AI Leadership: Fostering a Culture of AI Experimentation and Strategic Growth

Jan 12, 2024

It feels like the AI revolution has shifted the world into overdrive. Not since the Industrial Revolution have we seen a technological advance have such a widespread and rapidly growing impact on several industries at one time.

We can imagine that it must feel overwhelming to try to figure out how your organization fits into this paradigm (believe us, we’re in the same boat!). Read on as we help you understand how you can transform your organization by developing your AI leadership skills and fostering a culture of AI experimentation.

As we’ve stated in several articles before, unfortunately, we are now in the AI era, and opting out is no longer an option. AI is changing everything, and this valuable tool is here to stay. Your job as a leader is to find the best way to maximize AI’s impact on your organization and to create a culture with guardrails and clear expectations for your team to begin using AI in their everyday life. AI is already organically entering your team’s workflow, and you can get ahead of it by building an AI Strategy and Ethics Policy that prioritizes your operations and your people.

We do want to express one caveat: we are approaching this topic as organizational strategists who strive to provide you with the best practices to maximize your impact.

Everyday AI vs. Transformative AI

The discourse surrounding AI commonly encompasses two fundamental contexts: everyday AI and transformative AI. While the predominant focus revolves around everyday AI and emphasizes the practical and immediate applications of AI on routine tasks, it is crucial to recognize the ultimate objective is to find a way to make AI transformative for your organization.

When we talk about everyday AI, we’re talking about task optimization and automation, functional and cross-function process optimization, and tool selection.

However, when we talk about transformative AI, we’re talking about process re-engineering, finding new ways to drive value with our current products and services, new service delivery models, business models, and value propositions. Transformative AI is ultimately changing the way we do what we do to drive different and better value.

The People Factor of AI Leadership

One of the top concerns we hear from people since the AI tech boom is, “Oh no, I’m going to lose my job.”

This fear is prevalent and commonplace, yet it doesn’t have to be a full-filling prophecy. That is where AI leadership comes in. The job of strategists and business leaders is to help guide their workforce through that fear of AI overtaking their jobs by building a culture of safe AI experimentation, improving AI fluency, and navigating the strategic work of AI integration.

AI is your mission-multiplier – meaning it is here to revolutionize the way we work so your team can shift their efforts to more strategic work. The unlock isn’t eliminating jobs, but instead giving your team a deeper focus on strategic work.

Fostering a Culture of AI Experimentation and Mitigating Risks

How can leaders create trust and clear guidelines for AI use that align with the organization’s values and culture? How can we ensure that our teams are empowered and encouraged to follow their sense of curiosity and spirit of learning in a way that benefits not only themselves, but the organization too?

This is why developing clear guardrails that allow your teams to experiment in a way that mitigates risk is essential! During our previous Collaborative session, we discussed how to create AI ethics and guidelines to help standardize the AI process.

A culture that embraces AI experimentation, must ultimately be grounded in AI ethics and guiding principles.

To Recap: Start by Building Your AI Strategy and Ethics Policy

We covered in our previous post, Building Your AI Governance Blueprint, that creating a set of standards and policies around your organization’s usage of AI is truly the best way to encourage your organization to use AI mindfully and ethically.

“AI projects that aren’t bound by governance, ethical standards and AI policies will create risk, open it up to bias, and create mistrust of your future AI tools/processes. It’s pivotal to have a clear and defined ethical use of AI in your organization.”

Setting AI standards is an essential practice for your organization, whether you are using AI for major strategic transformation, or even if you’re just using it to lightly improve efficiencies.

4 Steps to Build an AI Governance Policy:

  1. State your direction for AI aligned with your organizational purpose, values, vision, and winning strategy.
  2. Create clear and relevant AI Guiding Principles and supporting policies to include approved tools, use cases, and approaches.
  3. Realistic governance approach. How will you use AI? How are you going to manage and mitigate risk? And who is going to champion this initiative?
  4. Set an approach for continuous learning and ongoing communication so your team can learn throughout the process, and you have a clear structure for organizational rollout.

This AI policy can include important areas such as data quality and privacy, plagiarism, security, impact on jobs, transparency, equity and discrimination, and other areas of concern.

