader’s and the team’s strength. AI lacks empathy and compassion but human skills involve leaders caring for their teams and their colleagues.

Chatbots will need to be accepted as new members of the team and can be used to orient and train new team members and assist them with some of their processes and activities. This will provide more time for human members of the team to address more complex issues with critical thinking, creativity, and innovation.

Leaders must share their passion about AI, demonstrating commitment to the new processes and practices, communicating effectively with all stakeholders so everyone is moving forward, together. By being a courageous change agent, they trust and lean on others and continue to support team members as well as colleagues in other disciplines. These leaders expand their team to include a broader range of skills and participants, reducing any silos that currently exist in the organization.

A desire to create and innovate.

To foster an innovative environment, leaders need to be flexible, adaptable, and agile. Adaptable leaders are not afraid to commit to a new course of action when the situation warrants, and their adaptability allows them to confront challenges. This is what is needed when strategies include AI applications. Leaders need to stay engaged, not just with their teams but with other members of the organization, customers, and the communities in which they live and work.

As leaders build their innovation skills and expertise, they ensure their team is building theirs as well.

Agile organizations need adaptable leaders. When leaders stay informed about changes to the competitive landscape and the community, trends in the value chain, and trends in customer or client bases, they train their teams on how to be agile as well.

The confidence to challenge current assumptions.

To be successful in the AI world, leaders should continually question/change their mental models, challenging assumptions about the business, customers, and the future. By focusing on purpose and strengths, they accelerate performance. They need to focus on those actions and processes that unleash the team’s creative potential and thus the power of AI. This will aid in decision-making and problem-solving abilities for challenging situations driven by customer needs and wants.

An ability to identify and overcome barriers.

This is about keeping everyone engaged.What’s getting in their way? Keeping the team’s talents and strengths connected with the company’s vision and purpose is key. Engaging them in collective decision-making, exploring creativity tools such as brainstorming, or implementing pilot groups, project teams, and member rotation will provide teams with opportunities to contribute in other ways. Using chatbots and virtual feedback platforms reduces the amount of time humans expend on repetitive and non-value-added tasks.

What doesn’t change with the introduction of AI is the importance of clear goals. Leaders and their teams should work together to develop performance goals and then be let loose to meet or exceed them.

Without the right environment, the effect of this leadership development will be minimal. The right environment is needed for transformative actions; organizations also need to ‘change in composition or structure.’

Organizations need to be filled with diverse teams; collaborative cross-functional, multi-skilled, multidisciplinary teams. No silos. All members of these teams need to be engaged, involved in design of new processes, procedures, and practices in a culture that supports front-line decision-making and problem-solving. These teams are encouraged to be creative and innovative applying a continuous cycle of try-test-measure-review-learn. Organizations filled with leaders who appreciate and embrace the value of AI will be able to transform the culture of their organizations; a culture built on a foundation of complementary AI applications and human strategic expertise.