Making AI Work for Your Organization

Posted June 13, 2024 | Leadership |
Making AI Work for Your Organization

In a sea of AI literature, David De Cremer’s The AI-Savvy Leader stands out, shifting the focus from dazzling tech to the indispensable role of adept leadership. Offering nine actionable steps, the book champions the need for relevant leaders to steer the course of AI’s transformative potential, driving tangible business outcomes in the process. Effective leaders can apply these steps to propel AI forward and generate concrete business value.

AI: The Next Great Leadership Challenge

Simply adopting AI and acquiring access to top talent and data won’t guarantee operational efficiency or rapid decision-making. True digital transformation, says De Cremer, requires a nuanced understanding of integrating AI effectively within existing frameworks. Smart leaders figure out how to leverage technology and human expertise synergistically to achieve measurable business outcomes.

De Cremer believes that AI’s power lies in its ability to empower and motivate people. He underscores AI’s potential as a tool for organizational innovation and competitive edge. By enabling employees to work faster and smarter, AI doesn’t replace them; it enhances their capabilities. This philosophy echoes the leadership ethos at software company Tableau, whose focus is empowering teams through AI to heighten productivity and success. What’s needed are “AI-savvy leaders” who cultivate an environment of human-AI collaboration. Hence, CIOs should absorb De Cremer’s insights and pass on their annotated wisdom to their CEOs.

The remainder of this Advisor describes the nine actions leaders must take to successfully oversee the transition to an AI-centric future.

1. Learn All You Can About AI

Leadership in the age of AI demands proactive engagement. Empowering employees to harness AI’s capabilities for competitive advantage is paramount. Closing the gap between understanding and utilization falls to leaders, who should champion human-AI collaboration to elevate performance and create value. As such, AI savviness transcends mere coding expertise — it instead requires a foundational understanding of AI’s capabilities and limitations. Leaders must discern what AI truly is, separating fact from fiction, to steer their organizations to success in the digital age.

Embracing AI is about harnessing the potential to redefine how organizations operate and create value. A common misconception, De Cremer claims, is that AI can replicate human intelligence. This is fundamentally flawed. Despite AI’s capabilities, it lacks the nuanced understanding, creativity, and emotional intelligence inherent to human cognition. Unlike humans, ChatGPT relies solely on existing data sets. It excels at generating novel combinations of existing ideas but falls short in evaluating their relevance or solving problems with significance.

Yet AI’s analytical prowess shines brightest in deciphering vast and intricate data sets beyond human capacity. AI’s optimal role is clear: one where humans retain control. AI-savvy leaders understand the principles of AI and foster a culture of curiosity and experimentation. They motivate employees to leverage AI for improved performance. Success requires continuous learning, immersing in the literature, engaging with industry leaders, and heeding the insights of experts.

2. Wield Your Purpose

In navigating the complexities of AI integration, leaders must wield their purpose as a guiding beacon, asking the right questions to align investments with business goals. Effective leadership, says De Cremer, hinges on discerning whether available data can address business questions.

Business leaders must take charge of overseeing data, ensuring its quality, and managing the insights derived from it. To lead, they must prioritize regular engagement with AI leaders and utilize data to refine their business strategies. Without a clear understanding of how data can facilitate strategic pivots, leaders face barriers to progress. Effective AI adoption requires leaders to deep dive into the organization’s purpose, aligning initiatives with the corporate mission. AI-purpose-driven leadership entails inspiring the organization to embrace new ways of achieving its mission, with continuous learning as a cornerstone. Leaders bear the responsibility of training themselves and fostering a culture of ethical AI adoption.

3. Prioritize Inclusivity

The goal of AI integration is a harmonious collaboration between humans and technology. True success hinges on ensuring employees feel valued and included. AI-savvy leaders prioritize inclusivity. Without fostering a sense of belonging among employees, De Cremer believes AI initiatives are bound to falter. Exclusion breeds resistance and fear, fostering a climate of stagnation and division within organizations. Rather than treating people as machines, organizations must embrace collaboration, fostering a culture where humans and technology work together to drive innovation and success.

AI must become an augmenting coworker. Leaders should empower employees, fostering a sense of control and demonstrating AI’s capacity to enhance jobs. Increasing trust is paramount, as people harbor skepticism and low trust in AI. To foster an AI-augmented workplace culture, encourage seamless integration between tech and non-tech teams, nurturing an environment where diverse talents complement each other.

