Just as computers transformed workplace culture in the last century, artificial intelligence – AI – will bring a tidal wave of change to 21st century organizations. But most companies are not ready for the revolution.
AI is already being used in everyday life as voice-powered personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, and businesses are using AI for online customer support, security surveillance, product recommendations and much more.
Human resources is beginning to incorporate AI into its recruitment and management strategies, says Elizabeth Veliz, vice president of human resources at Virginia Premier, Inc. She says Fortune 500 and Fortune 50 companies are moving rapidly to adopt AI technology that is comprehensively transforming HR practices. Using AI, potential employees can play a series of online games to determine the right fit for them in the organization.
“I think AI is going to be appropriate in certain areas of the interview process, Veliz says. “What we’re going to see is the power of artificial intelligence in the areas of the administrative, tactical things that have to happen upfront before you get to the one-on-one, face-to-face interview. There’s still going to be a need and desire for that human connection.”
Companies and employees fear AI
While Veliz is excited about the opportunities that AI presents and looks forward to implementing it at her company, that is not the case with everyone. As with any change, especially one so significant, employees and managers fear the ramifications of AI on the workplace. Many worry about losing their jobs; others are concerned they won’t be able to adapt; still others think that leadership can’t implement it correctly.
A Harris Insights study showed that while 80 percent of employees believe having AI skills will be a competitive advantage for their companies, 42 percent don’t think their HR departments can pull it off.
A 2018 survey of 600 senior-level decision makers by PointSource revealed that 53 percent do not feel prepared to effectively use AI technology. And the majority of companies investing in the technology do not feel confident in using it. Often they are spending money on technology that doesn’t align with their business goals.
While we are just now seeing the beginning stages of AI and its ultimate benefits and effects on a workplace environment, it will eventually usher in an era of radical change that will require a rethinking of the relationship between humans and machines. Just as the Industrial Age required humans to organize their work stations around assembly lines, AI will require us to learn new skills to adapt to AI and build our work stations to accommodate it.
As companies incorporate AI, they must also learn to become more data driven rather than task driven. AI can provide insights faster and at much less cost and can be used in all aspects of the business. Those companies that do not incorporate AI will be at a great competitive disadvantage.
As companies – and employees – let go of some of the mundane tasks they have been doing, this means they will need to upgrade their skills so that they can handle more strategic work. “Jobs will be shredded, but not eliminated,” according to experts quoted by Forbes.
Quoting Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock with MIT and Tom Mitchell of Carnegie Mellon University, Forbes writes: “Tasks within jobs typically show considerable variability in ‘suitability for machine learning’ while few – if any – jobs can be fully automated using machine learning. Machine learning technology can transform many jobs in the re-engineering of processes and the reorganization of tasks.”
Tips for successful integration
Regardless of the benefits and the assurance that jobs will remain, workplace culture will take a huge hit. How can leaders work to incorporate this change with the least disruption?
1) Be intentional. “Your culture is going to happen whether you are intention or not,” says Veliz. “The question becomes, do you want to take the lead or let it develop on its own?” To do this, you need to set out clear goals for what AI will do for your company and for each department it will touch.
2) Be transparent. Your employees should not hear about your plans by rumor. It will only create anxiety and fear. They must be brought into your plans early and updated regularly as systems and processes are installed. Help your employees see the benefits and how they fit into the big picture.
3) Enable an agile mindset. Your employees must become used to the idea that technology is ever-changing, and this means that they must also continuously evolve and pivot in their jobs. The era of having one job for a lifetime is over.
4) Hire new people with the expectation that AI will be the future.
5) Train, train, train. This goes without saying. Any new technology will require ongoing training and mentoring. Training should be in small, experiential bites rather than daylong workshops that will overwhelm the already-skeptical employee.
6) Set reasonable expectations. It takes a wide berth to turn an aircraft carrier, and you aren’t going to re-engineer your company for AI in a month.
7) Finally, make sure your company’s culture is healthy before you introduce a disruptive influence such as AI. If your culture is already toxic from employee problems such as bullying, sexism, racism, back-stabbing, constant bickering, lack of transparency from management, etc., introducing a game-changer such as AI will only make it worse. Not only will it not succeed in improving efficiency, it will increase costs. If this is the case in your organization, postpone such a change until leadership has taken a full assessment of the culture and collaborated with employees to correct deficiencies.