Ultimately, fostering a culture of AI experimentation with AI hinges on the foundation of AI ethics and policy. This foundation provides guidelines, guardrails, and guiding principles to build trust, transparency, and accountability in AI adoption, ensuring that everyone in the organization understands their roles and responsibilities in the process. Most importantly, it creates security, so your team won’t fear that they’ll get lost in the process.

AI adoption requires trust and transparency in order to have impact.

Building AI Fluency Within Your Organization

Our job as leaders and strategists is to size things to determine how big or small of an impact they will have on our organization, and ultimately, to ask how important it is to adopt it now or to wait and see (*hint* it is never the correct answer to “wait and see”). To guide yourself on this topic, here are some decision-making points to create AI fluency:

Is this a priority AND are you taking a global or local approach?

It’s essential to determine whether making the understanding of AI a priority aligns with your organization’s size. Are you taking a global approach, where everyone, regardless of their location, must gain a foundational understanding of AI, as one organization did with its 3,000 employees? Or perhaps, given your organization’s size and priorities, maybe a more targeted approach is suitable.

This decision lays the groundwork for the level of AI fluency needed.

Is there value/need for an organization-wide understanding of AI foundations/fundamentals?

That might not be something that is a priority for your organization. Maybe a broad, organization-wide understanding of AI fundamentals isn’t the best use of everyone’s time. It’s essential to assess the value and need for an organization-wide grasp of AI foundations.

This decision distinguishes between required and elective AI knowledge within your organization.

What approach or mechanism will you set up for continuous sharing or learning?

It’s crucial to acknowledge that AI is evolving rapidly. To keep up, you should plan for continuous learning and sharing within your organization. AI is not a one-and-done kind of technology.

Determine if you will have a place for continuous learning and knowledge sharing.

This decision ensures your teams stay updated with the latest developments in AI.

Is there a need for functionally specific training and tool fluency?

Consider whether your organization requires functionally specific training and proficiency with AI tools. AI isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and various functions may need specialized skills and knowledge.

Assess whether specific roles within companies or departments need customized AI training to excel in their respective areas.

This decision tailors AI education to your organization’s specific needs.

Will you use off-the-shelf or custom-developed courses?

Finally, decide on the approach for AI education delivery. Will you use pre-made, off-the-shelf AI courses readily available in the market? Or will you opt for custom-developed training materials tailored to your organization’s unique requirements?

This choice defines the learning resources and materials you’ll provide to your teams to build AI fluency.

Educate your team on AI’s capabilities and limitations.

AI fluency requires educating your team on not just the specific tools they can use to make their jobs easier, but fundamental functionality of AI and what it can and can’t do.

Offer your team education development opportunities to grow in their roles and expertise so that they can become successful leaders in your organization. Some great AI courses and resources that provide valuable insights include:

Courses:

Associations: The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) works to increase public understanding of artificial intelligence, improve the teaching and training of AI practitioners, and provide research guidance.

Journals: AI Magazine has been called the “journal of record for the AI community.” AI Magazine helps AAAI members stay abreast of significant new research and literature across the entire field of artificial intelligence.

Shift your culture to view AI as a collaborator instead of a replacement.

Through comprehensive and basic training and learning experiences with AI, you’re developing a team of AI leaders and experts who will mold the culture of your organization. With improved AI fluency, you will create space for your people to view AI as a collaborator and assistant, rather than a replacement.

Shifting to Strategic Work with AI Leadership

The goal of adopting transformative AI, as well as everyday AI, is to transform the way your team does things. AI can help:

  • Empower your team to take on more strategic leadership roles leveraging AI.
  • Allow you to move your team’s efforts from drowning in administrative work.
  • Eliminate repetitive tasks.
  • Leverage your people’s talent to drive strategic outcomes — empowered by AI tools and technology.

But how is AI strategic?

The world is democratizing tools that have the potential to remove time-wasting administrative work and automate low-value tasks. This frees up time for knowledge workers to dedicate time to more high-value tasks. This will push organizations to focus on strategic work rather than administrative work. This is the key role of the everyday implementation of AI in organizations, which can have a lasting, transformative impact.

The big strategic question now becomes how will your team use the time and human resources freed by AI to multiply your organization’s mission

Stay tuned for our next post where we will outline a case study that examines areas of opportunity to free up highly talented staff to do more strategic work.

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