4. Facilitate Communication

To drive AI effectively, leaders should cultivate a flat communication culture where reliability, accuracy, and execution are paramount. AI-savvy leaders orchestrate channels of communication, assembling teams comprising data scientists, domain experts, product managers, and governance specialists. They foster an environment where everyone feels empowered to share insights and ask questions. These leaders facilitate a free flow of information, ensuring transparency and consistency in communication. By incorporating feedback loops and encouraging employee participation, ownership and empowerment are enhanced, laying the foundation for successful AI adoption embedded with built-in feedback mechanisms. This cultivates an environment where every individual contributes to the collective success of the organization.

5. Foster the Right Vision

Scaling AI across an organization requires visionary leadership, as highlighted by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s call for a “minister of the future” in every company. In the journey toward AI integration, rallying around a common goal is paramount. However, building a bridge becomes challenging without clarity on the destination. Leaders must set realistic expectations, recognizing the complexity of translating AI execution. Involving the organization in vision setting fosters collaboration, ensuring alignment with the organization’s capabilities and aspirations. The IT department plays a vital role in AI adoption, yet success hinges on more than just providing access, analytics, and management. It’s about fostering the right vision — one that aligns AI with the company’s values and purpose.

6. Strike a Balance

In navigating AI adoption, leaders must strike a delicate balance by engaging customers and employees. Employees should be prioritized as the first stakeholders, understanding the project’s purpose, values, risks, and benefits. Addressing fears about job displacement is crucial, emphasizing AI’s integration with human rights and fairness. Simultaneously, engaging customers is vital, as they are the primary recipients of AI innovations. De Cremer advises preparing customers, gathering feedback, and ensuring their buy-in, with their needs and concerns considered in the design process.

7. Cultivate Empathy & a People-First Approach

A human-centric approach to AI prioritizes meaningful work over efficiency, recognizing the criticality of human skills like agility and creativity. While profit maximization may drive machine age thinking, smart organizations understand the value of balancing human needs with financial goals. By using AI to improve human work safely, smart organizations foster a culture where people feel valued, innovation thrives, market position strengthens, and long-term success and sustainability are ensured. By prioritizing people first, organizations cultivate a culture of empowerment, resilience, and long-term prosperity.

8. Align with Your Organization’s Growth & Innovation Mission

Smart organizations pivot from automation to augmentation. While automation risks job fragmentation, polarization, and uncertainty about the corporate future, augmentation fosters a more skilled workforce and heightened intelligence, aligning with the organization’s mission for sustainable growth and innovation. AI-savvy leaders prioritize job redesign and cognitive responsibility, fostering an environment of empowerment, autonomy, and creativity. Rather than micromanaging, they push for autonomy and independence, elevating tech investments to enrich jobs and spark innovation, shaping a workforce equipped for the challenges of tomorrow.

9. Hone Your Emotional Intelligence

In today’s landscape, soft skills reign supreme, requiring continuous investment and practice from leaders. This entails honing emotional intelligence, understanding human drives and emotions, and building relationships through empathy. Leaders proficient in AI must bridge the gap between technology and people, fostering connections across departments and teams. Maintaining these relationships with empathy and accountability is essential for the success of AI initiatives.

Leaders must anticipate the emotional impact of AI’s challenges, recognizing its profound implications on workflows and stakeholder interests. An AI-savvy leader navigates the emotional landscape of change, ensuring alignment while communicating effectively beyond technical intricacies. Investing in clear storytelling and fostering curiosity ushers in a new era of leadership that acknowledges the unique challenges and opportunities of AI disruption. Approachability, vulnerability, and authenticity are key to fostering trust.

Parting Words

This Advisor explored the role of AI-savvy leadership in navigating the complexities of AI adoption. Leaders are tasked with integrating AI into every aspect of organizational functioning while anticipating and addressing the emotional landscape of change. Effective communication, storytelling, and fostering curiosity are essential tools for aligning stakeholders and guiding the organization toward success in an evolving landscape. By embracing innovation, alternative futures, and authenticity, AI-savvy leaders bridge the gap between technical intricacies and human dynamics, fostering a culture of resilience, growth, and trust within the organization.

About The Author
Myles Suer
Myles Suer is Strategic Marketing Director at Privacera. He has been a data business leader at various companies, including Alation, Informatica, and HP Software. Mr. Suer is the facilitator for CIOChat, a platform that brings together worldwide executive-level participants from a mix of industries, including banking, insurance, energy, education, and government. He has been published in Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek, CMS Wire, and COBIT… Read More