How to be successful in the era of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming pervasive — Deloitte reports more than two-thirds of smartphone users already use AI or machine learning. And experts say this is just the beginning.

Dale Carnegie asked more than 3,500 employees, across a range of industries and company sizes and 11 countries, how they feel about AI and what they expect from it. 

While optimism mostly prevails, the increase of workplace monitoring can send the message that the company doesn’t trust its employees. In fact, 64 percent of respondents at the level of director or above were at least moderately worried about the potential impact of AI on their organization’s culture. These leaders recognize that gains from AI could be offset by losses, at least in part, if the resulting impact has the effect of disengaging employees.

Smart Business spoke with John Glaneman, president of Dale Carnegie Training of Western PA and NE Ohio, about three things that would make people feel more positive about AI.

In the AI era, why is trust so important?

Building and maintaining trust in leadership requires all leaders be honest and consistent in what they say and do. But AI brings its own pitfalls, as employees wonder about the true purpose of deploying AI and have privacy and security concerns. 

The survey uncovered that employees’ trust in their senior leadership to make the right decisions about AI implementation has an inverse relationship with the respondent’s hierarchal position. Only a quarter of employees with no direct reports have a high level of trust in leadership, compared to just under half of managers. 

If there is a trust issue, implementing AI — or any strategic initiative perceived as threatening — carries an additional risk of failure. Companies should assess the existing trust level through engagement assessments, apps for sentiment analysis, pulse surveys and exit interviews. Leaders also must live the stated values, adhere to principles, be consistent in their words, decisions and actions, and make building trust a priority.

How can transparency reassure employees?

While people don’t expect to understand every technical detail, they do demand that decision-making by AI be at least moderately explainable if they are to accept that the underlying process is fair. In the survey, 63 percent of respondents are at least moderately concerned about human biases built into AI systems or legal issues related to responsibility for problems with AI. 

The continuing role of human leaders in AI oversight is critical, and organizations must be prepared to provide satisfactory explanations of AI algorithms.

What skills do employees need to feel confident about new roles in an AI world?

Trust and transparency will go a long way toward helping employees approach AI with a positive attitude, particularly when they can make decisions in an information-rich, agile environment. If they also feel confident that they’ll develop the skills to adapt to new roles, organizations can maintain their engagement. The overwhelming majority of respondents expect and prefer their employers give them this additional training.

However, to manage the technology and perform nonroutine tasks that require high levels of social and creative intelligence, soft skills are essential. Nearly 70 percent of respondents, vice president level or higher, consider communication skills to be particularly important in an organization using AI.

Yet, only four in 10 respondents at all levels have received communications skills training the past three years. Other gaps include creativity, critical thinking and leadership skills. A smaller percentage of company leaders believe teamwork will be important in an AI workplace, but that’s where respondents had the most training.

Achieving the full potential of AI depends on a successful partnership between humans and machines. Of the survey respondents who trust their leadership, feel they have a solid understanding of AI and have received soft skills training the last three years, 68 percent are extremely positive about the changes AI will bring, compared to 21 percent of all others.

For organizations that see AI as vital to their success, the value of having employees who are willing to embrace the technology, as well as their changing roles, can’t be overstated. They will be the advocates who help build momentum for success with AI projects.

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