Building a people-centric strategy to unlock AI’s potential

Today, there is a real atmosphere of excitement for the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools, such as chatbots and image generators. Leaders across industries have a significant appetite for the technology, with a staggering 97% viewing its potential as transformative for their company and industry.

Yet, this buzz does not quite align with current usage rates in many organisations. For example, less than half (44%) of organisations are using AI in their HR operations, despite the opportunities the technology offers for streamlining processes, enhancing decision-making, and improving employee experiences. Leaders clearly view AI as a strategic priority, but are less clear on the roadmap for its deployment. Considering the needs of the workforce, focusing on upskilling and promoting a culture of collaboration will be at the heart of developing a long-term strategy for AI implementation.

Align ambitions with workforce expectations

Many employees have reservations about AI. Some individuals may be worried about their role being automated, with research suggesting that AI could remove the need for some entry level jobs in the next 10 years. According to this study, many duties often carried out by junior employees, such as writing and administrative tasks, could be done by AI in the next decade. Faced with this worrying prospect, some people may not feel adequately equipped for the AI revolution, especially considering that only one in 10 global workers have in-demand AI-related skills like encryption, cyber security, coding, and app development skills.

On the other hand, executives often see AI as a game-changer, with the potential to improve efficiencies and thus optimise resource allocation across departments. For instance, by automating administrative tasks, AI can free up skilled employees to focus on creative or technical pursuits. For example, almost two-thirds (63%) of those involved in coaching practices state that the collection of employee experience feedback is an effective application of AI in coaching. Therefore, thanks to AI, employees would be able to dedicate more time to analysing the feedback and implementing solutions, which would in turn improve the experience of professional development for employees more quickly.

It is up to leaders to bridge their knowledge of AI’s potential with any concerns that their employees may hold. Apprehension will make widespread deployment challenging, so addressing this early and providing details on the organisation’s AI intentions will lead to more effective AI usage in the long run. This could include sharing an AI roadmap and allowing employees to ask questions and receive feedback. As part of this, leaders could detail the types of tasks that are likely to be automated, and explain any new responsibilities that the workforce may acquire as a result. By keeping communication channels open, leaders can encourage an enthusiasm around AI that will make it much easier to unlock the technology’s full potential.

Build an AI-ready workforce

Upskilling should be an essential part of the AI preparation process. Currently, two-thirds of British businesses are experiencing a digital skills gap in their workforce. If not addressed, this could become more pronounced as AI is introduced.

Any effective learning and development programme should begin with an assessment of current skills gaps. Organisations should consider their near and long-term goals, and outline any additional capabilities that may be required to achieve these ambitions. Where possible, these skills should be taught internally, rather than hiring externally. By doing so, organisations not only reduce hiring costs, but improve the productivity of existing employees.

Soft skills also play a pivotal role in the modern workplace, serving as the glue that binds teams together and facilitates effective communication and collaboration. While technical expertise is undoubtedly valuable, it is soft skills such as emotional intelligence, adaptability, and empathy that can often determine an individual’s success in their role. These skills enable employees to provide effective feedback as they learn complex new technical skills, manage conflicts constructively, and foster positive relationships with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders. And most importantly, in an era marked by rapid technological advancements and evolving job roles, soft skills provide the flexibility and resilience necessary to thrive in uncertain environments.

Leaders should consider a range of digital professional development tools to upskill their workforce, including coaching. When engaging with a coach, people can access a personalised approach to development that accounts for their unique needs and experiences. When paired with broad e-learning programmes, coaching encourages individuals to hone those new skills at their own pace with the guidance and support of an expert coach. This human partnership both accelerates skill-building and increases employee resilience as they become more adept with unfamiliar tools and technologies. As such, individuals can work on their personal competencies at the same time as they acquire new knowledge, which can help them learn more quickly in the future.

Foster a culture of AI innovation

Implementing a revolutionary technology like AI cannot be a short-term process. Leaders may understand the benefits that AI promises, but fully unlocking these capabilities is all about engaging with the workforce. Introducing a new technology to existing process can have a significant impact on individuals and teams, who must be supported accordingly to ensure a successful transition.

Organisations can encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing around AI by building on personalised learning and development programmes for employees at different levels. This is best achieved either through cross-functional team development opportunities or additional training opportunities. When combined with regular communication on the organisation’s AI roadmap, employees are much more likely to engage with AI, thanks to a deeper understanding of its purpose and potential. Going beyond the hype, and executing a people-driven strategy, will be the winning formula for driving AI success.

Image of Laurel McKenzie
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Laurel is currently pursuing her PhD in I/O psychology while working as a Senior Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub.

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