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Talent and culture: A make or break for AI success at scale

  • Posted on September 3, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

In the very early days of artificial intelligence (AI), it was all about fear. Will machines overtake humans? Science-fiction writing and popular movies, from "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) to "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2015), helped to encourage the stereotype of AI as a robot gone bad.

Now, as we think about AI, we are at an interesting place in our AI maturity. Based on Avanade’s recent research, conducted by Vanson Bourne, the AI fear element has declined. Only 28% of business and information technology decision-makers who participated in the AI maturity survey identified managing internal fear of AI as an issue. 

However, while leaders are clearly open to the promise of AI, employees may hold a different view. In times of uncertainty, it’s important to help employees overcome potential concerns around being outplaced, with the opportunities for learning new skills and taking on a higher level of decision-making responsibility. 

Becoming an AI-driven organization
An organization’s culture is clearly an influential factor in becoming AI driven. In fact, 80% of survey respondents agree that business culture and change management are make-or-break items for AI’s long-term success.

Organizations that have fully deployed and are using AI at scale are seeing three times or more on their return on investment (ROI) alongside increased productivity (64%), efficiency (57%) and employee satisfaction (42%). What I find most important is that organizations adopting AI at scale are seeing a positive correlation with employee satisfaction as employees realize the potential for skill and career development. 

Articulate a clear vision across the organization
Creating a clear AI vision within the boardroom gains executive buy in but does little to gain support throughout the organization. Scaling AI requires leaders to articulate a clear vision across the entire organization. A shared vision sets a tone that communicates where the business is headed and why. It also helps employees understand the cultural shifts that need to take place, how they contribute to the vision and inspires them into action.  

When key cultural shifts happen, AI often moves away from siloed structures to more networked ways of working. The organization then shifts from experience-led to data-driven decision-making that is executed closest to where work is performed. This requires creating a culture of trust and empowerment.

Involve and co-create  
Involving employees in identifying where and how AI can be used is another best practice that is essential if organizations are going to become AI driven. When data and AI technology is threaded throughout business processes and data is democratized, organizations will often see higher employee engagement, including employees contributing to building high-value AI capabilities.  

While employee involvement can happen organically, a change program creates a formal framework to help employees understand how to become part of the process. Change programs build in mechanisms to actively solicit employee feedback. They’re designed to encourage workers to reengineer processes; for example, identifying where robotic process automation could be applied to drive curated, personalized customer experiences.

Create digital talent and skills
Another best practice to accelerate the use of AI is to develop and nurture digital talent and skills within a company’s workforce. One organization I worked with began with a digital literacy program to help employees understand what AI is, how it can be applied to the business and build capability to better serve customers. With this kind of program, businesses can demystify AI and help employees build their own AI muscle power. Human resource professionals also play a vital role in developing digital-ready talent that often emerge through their participation in these programs.

Talent and culture build AI at scale from ground up
Increasingly employees are seeing the benefits of AI and fear is being replaced with excitement around new skills and career opportunities. Change management is a tool Avanade uses to help clients build out a center of excellence in AI and bring in the talent needed to deliver AI at scale. We help leaders craft a vision that resonates with and engages employees. We help anticipate barriers to change and identify the skills and training needed to move AI from pockets of innovation to value at scale.

Working with organizations worldwide, I’ve seen that no matter how wonderful a technology is, it takes people to make business investments in AI triple or more in value. Success occurs when employees are aligned around a shared vision, help co-create the future ways of working, and AI and data skills are nurtured and developed. When culture and talent are on board that’s when wide-scale transformation begins.

Learn more about developing an AI-driven culture and talent in your organization.

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