Artificial intelligence (AI) is all around us and it’s here for good. Whether it’s in the form of a system that suggests additional purchases on online retail sites, a recruitment aid tool or even a system running a modern farm – we need to embrace the fact that the coming years will increasingly be about human-machine collaboration with AI at its core.
It’s a major shift and one that definitely requires a change – or expansion – in leadership strategies for all of today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.
According to a 2018 study from Accenture, 61% of business leaders expect an increase in the number of roles requiring collaboration with AI by 2021, yet just 3% are planning significant investment in training and reskilling programs. So, although their awareness is rising, it seems leaders are lagging behind in taking the required action to adopt a new perspective on work.
Futurist Alvin Toffler once wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Adaptability and the willingness to forget ‛the old ways’ are quickly becoming the key skills for a successful career in this new reality.
But we expect more from business leaders, not only to transition smoothly themselves but – more importantly – to help their teams and organizations navigate through/(or: implement) change. As AI and robotics technology are improving rapidly, it is only natural to ask ourselves if humans will still have a role and place in the new economy – and if so, what that place will be?
Technology as a force for good
With all the breakthrough capabilities of AI and the possibilities it presents for humanity, I firmly believe that we are facing one of the most defining moments in the history of technology. We need to start looking beyond technology as a process efficiency improvement method only and start being more ambitious.
AI today helps us diagnose cancer, grow pesticide-free vegetables, run smart cities. It’s exciting to see how we can face the world’s biggest challenges such as plastic pollution or climate change with such a powerful partner as technology by our side. In this context, it is a key responsibility of business leaders not only to encourage AI into their organizations, but also to embed the underlying cultural changes to allow AI initiatives to grow. Organizations with a culture that promotes experimentation, continuous learning and creativity will be more successful in driving AI-based innovation. We need to stress how technology can and should be a force of good, not an unknown to be feared.
Employees in constant fear of having their role eliminated will not perform well. To ensure that they stay on board as you navigate future challenges, it is key to provide complete clarity on the company’s values and DNA. By remaining steadfast in their vision, business leaders will be more successful in coaching and motivating their employees to continuously expand their skill sets. Offering direct reskilling support, guidance and transparency will be crucial in reassuring employees that AI will not diminish or even eliminate their roles but, in most cases, enhance them. And even if current roles do disappear, then millions of new ones will be created. Dell Technologies’ research shows that 85% of the jobs in 2030 don’t even exist today.
You have to be good to do good
Corporate values will also define how an organization builds on the potential of AI. According to McKinsey, an important first step to take is to turn corporate values into concrete guidance, both in terms of when to use AI and how. For instance, we must make sure that AI doesn’t reflect the inequality of society. AI is only as good as the data that it is trained to analyze, and that data can include pre-existing bias or can become biased during the encoding process.
The successful organizations of tomorrow will be the ones that succeed in creating diverse teams in which humans and machines working together outperform either humans or machines working on their own. While machines are better than humans at some tasks, humans are and will remain better at others… such as making ethical decisions, monitoring unconscious bias or building a customer relationship based on trust, to name just a few. Besides the AI of machines, the contextual, emotional and creative intelligence of humans will be part of our future success story too!
As always, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about the impact of AI on leadership. Will you join me in pushing the AI discussion forward, beyond efficiency and productivity alone?