Hardly a day goes by, when we don’t confront a piece of content about how AI and other technologies will fundamentally change the way we get things done in this world. Focusing on the technology and its impact is barely one half of the equation. While some people will most certainly be displaced, there will be opportunities as well — as long as we’re prepared for them, and as long as leaders consider the greater whole when it comes to AI implementation. You can replace people who do certain jobs with robots, but people without jobs won’t be particularly reliable customers. And companies that don’t have customers who can afford what the robots are making won’t last very long. If we’re not careful, it could be a lose-lose proposition. The technologies of the future notwithstanding, putting the needs of people first will be essential to our collective future.
I’d like to think that if Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters wrote a 2020 edition of The Customer Comes Second, they would tell us that employees still rank first, customers second, and robots third. In a January article in Forbes, Quantexa CEO, Vishal Marria stated, “Business need to overcome the trust and bias issues surrounding AI by achieving an effective and successful implementation that makes it possible for everyone to benefit.”
To do that will involve creating a People Plan. To get you started, here’s a framework (modified from What Anyone Can Do: How Surrounding Yourself With the Right People Will Drive Change, Opportunity, and Personal Growth, divided into three sections (Prepare, Plan, Play):
· Have the right people and prepare them. Gather your team members and ask them what attributes they believe will be required of a person to make him or her a uniquely successful member of the team in the future. Marria asserts that AI will have a positive impact on our economy by creating jobs that require the skill set to implement new systems. 80% of respondents in a recent EY survey said it was the lack of these skills that was the biggest challenge when employing AI programs. Prepare these people for what’s to come so they can either help you or someone else down the road.
· Identify a purpose/group norms. Develop a collective understanding of the purpose of the team and its group norms. It’s not just what you expect of them, it’s what they expect from each other. How well will they adopt AI, contribute to the organization, and collaborate effectively going forward?
· Create and encourage joining forums for sharing. Anxiety about the impact of AI is exacerbated by a lack of communication. Assuming you have the right people with the right attributes, consider establishing internal peer groups and encouraging people to join external mastermind groups, where employees can share common aspirations and challenges, and celebrate their respective growth and success.
· Build a trusting environment. Sharing builds trust, but trust has many faces, including competence, reliability, commitment to the purpose, and so on. Consider trust a journey rather than a destination, and never take it for granted. A climate of trust is easier to build when there’s transparency and when your people see each other as people, not just fellow employees. It’s important that during the coming years, you as a leader sees it that way as well.
· Maximize productivity. Implementing AI alone won’t guarantee greater productivity, particularly in the early stages. How can you be certain the team and the technology are firing on all cylinders? This is where your People Plan will be an essential part of the equation.
· Nurture a culture of mutual accountability. Accountability to the leader is one thing, but the magic happens when employees feel accountable to one another. It’s the difference between a good team and a great one, no matter what technology they are using.
· Identify and celebrate small wins. Implementing new technologies and chasing lofty goals can be exhausting. As a result, it can be easy for a company and people comprising smaller teams to lose focus if they can’t see their progress. Map out interim points at which to declare victory and celebrate often.
· Practice servant leadership. As a leader, you’re there to serve the team, not the other way around. Keep people at the forefront and don’t get so fixated on the tools that you lose your way.
· Commit to continuous improvement. Invest your time and energy in continuous improvement. Pay attention to your dashboards and your culture. Don’t fixate on the goals, obsess over the people, technologies, and processes that make achieving those goals possible.
When it comes to future-readiness and realizing a brighter, big picture going forward, both short and long-term, be sure you have a People Plan and a relentless commitment to its successful implementation. For those who say that AI implementation will create more jobs than will be lost, putting people first is the only way that’s going to happen.
*Note: Leo Bottary will be joining international thought leaders on stage at Get Future Ready Now — The Executive Growth Alliance Summit on August 28, 2019 in Oslo, Norway.