Surviving in the age of artificial intelligence: part two

In part one of this series, the authors explored the basis of creating a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines. In part two, they investigate how to pilot this, as well as embracing transparency and humanity, in the age of AI

In the age of AI and technology, it’s easy to forget that organisations are a collection of human beings. Your employees have emotions, hopes, fears, and beliefs. Restructuring the organisation creates uncertainty, and uncertainty makes humans uncomfortable. Too many organisations view employees as ‘cogs’ to be moved around during a restructuring.

Embrace transparency

One of the most critical aspects of successful restructuring is addressing employees’ human needs: fear about job loss, anxiety about altered work conditions, and defensiveness about their role within a changing organisation.

When employees lack insight into the broader context of business change, they will treat the disruption as a threat. Through informal channels, they will alert others in the organisation of the perceived threat.

Each employee will then interpret the restructure through his or her lens. Different parts of the organisation will reach different conclusions about what is happening, which could compound misperception and enflame negative sentiment, leading to chaos if not simply dispirited morale. Successful restructuring requires that the entire organisation has the same view, the same insight, and the same understanding as to what is happening, why, when, and how. This requires transparency from leadership. 

Begin with a pilot

Before a large re-engineering effort is rolled out, it is best to test it with a small, targeted, and carefully selected pilot. The test environment could be in an independently operated unit, such as a division. This process is called ‘purposeful experimentation’, and it allows for bugs and kinks to be worked out. 

Rather than jumping into restructuring the entire organisation, select a high-potential area in which to experiment and ‘test and learn’. Once a plan tests well, scaling it rapidly is often the best way to create value from such a small project. 

Targeted pilot projects help leaders understand what works. These programmes should not be random. Rather, they should be driven by strategy and understanding an organisation’s primary priorities. 

Become more human-centric

Merely adopting new technology isn’t enough to survive as a competitive enterprise in the fourth industrial revolution. Uniquely human strengths are needed to leverage technological and computational powers. Creativity, intuition, emotional intelligence (EQ), appreciation of context, and other uniquely human capabilities may never be realised by computers. 

Today’s leaders need to understand how to hire the best talent and develop onboarding protocols that seamlessly absorb that talent into an innovative and inclusive culture that leverages cutting-edge technology to achieve extraordinary results. Successful leaders create a culture of innovation that brings the best from its people. They create a symbiosis between people and technology that allows their human resources to thrive.

Despite the hype afforded to the latest breakthrough in AI, we are entering an era where it is the humans – not the machines – that will make the key difference in enterprises’ competitiveness. This human-centric approach is exemplified by leading technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and LinkedIn. These companies understand the issue isn’t whether machines will replace humans per se, it’s about how to create a business model in which machines and humans complement each other synergistically. 

Machines handle repetitive and automated tasks expertly and will always be faster and more precise. However, uniquely human skills – creativity, innovation, adaptability, empathy, integrity, and imagination – are becoming increasingly imperative to an organisation’s success.These skills cannot be ‘outsourced’ or, as we call it, ‘botsourced’ to machines. These human skills are needed to bridge the gap between technology and people, and to use machines in the best way to serve customers, co-workers, suppliers, and stakeholders. Without a new business model that’s focused on cultivating human talent and authentic culture, the human element of the organisation becomes an appendage to technology and quickly atrophies.

The idea that ‘technology will fix things’ is misguided. Technology cannot fix bad processes, poor management practices, or failing employee morale. Without people, there is no innovation, no strategy, no connection to customers. There are limits to how much botsourcing is desirable or effective, and it takes an appreciation of the unique capabilities of human resources to know where to draw the line. 

Take a long-term approach

For companies to survive in the age of AI they need to understand that technology is not yet another managerial initiative but has created a seismic shift in the competitive landscape. Making the leap from a traditional brick-and-mortar company that will be left in the dust, such has been the case for Blockbuster, to a flat, fluid, innovative, and purpose-driven Humachine depends on many variables. To manage the process and increase the likelihood of success, adopt a long-term vision, peg the status quo, increase resources, lead with transparency, work out bugs in a pilot before scaling to the rest of the enterprise, and create a human-centric culture. This is leadership for the fourth industrial revolution.

Nada R Sanders is Distinguished Professor of Supply Chain Management at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, US. 

John D Wood is a member of the New York and Texas Bar Associations, a graduate of NYU School of Law, and the Co-Founder of The Humachine LLC. 

Nada R Sanders and John D Wood are the co-authors of Foundations of Sustainable Business (Wiley, second edition 2019) and The Humachine: Humankind, Machines and the Future of Enterprise (Routledge, 2019). 

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