Leading in the Age of AI and Automation

May 17, 2018

Leading in the Age of AI and Automation

As AI is transforming business models and delivering value by augmenting organizational capabilities to serve better customers, it’s important for executives to realize that using AI presents much more than a technology challenge — it requires a different leadership mindset.

Today, almost every organization is undergoing a digital transformation. A survey of CEOs conducted by Fortune asked whether they thought their company was a “technology company” and 67 percent of CEOs said yes. “Whether they pump liquids, make machines, mine minerals, or print magazines, digitization has become their destiny.”

PwC’s most recent CEO survey found that more than half of CEOs said they were exploring how machines and humans can work together. And 39 percent said they’re considering the effect automation will have on their workforce.

CEOs think that finding the people skills they need has become the biggest challenge to their business. Companies in a range of industries are looking to find people who can work with AI or train customer and employee experience robots, jobs that may have been illusional to believe just a few years ago.

Furthermore, it seems like the movie iRobot has become reality. We live in an age of driverless cars, platforms that anticipate customer needs, image recognition, and robots capable of everything from advanced manufacturing to complex surgery. Automation, algorithms, and artificial intelligence are not only changing the nature of business, decision making and the workplace itself, but also remaking our lives.

In this context, how will leaders inspire, manage and engage the new workforce? What new risks and responsibilities will they face? What will teamwork look like?

  1. Focus on value through experimentation

In the age of AI and automation, transformative value will often emerge through experimentation. Not every AI project is going to work, nor should it be expected to. But the lessons learned from failures can help advance AI innovation and project success. Leaders should create an environment that welcomes curiosity, innovation, and creativity that will allow teams to innovate, learn and succeed faster.

Furthermore, listening and thinking are critical abilities in the age of AI; new ideas can come from anywhere and competitors can emerge anytime and unexpectedly. This is a phenomenal opportunity for aspiring business leaders to encourage teams to discover unexpected, breakthrough ideas. This way, people can not be afraid of failure but adapt to a culture of “keep going” and innovation,

  1. Diversity to create collaboration and broader perspective

Having teams with different backgrounds, nationalities, gender, and racial diversity will open up a box of ideas that will allow teams to think and execute differently in the age of AI and automation.People with academic, disciplinary, and diverse backgrounds will set up AI projects for success to deliver value. Furthermore, leading in the age of AI requires people who will be able to communicate and lead others on the digital disruption journey. To succeed in this new technological environment, leaders must avoid homogenous project teams, who will be responsible for the implementation technology solutions, to promote broader critical thinking perspective and reduce unconscious bias.

  1. Change to align and engage

Becoming a data-driven and automated organization is as much a cultural change as a technological one. It will involve changing the way people interact, work, and communicate.

Successful leaders will communicate properly the impact of AI in the workplace and address how work would change and what every employee’s role will be. Team leaders are also responsible to make people safe and engage employees to align the organization to this transformational venture.

Lastly, pausing while remaining engaged in change is a critical step that leaders can use to create space for clear judgment, original thinking, and speedy, purposeful action.

  1. Reskilling talent

Artificial intelligence alters how work is done across industries and markets. Do you have a clear understanding of your employees’ skills, and where the gaps are? Few companies today have a system in place to track the skills they have. Team leaders are responsible help workers transition by facilitating skills training and identified the learning journey that employees need to have to acquire the right knowledge and abilities to interact in the age of AI and automation.

Hence, AI opens up a wide range of opportunities for many new jobs to be created—some that we can imagine and many we probably can’t right now.

However, many organizations are discovering that they need different talent while creating learning and development programs to allow humans and machines to work together. As a result, many jobs will be transformed rather than eliminated. Business leaders are accountable to redefine work, workplace, and workforce while creating a new “team concept” where AI and robots work with people to boost efficiencies and leverage operational excellence.

  1. Empower decision-making

Let’s say that you are the CEO for a manufacturing company and realize that efficiencies and synergies are killing your market position due to growing rivals in emerging markets. You have two options: cut headcount and invest in technology or get to the root of the problem and see what’s going on in the value chain and organizational dynamics. The second scenario would allow you to empower your teams and identify organizational issues that are delaying your product development process and affecting competitive advantage in the market.

Let your teams to figure out the problem and give them the authority to provide solutions and identify where the opportunities to improve performance lie. Your data scientists and engineers would could train their algorithms on a vast variety of data to discover patterns and solutions. As a result of the assessment in this scenario, AI technology identified that poor collaboration slowed time to market and increased costs. Leaders need to be open to the outcomes and using data as a feedback and insights to continually improve decision-making to deliver bottom line results.

  1. AI as your coach and advisor

AI brings with it new business opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities— all of which require a new approach to leadership development. There are companies and solutions in the marketplace now to scale learning, support talent analytics, integrate machine learning with analytics, harness big data to understand motivation, and much more.

The Authors: 

Alberto Loyola is Founder and Managing Director of Ignite Organizations, a talent and organization consulting firm. He consults globally and serves as a trusted advisor to executives to assess leadership development, talent, corporate culture, HR technology, and the future of work to achieve their mission and organizational agility.

He has led talent & HR transformation projects in North America, Latin America, EMEA, and Asia-Pacific. Alberto speaks and writes widely on people strategy, HR artificial intelligence, and the future of work. His work has been featured in People + Strategy, Thomson Reuters, RecruitingDaily, CactusSoft, HR.com, HR Exchange Network, America Economia, and Semana Economica.

He can be reached on Twitter or LinkedIn.